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roger-rabbit-bugs-mickey-falling

Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse on the same screen will never happen again.  The reality of licensing issues, as well as Disney’s general soullessness will prevent their beloved Mickey from ever appearing on screen alongside Bugs Bunny who’s fallen upon hard times in recent reboots.  The other problem is the fact that the last time he was on screen alongside the infamous rabbit the following scene appeared:

Bugs Bunny: [Eddie is falling; Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny, both wearing parachutes, join him] Eh, what’s up, Doc? Jumpin’ without a parachute? Kinda dangerous, ain’t it?

Eddie Valiant: Yeah.

Mickey Mouse: Yeah. You could get killed. Heh, heh.

Eddie Valiant: You guys got a spare?

Mickey Mouse: Uh, Bugs does.

Eddie Valiant: Yeah?

Bugs Bunny: Yeah, but I don’t think you want it. Mickey-mouse-bugs-bunny-113

[in a sing-song tone]

Eddie Valiant: I do, I do. Give it to me!

Mickey Mouse: Gee, uh, better let him have it, Bugs.

Bugs Bunny: Okay, Doc. Whatever you say. Here’s the spare.

Eddie Valiant: Thank you.

Eddie Valiant: [Mickey and Bugs deploy parachutes; Eddie pulls ripcord on parachute, and a car tire comes out] Aw, no! AAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!

Mickey Mouse: Aw, poor fella. Ha ha.

Bugs Bunny: Yeah, ain’t I a stinker?Movie_poster_who_framed_roger_rabbit

I remember being a kid and watching this scene enraptured by the fact that Mickey Mouse could appear alongside Bugs Bunny, who was always my favorite of the two (he just had more character than Mickey) on the same screen.  Even at that age I understood the basics of corporate copyright and that even though it would be awesome for the pair of them to star in a cartoon together, the adults in charge of such decisions didn’t want it because it would be complicated, cost money, and that you’d probably have to involve lawyers.  I take some pride in recognizing that even at that age I realized that most lawyers were subhuman.  Still watching this scene just the other day with my family I was amazed even then that such a moment could actually happen.  That’s why the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Has remained not only one of my favorite films, but also one that leaves me intrigued.

Before I get to that though I need to address Jessica Rabbit.

jessica-rabbit2

My first introduction of the character wasn’t actually her vivacious performance in the film, but actually a few cartoons of her in one of my father’s Playboys.  I’ve written before that I would often steal these magazines and look through them entranced by the naked women found therein, but between my careful studies of the centerfolds I actually really enjoyed the comics and artwork.  Jessica Rabbit, before I knew who she was, was one of my favorites for two obvious reasons: the first was her two curvaceous breasts and the second was her ridiculous body shape, see what I did there?  Since the film premiered in 1988, Jessica Rabbit has become a cartoon sex symbol before Japanese tentacle porn became a parody of itself.  Straight men everywhere had collected hard-ons for Jessica Rabbit, and the following lines were memorized by puberty-stricken boys (like I was some painfullyjessica-rabbit short time ago) everywhere:

Jessica Rabbit: You don’t know how hard it is being a woman looking the way I do.

Eddie Valiant: You don’t know how hard it is being a man looking at a woman looking the way you do.

Jessica Rabbit: I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.

The various boobs puns and physical jokes made Who Framed Roger Rabbit the secretly adult film that everybody enjoyed.  The conflict became, as so often happens, with young men who couldn’t get laid turning her character into a fetish.  Roger Rabbit, Jessica’s husband, is a dork and a nerd by any standards and so the relationship has become a kind of symbol for bitter men everywhere.  The attitude of “Girls should like me because I’m a nice guy” has festered into something perverse and Jessica Rabbit became a prominent figure in this fucked up farce of manners.  Jessica Rabbit, with her fleshy plump boobs, Booby-trapwas the girl every guy wanted to get, and the boys who watched the film figured that because they were dorks like Roger that meant that they “deserved” a girl as equally attractive.

