Roger Rabbit.


Original Medium: Prose fiction
First Appeared: 1981
Creator: Gary K. Wolf
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Roger Rabbit started out in Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, an oddball novel by Gary K. Wolf, which came out in 1981. Its oddballness — the fact that it had cartoon characters living side-by-side with normal humans — made it hard for book sellers to place. Was it a children's book? The prejudice that anything with toons in it was kid stuff was even stronger then than it is now. Was it a mystery? Roger had to team up with …

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… human detective Eddie Valiant to solve his own murder, as only a toon can do. Or was it some hitherto-unknown type of humorous fantasy?

When retailers don't know where to place a book, they tend not to put much effort into selling it. Roger Rabbit would probably be an amusing footnote in modern literature, if The Walt Disney Company hadn't teamed with Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment (Animaniacs, Tiny Toon Adventures) to turn it into a feature-length film, displaying the most sophisticated melding of live action and animation ever seen.

As it is, Who Framed Roger Rabbit (the plot was modified to leave Roger alive at the end, and the title adjusted to match), which premiered June 21, 1988, sparked a new wave of modern animation, revitalizing Disney's position in that field. It was also responsible for popularizing the word "toon", without which this very Web site would have to have been called something else.

Like many toons in his world, Roger made his living as a movie actor. (He'd been a comic strip star in the novel.) In fact, the film opened with the shooting of a comedy short he was making with his regular partner, Baby Herman (a cigar-chomping 50-year-old toon who happened to look like a baby, as Roger happened to look like a rabbit), for Maroon Cartoons. The movie quickly segued into a Chandleresque plot full of cheap dives, sleazy conspiracies, alleged marital infidelity (involving Jessica Rabbit, Roger's very faithful wife), and ultimately, murder. It was livened not just by the frenetic pace and hilarious situations (e.g., the involvement of toons in a noir-style detective story), but also by guest appearances of toon stars from other studios. Woody Woodpecker, Elmer Fudd, Betty Boop, Foghorn Leghorn … the list goes on and on. Only in Who Framed Roger Rabbit could Donald Duck and Daffy Duck appear on-stage together.

Charles Fleischer (no relation to Max) did Roger's voice, a role he reprised in subsequent theatrically-released shorts — Tummy Trouble (1989, released with Honey, I Shrunk the Kids), Rollercoaster Rabbit (1990, released with Dick Tracy) and Trail Mix-Up (1993, released with A Far Off Place). Baby Herman was Roger's co-star in the first two, with Lou Hirsch (mostly a face actor — this is his only voice role) doing his "real" voice and April Winchell (several voices on Disney TV shows like Pepper Ann and Recess) voicing him when "in character" before the camera. In the third, Jessica — who, by the way, happens to be the sexiest toon since Tex Avery's "Red" — was Roger's co-star. Jessica's voice was provided by Kathleen Turner (Mom in Disney's Bad Baby). A minor but amusing point in this series was the use of MGM's Droopy in cameo roles.

Roger's first appearance in American comic books was in a 1989 graphic novel published by Marvel Comics, titled The Resurrection of Doom (Judge Doom having been the villain in the movie). When Disney started publishing its own comics, Roger Rabbit #1 was part of its first batch of releases, with a cover date of June, 1990. Between then and November, 1991, 18 issues came out, as well as five issues of a spin-off title, Roger Rabbit's Toontown. Disney Comics also published a 1990 graphic novel adapting Tummy Trouble into that form, illustrated with frames from the cartoon.

The character hasn't been used much lately, except perhaps as a minor merchandising icon. The comic books haven't been seen in a couple of decades, and a proposed prequel to the movie, Who Discovered Roger Rabbit, was never produced. Roger's section of Disneyland, "Toontown", has been renamed "Mickey's Toontown", and few references to Roger remain there. Disney even went so far as to create a very similar character, Bonkers D. Bobcat, for television, rather than move Roger into that venue.

But as the star of one of the 1980s' high-water marks of animation, Roger Rabbit is not likely to be forgotten soon.


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Text ©2001-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © The Walt Disney Company and Amblin Entertainment.