When fans think of Disney cartoon shows, the main characters that come to mind are the big names, like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy. But the Mouse Empire has a vast repertoire of secondary and tertiary characters without whom the cartoons would feel empty.
One such comic duo that has been entertaining Disney audiences for decades are the mischievous chipmunks Chip and Dale (usually spelled Chip ‘n Dale). Starting out as tiny antagonistic characters for Pluto and Donald, Chip and his best bro Dale were an instant hit with fans in the vein of other adorable animated rodents like Alvin and the Chipmunks and Jerry Mouse.
Although they began as secondary characters, Chip and Dale took center stage in the late 1980s by headlining their own half-hour show on Disney TV, "Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers." The show reinvented the main duo as a couple of sleuths who solve crimes relating to the animal kingdom amidst a host of new supporting characters. Thanks to the popularity of the show, and their previous appearances in classic Disney shorts, Chip and Dale have enjoyed enduring popularity in their own right. Here are some essential facts about the fan-favorite chipmunks that you need to know.
They started out exactly alike
These days, everyone knows Chip and Dale are as different as chalk and cheese. Chip is the smart one, who can think his way out of any situation, and backs up his brains with hard work and tenacity. Meanwhile, Dale is the easy-going one — he’s not overly bright, and rarely bothers to make much of an effort if Chip wasn’t firmly prodding him on from behind.
But when the duo first debuted in the 1943 animated short "Private Pluto," they were identical in every way from their appearance to their squeaky manner of talking down to their personalities (via D23). At the time, their role was as the antagonists who get in the way of Pluto the Dog’s duty guarding a military pillbox. It was only when Chip and Dale were reintroduced three years later in a string of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck shorts that their personalities started to differentiate.
As explained by Disney animator Jack Hannah (via Cartoon Research), "[Fellow animator] Bill Peet came up with the suggestion of making one of them a little goofball to give them two different personalities." As Chip and Dale started to make more regular appearances, they also began to be drawn differently. Chip got smooth hair, a small black nose and two centered protruding teeth, whereas Dale received ruffled hair, a large dark red nose and a prominent gap between his buckteeth.
They were originally voiced by females
It is generally understood that Chip and Dale are males, and therefore have the freedom to roam around wearing shirts and jackets with no pants. But a surprising number of male characters in cartoons are voiced by females, especially when the characters are meant to be depicted as either pre-pubescent or extra cutesy.
Since Chip and Dale tick both boxes, it is unsurprising to discover that they had some feminine energy behind their voices in their earliest appearances. Dale’s modern voice actor, Corey Burton, mentioned in an interview that the earliest voices for the chipmunks were "originally special effects ‘chatter’, provided by female staff from Disney Studios’ Ink & Paint Department and secretarial pool, and part-time actresses." In the next few shorts they appeared in, Chip was voiced by James MacDonald while Dale is credited as being voiced by Dessie Flynn.
Of course, back then there was no discernible dialog accorded to either Chip or Dale. The two essentially spoke in quick gibberish, which were regular human sounds sped up to become indistinguishable. It was only later when Chip and Dale were starting to become popular that they were given words to speak, although their lines were still sped up to mimic the high-energy quality of real squirrels.