'Chip 'N' Dale: Park Life' Series Director Jean Cayrol On Bringing The Beloved Duo Into The 21st Century [Interview]

As Disney+ continues to build out its massive catalog of new programming, they're finally expanding into more modern takes on beloved characters. Fans of sly humor may well have been pleasantly surprised by The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse, an offshoot of the Mickey Mouse shorts that aired on Disney XD in the mid-2010s. But joining that ongoing series is Chip 'n' Dale: Park Life, a new animated series from Disney and Xilam Animation that brings everyone's favorite pair of rascally chipmunks into the 21st century.

Recently, /Film sat down virtually with series director Jean Cayrol to talk about bringing these characters in the modern era, working through the pandemic, and whether or not Chip and Dale would argue over what to hang on their wall.

How did the opportunity to serve as a series director come about?

I have been working at Xilam Animation in Paris for 15 years; 10 years as a series director. And Xilam is well known for its 2D, slapstick, animated style. And I too have been taught the ancient way of animation [chuckles] with paper and that kind of stuff. So when Disney wanted to do a 2D cartoon series about Chip and Dale, they came to see Xilam and the CEO asked me to do the show. I've never said yes to a project that fast my entire life. I was like, "Yes." It doesn't get any better than this.

What drew you to the chance to re-imagine these iconic characters?

Well, first, that was an opportunity to bring them into the 21st century, right? And I've always loved Chip and Dale, growing up, watching their short animated films. I also had a lot of questions, like how do [they] really live together? Do they argue about what they want to see on TV or what they're going to eat or if they have a small picture frame on the wall? Do they have a small sofa? That kind of stuff. And I think the show was a good opportunity to answer those questions, actually.

Did you take any inspiration from the recent revival of the Mickey Mouse shorts? And if so, how did that manifest into Chip 'n' Dale: Park Life?

Not really. I love the Mickey Mouse shorts. The animation is beautiful. It's super funny. It's amazing, but we wanted Chip 'n' Dale: Park Life to have its own identity. So I think if there's an inspiration we used in the stories, that's probably inspirations from our lives. Because that's how we started every workshop, with the writers talking about our lives and what happened to us. Because I think every writer's room is pretty much a group therapy. Really. I think that is the most inspiration we inject into the show: us. That was the opportunity to make Chip and Dale really relatable characters. That's what we wanted to do with the show. And that's probably why it looks so modern and familiar.

What was it like working with Disney, handling such legacy characters in this new format?

That was great. That was a great experience. I have learned so much with the Disney team. What they do is first, they try to understand what you want to do with the show and then they just push you as far as possible in the direction you want to go. And as a director, really, it's not everyday someone will tell you, "Well, that's good, but man, you can do better than this. So dig deeper and deeper." That's what they do. And it's really invaluable. They encourage you. They're very supportive. It's a challenging task, but it's so, so rewarding in the end. About the legacy part of the question, we had a lot of freedom, and that was not a problem at all with Disney.

Why do you think that Chip and Dale have endured for so long in Disney's history?

Well, I think they're super cute. Right? And they're durable. That's part of it, but it's not the only thing. We all love Chip and Dale because we all relate to them because they are flawed. And I feel when you create a character, a good character has flaws. It could be like being anxious or scared, or whatever flaws the audience will relate to them. Plus we're doing comedy and [that] comes from flaws. You don't laugh at someone because they're perfect. You laugh at someone because they have flaws like us.

How do you think that Chip 'n' Dale: Park Life will help contribute and strengthen the legacy of these beloved characters?

Well, with Park Life, we really try to explore the dynamic of their deal and their personality and who they really are in private. And I think a lot of people will find it first appealing and then [relatable]. Also, we have all kinds of epic, crazy cartoon situations. And I think the kids will enjoy that. So it's truly a family show in the end and that's what I really wanted to make with Chip 'n' Dale: Park Life.

Were there production aspects that had to be completed through the pandemic? And if so, what was it like completing the episodes in that remote kind of environment?

Well, we started production in 2019 and we wrapped up in March 2021. That means we had to spend one year in quarantine, but we were lucky enough to have one full year to work in the same room to share some quality time together. And because it's not just about work, really; it's about the energy. It's about working with people you care [about] and love. Sharing great moments and feeling that joy and that energy. That really feeds the show. So we had the chance to do that for a full year. When the quarantine happened, we went home, but we knew each other so much at that time, that it actually wasn't a problem at all. It was sad, of course, because we wanted to share some time together. But we did it, and it was pretty smooth because we had that time before.


Chip 'n' Dale: Park Life premieres on July 28, 2021 on Disney+.