The problem with this mentality is that it’s bullshit.

The relationship between Roger and Jessica was never about Jessica feeling that Roger deserved her, and in fact had these bitter men been paying attention they would have noticed this.  Roger is a dork and a clutz, but he treats his wife with respect.  Rather than worshipping her, or lavishing affection on her solely because she’s beautiful, Roger treats her as an equal.  Roger doesn’t see a woman with massive breasts, he sees a woman whom he loves and respects and in this way Who Framed Roger Rabbit? managed to give one of the most missed feminist narratives in cinematic history.

Likewise many young men apparently missed a subtle important lesson later in the plot:

Eddie Valiant: Seriously, what do you see in that guy? Rogerandjessica_carrotcake

Jessica Rabbit: He makes me laugh.

Case and point: Just because you’re nice doesn’t mean you’re going to get the girl; you’ve got to do something that impresses her enough to realize you’re worth her time and humor certainly helps.

This review isn’t just about Jessica Rabbit’s breasts and feminism however, for while at first the film may appear just a wacky romp involving a once in a lifetime merging of licensing and corporate products, the film is actually one of the great murder mystery movies of all time.  The reason for this success is really Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd.  These two men hold a special place in my heart as actors because both men starred in films that helped shape my early mind and self.  Christopher Lloyd shall always be the wacky librarian from The PageMaster, and Bob Hoskins will always be Mr. Smee from the movie Hook.  While neither men achieved A-list celebrity status in their life they both managed throughout their careers as actors to bring something unique to their craft as well as their performances.

Bob Hoskins plays Eddie Valiant, a former police detective who’s retired after his brother was murdered by a toon in a place called Toon-Town.  For the record his brother had a 615full-who-framed-roger-rabbit-screenshotpiano dropped on his head and no that isn’t a joke.  It is but it isn’t, does that make sense?  Down on his luck and struggling with alcoholism Eddie’s hired by R.K. Maroon, head of Maroon pictures to take photographs of Roger Rabbit’s wife.  He discovers that Jessica Rabbit is playing Patty-Cake with Marvin Acme (the hand game, phrasing, though it really is just patty-cake) and when Roger Rabbitt find out he goes nuts.  When Marvin Acme has a safe dropped on his head everybody looks to Roger, especially a character by the name of Judge Doom.  The film follows Roger and Eddie as the two of them try desperately to prove Roger’s innocence and figure out “who dunnit?”  Signs point originally to Roger, then Jessica, then R.K. Maroon, then finally to Judge Doom played by Lloyd.

Christopher Lloyd, as I said before, will always be the cooky librarian from The PageMaster, as well as the Pagemaster himself, and in many ways it’s disgraceful howchristopher-lloyd-as-judge-doom-in-who-framed underappreciated he is as an actor.  Playing Judge Doom the man manages to outperform almost everyone apart from Hoskins, the pinnacle point being his brief monologue explaining why he wants to destroy Toon-Town and all cartoons period:

Judge Doom: [Explaining his plan to wipe out Toon Town] A few weeks ago I had the good providence to stumble upon a plan of the city council. A construction plan of epic proportions. We’re calling it a freeway.

Eddie Valiant: Freeway? What the hell’s a freeway?

Judge Doom: Eight lanes of shimmering cement running from here to Pasadena. Smooth, safe, fast. Traffic jams will be a thing of the past.

Eddie Valiant: So that’s why you killed Acme and Maroon? For this freeway? I don’t get it.

Judge Doom: Of course not. You lack vision, but I see a place where people get on and off the freeway. On and off, off and on all day, all night. Soon, where Toon Town once stood will be a string of gas stations, inexpensive motels, restaurants that serve rapidly prepared food. Tire salons, automobile dealerships and wonderful, wonderful roger.11 cropbillboards reaching as far as the eye can see. My God, it’ll be beautiful.

