The script by Jeffery Price and Peter Seaman (from Gary K Woolf s book Who Censored Roger Rabbit?) is crammed with gags, puns and movie land references: ‘Is that a rabbit in your pocket?’ asks Eddie’s girlfriend, Dolores, ‘Or are you just pleased to see me?’
For the animation-buff there is not only the delight in noticing such details as the cinema marquee advertising the 1947 Goofy short Foul Hunting, there is also the almost impossible task of cartoon star- spotting among the film’s animated extras: Clarabell Cow putting lipstick on while waiting in line with other bovines for an audition, or the broomsticks from Fantasia sweeping up trash on the studio lot. The eagle-eyed will notice (though maybe not all on first viewing) Pinocchio and Jimmy Cricket, the Roadrunner and the Coyote, the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf, Snow White, Dopey and the Witch, Bambi, Sylvester, Woody Woodpecker, the Reluctant Dragon and many others.
Cameo performers include Porky Pig, Yosemite Sam, Tweety and Tinkerbell. Dumbo (who works for ‘peanuts’) peeks through the blinds of R K Maroon’s office; Droopy is an elevator attendant; and Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny pull a gravity-defying gag on Eddie during his visit to Toontown, where all the buildings and props are anthropomorphized, the clocks have gloved hands and there are street signs warning against ‘FALLING ANVILS’.
The film’s pièce de résistance is a dazzling sequence in which Eddie visits the Toon’s night-spot, The Ink and Paint Club (Password: ‘Walt sent me’). The waiters serving the flesh-and-blood patrons are the bow-tie wearing penguins from Mary Poppins carrying real drinks on trays; the cigarette-girl is a black-and-white Betty Boop -‘Work’s been kind of slow since cartoons went into colour… But I’ve still got it, Eddie. Boop-oop-a-doop!’ – and the cabaret is an explosive piano duet (played on real pianos) by Donald Duck and Daffy Duck.
It is in scenes such as this that the fusing of live-action and animation is at its most impressive: the waiters weaving in and out among the customers, the reflections of the two ducks in the polished veneer of their pianos, and Jessica Rabbit’s vampish top-of-the-bill routine in which she removes a handkerchief from Stubby Kaye’s pocket and polishes his bald head and takes hold of Bob Hoskins’ necktie and pulls him up out of his seat.
The sultry Jessica (whose torch-song is performed by Mrs Speilberg, Amy Irving) is one of several new cartoon characters created for this film. There is Benny the Cab, a tough-talking taxi; a mean-looking gorilla in a ‘monkey-suit’ who works as a bouncer at the Ink and Paint Club; a set of cartoon bullets who talk like Old Timers from a ‘B’ Western; and Judge Doom’s mob of gangster weasels, loosely modelled on the villains who occupy Toad Hall in Disney’s feature The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad, but with names that suggest a subversive joke against the Seven Dwarfs: Greasy, Psycho, Wheezy, Stupid and Smart Ass.
And then, of course, there’s Roger himself – a nutty, wise-cracking, goon with pin wheeling eyes and madly flailing limbs, who freaks out, goofs things up and will do or say anything for a laugh: asked if he has any last requests before being plunged into a drum of deadly solvent, he says he’d like some nose-plugs! It’s doubtful if even myxomatosis could get the better of Roger Rabbit!
A wild, funny and lovable figment of ink and imagination, Roger may have started out as the fictional star of Maroon Cartoons, but he’s wound up a very real star of the Walt Disney Company. And, like his famous 60 year old predecessor, Roger Rabbit is reaping the rewards of stardom: a great deal of what only a cynic (or a rival film studio) would call Mickey Mouse money!
Printed in Animator Issue 24 (Winter 1988)