Park Life Director Talks Reimagining (and Relating to) the Disney Icons

This week will see the series premiere of Chip ‘n’ Dale: Park Life, a new animated series that brings the beloved chipmunk characters to a new generation. The Disney+ exclusive series serves to combine elements of the pair’s iconic history, blending the Chip ‘n’ Dale shorts of the 1940s and 1950s with modern sensibilities and storylines. The end result is incredibly whimsical and gorgeous to witness, with a 2D animation style that stands out from the pack.

Chip ‘n’ Dale: Park Life is brought to life by a number of creators at both the Walt Disney Company France and Xilam Animation — including series director Jean Cayrol. Cayrol is no stranger to inventive and whimsical animation, including Flopaloo, Where Are You? and Oggy and the Cockroaches. But with Park Life, his work is about to be seen by the biggest audience yet.

Ahead of Park Life‘s debut, got a chance to chat with Cayrol about his work on the series, and about oddly relating to its two titular character. We also spoke about Disney cameos, the series’ aesthetic and creative decisions, and so much more!

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(Photo: Disney+) What drew you to the project? Were Chip and Dale characters that you were familiar with, or was it something that you kind of were discovering as you worked on it?

Jean Cayrol: Well, yeah. Of course I knew about the characters like everyone else, and I love them. I remember, quite vividly, at the very beginning of 2019, Marc du Pontavice, Xilam Animation CEO, came to me and said, “We’re doing this new show that’s for Disney, and it’s Chip ‘n’ Dale. Do you want to be part of it?” I was like, “Are you kidding? Are you kidding? Sure. Yes. Yes, please. Let’s do that now.” For a director working for Xilam, for Disney, doing Chip ‘n’ Dale, it doesn’t get any better than this, really. I was super excited to work on the show.


I was curious if you could describe your approach and your thesis for the series. Because, watching it, it feels so different from other interpretations of the characters, but so classic at the same time.

Our version is based on the old Chip ‘n’ Dale short-animated movies from the ’40s and the ’50s. What I mean by based on — we used the same duo dynamic for our show, but it’s not a remake [and] it’s not a parody. We didn’t try to do exactly the same. We didn’t want to do that. We wanted to bring that duo and that energy into 21st century, just to see what would happen if Chip and Dale were living in a park in a modern city.


It feels very classic that Chip and Dale are nonverbal and don’t necessarily talk. I think that really allows the animation to shine. I was curious about how that was from a director standpoint.

Even though Xilam Animation is pretty well-known for its old nonverbal comedy shows such as Oggy and the Cockroaches… we know how to do that in Xilam. But for Chip ‘n’ Dale, as a writer, it could be kind of scary to dive into a nonverbal show. Because when you’re with the writers in the room, you speak ideas, and that’s how we communicate as humans. We were a little bit worried at first about that. “Is it really going to work?” Because we wanted the show to have kind of intricate storyline and not straightforward story.

We were telling [these] kind of difficult, intricate stories, but without dialogues. But also we had the chance to do 2D animation, hand-drawn 2D animation. Doing that, you can do pretty much whatever you want. Chip and Dale — their expressions, their attitude, and the work of the voice actor, but no need for dialogues, we really soon realized that it was going to be okay. It was going to be okay. Chipmunk dialogues. Strong animation. That’s it.


What sources of inspiration did you have for the animation style?

That flavor you talk about, that tone, is really the 2D hand-drawn style, actually. Nowadays, it’s on a computer, but it’s still 2D hand-drawn, which means every single animation key pose is hand drawn on a computer. We didn’t use any puppet system from Flash or any CGI help. Everything was straightforward 2D animation. I was thrilled about that, because I started to learn animation back in the ’90s. When I started, well, guess what? No Flash. No Toon Boom, Harmony. Just paper and pencils and erasers. That’s what I learned. I think, for slapstick comedy, that is very much the best way to do that, because you can do whatever you want.


What would you say surprised you the most while working on these episodes?

I think it is when we started to develop their personalities. We started to give Chip this anxious, over-thinking, OCD kind of characterization, and Dale was the more laid back, chill, acting-before-thinking kind of character. What was really surprising was to see how much I was able to relate to the characters. Not only me, but the whole team of writers. We were really Chip and Dale. Actually, a lot of writing workshops started the same way. “Oh. You know what happened to me yesterday?” “Oh. You know what happened to me this morning?” Or, “I said that to my kid, or to my wife, or whatever, or to my husband,” and we turned that into stories. That’s what really was striking to me. Chip and Dale are chipmunks, but we all are Chip and Dale, really.


Is there a particular sequence or short in the first batch of episodes that you’re especially proud of, that you’re like, “I cannot believe I was able to be involved with this”?

Well first, working with Chip and Dale, I still cannot believe a bit, actually. We’re talking together and I was directing Chip and Dale… I still have a hard time believing it, really. About the first batch of episodes you’ve seen, I love the one with Pluto and small puppies. I really love that one. I think it came together great, the music is amazing in that episode.


I love seeing all the little cameos from other Disney characters. Are there any that would be a dream to have added to the show, if you guys get to do a second batch of episodes?

There’s a lot of characters I’d like to include. I may have been able to include one of my favorite in that season. I don’t know. We’ll see. I cannot really speak about that because that’s a spoiler. The other one is Pluto, because Pluto has been one of my favorite forever. Having him in a few episodes, that was a blast, because he’s funny, he’s super easy to draw, but he’s super expressive. I don’t know. I just love Pluto and just love working on him, really.


What do you hope viewers and fans get out of Chip ‘n’ Dale: Park Life once it comes out?

I hope that, as we did as writers and storyboarders, people will be able to relate to them. But I think also with all the epic, crazy cartoony adventures they have, I think a lot of kids will enjoy the show. What we try to do with Chip ‘n’ Dale: Park Life was do a show for the entire family. I hope that show will be able to reunite families and they will watch [the show] together and enjoy it together. Maybe for different reasons, maybe, but still together and have some good laugh with it. That’s all I hope for.


Chip ‘n’ Dale: Park Life will premiere on Wednesday, July 28th on Disney+, with new episodes arriving weekly.


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