It’s difficult to accurately convey how hilarious this plan is unveiled, and while from afar it seems ridiculous the reason is because it is.  The film is set in 1947, before the Eisenhower administration would begin the massive infrastructure project that would actually make this “freeway” a reality.  The joke of course is that nobody would build this monstrosity because it would reduce the natural “beauty” of the Californian landscape, not to mention destroy Toon-Town which brings people true happiness.  Judge Doom doesn’t care however for its ultimately revealed that he himself is a homicidal toon, the very toon in fact who killed Eddie’s brother.

The reader may at this point wonder what the real artistic merit of this ridiculous film could be?  By the sounds of it the film is ludicrous and possibly sexist and so what value could there be other than the nostalgia factor of watching Loony Tunes and Disney 445514characters intermingle?

This is a fair question given the fact that from afar this film may not seem to possesses much depth, but in fact Who Framed Roger Rabbit? explores an important idea: the American Creative Landscape.

Animation was not invented Americans, but it was certainly developed and processed by them.  Men like Walt Disney through his Mickey Mouse and Goofy specials steadily introduced new possibilities for storytelling through animation.  The physical stunts of Goofy remain a standard of physical comedy equal to actors like Charlie Chaplain and Buster Keaton.  Much later when Warner Brothers would begin to fashion the characters of Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, and Wiley Coyote, these standards and story structures would alter as the slapstick of ACME inventions and “Wabbit Season” became not just amusing shorts, but the defining images of a generation.  Toons are an American invention and the landscape they inhabit typically involves the American landscape.  Take Wiley Coyote, the man, or coyote really, who Wile-E-Coyote-blows-himself-updefined the term quagmire.  His relentless efforts to capture the Roadrunner to satisfy his hunger always take place on the American highway, specifically the western plains of Utah and Colorado with its steeps and canyons.  Bugs Bunny, still history’s greatest winner, came to embody the idea of America and what America stood for.  It wouldn’t be until Jim Henson created Kermit the Frog that Americans would have a non-human that so embodied the American spirit.  I may be gushing now, but all that I am attempting to convey is the fact that generations of young people grew up watching Loony Tunes and Disney movies, and so in many ways cartoons constitute a greater reality for people of my and previous generations than their own government or elected officials.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is a murder mystery but it is also a reproduction of consciousness.  Watching cartoons growing up, laughing at them, and internalizing these characters there’s a moment in the film that should create a necessary pause for reflection.  Eddie’s stopped Roger from entertaining some drunks in a bar:who-framed-roger-rabbit-1

Eddie Valiant: You crazy rabbit! I’m out there risking my neck for you, and what are you doing? Singing and dancing!

Roger Rabbit: But I’m a toon. Toons are supposed to make people laugh.

Eddie Valiant: Sit down!

Roger Rabbit: You don’t understand. Those people needed to laugh.

Eddie Valiant: Then when they’re done laughing, they’ll call the cops. That guy Angelo would rat on you for a nickel.

Roger Rabbit: Not Angelo. He’d never turn me in.

Eddie Valiant: Why? Because you made him laugh?

Roger Rabbit: That’s right! A laugh can be a very powerful thing. Why, sometimes in life, it’s the only weapon we have. bob-hoskins-eddie-valiant-and-roger-rabbit

An old expression goes “first kill all the lawyers.”  In dictatorship there’s another adage: “First kill all the writers.”  Power is a force and influence that holds sway over our reality because ultimately every human being attempts in some way to achieve it and hold fast to it; the moral degenerates of society that desire power so that they may stamp out their own failings despise laughter because ultimately power is reduced by laughter.  The reason a society protects the rights of comedians and writers to tell jokes is because it allows the people, who hold lesser powers than the chiefs of state, to feel for a moment that they are equal.  Laughing at Will Ferrell’s George W. Bush impression, at Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin impression, and Dan Akroid’s Regan impression humanized those men because people began to remember that politicians are human beings, fallible human beings.  Who Framed Roger Rabbit? med_1409617352_1382490354_imageis not a political film by any means, but this small clip is a reminder of the power that power holds over people.

Characters like Bugs Bunny, Goofy, and Bettie Boop are in many ways more real than Kings and Presidents because they have contributed more directly to people’s personal lives.  Laughing at Wiley Coyote blowing himself up was always more real than the Monica Lewinsky scandal as a kid because it had more pressing relevance.  Laughing at the coyote’s failure was a way of coping with the chaotic, and at times, malevolent real world that was childhood.  When I watched him blow up I didn’t think about being picked on because I was bad at sports, or that I felt like I wasn’t a good son to my father, or about the way my grandparents would fight.  Laughter is the only way to combat the real absurdity of human existence.

For example, combatting the prospect of death, one can always fall back upon the old gags:

[Judge Doom about to “dip” Roger]

Eddie Valiant: Hey, Judge. Doesn’t a dying rabbit deserve a last request?

Roger Rabbit: Yeah, nose plugs would be nice.

Eddie Valiant: I think you want a drink. So, how about it, Judge?

Judge Doom: Well, why not? I don’t mind prolonging the execution.

Eddie Valiant: Happy trails. rogerrabbit

Roger Rabbit: No thanks, Eddie. I’m trying to cut down.

Eddie Valiant: Drink the drink.

Roger Rabbit: But I don’t want the drink.

Judge Doom: He doesn’t want the drink.

Eddie Valiant: He does.

Roger Rabbit: I don’t.

Eddie Valiant: You do.

Roger Rabbit: I don’t.

Eddie Valiant: You do.

Roger Rabbit: I don’t.

Eddie Valiant: You do.

Roger Rabbit: I don’t.

Eddie Valiant: You don’t.

Roger Rabbit: I do.

Eddie Valiant: You don’t.

Roger Rabbit: I do. Wiki-background

Eddie Valiant: You don’t.

Roger Rabbit: [taking drink] Listen, when I say I do, that means I do.

[Roger smokes up, releasing himself from Judge Doom, and Eddie takes out the Weasels]

Ultimately no one knows who Judge Doom really was, or why he did the things he did, but in the end a gathering of Toons assembles when Acme’s will is discovered and it all ends with Porky Pig saying goodbye to the audience.  Toons embody a plane of the human consciousness that is ultimately unknowable, but their power over us is undeniable and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is about exploring that terrain.  On the one hand watching Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny fall together in one shot is about nostalgia and pathos, but on the other hands it’s an opportunity to look upon the physical gag of opening a bd04_originalparachute and finding a tire instead.  It’s a cheap gag, and will make you laugh, but in that moment the world is reduced to a memory and philosophic opportunity.

Laughing at Eddie Valiant fall is remembering the joke, and for a moment parting with who we are to abandon ourselves to sheer absurdity.  Reality is weird and even after thousands of years human beings really have no idea what is going on in existence.  Faced with such overwhelming absurdity laughing at a rabbit get a fridge dropped on his head really isn’t that far away from recognizing your own mortality and laughing it off.

And so, as a great man once said:

[last lines]

Porky Pig: All right. M-m-m-ove along now. Th-th-there’s nothing left to see here. That’s all folks. Mmm, I like the sound of that. [Turns to audience; iris closes in on Porky and “Merry-Go-Round Broke Down” plays on soundtrack] Th-th-th-that’s all, folks!

 porky_1

 

  

*Writer’s Note*

There wasn’t really an opportunity to include it in the essay, but in one of my favorite Calvin Hobbes sketches the two friends are walking through the woods talking about absurdity and how odd it is that human beings laugh at it.  If you pay attention there’s a moment of philosophic and comedic brilliance that could only ever be achieved by Bill Waterson.  Enjoy:

Calvin and Hobbes Absurdity

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