Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Who Censored Roger Rabbit? [1981]
Written by Gary K. Wolf

Who Framed Roger Rabbit [1988]
Written by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman
Directed by Robert Zemeckis

In a "making of" doc that accompanies the 2-disc DVD version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, executive producer Steven Spielberg enthuses about how he loved the idea of a human detective working with a zany cartoon rabbit. That makes about as much sense as watching Saving Private Ryan and saying, "Gee, that opening scene was sure intense; war must be great!"

Despite its postmodern trappings, Who Censored Roger Rabbit? is fundamentally a mystery novel. Eddie Valiant is the archetypal private dick with a love for the sauce. His distaste for 'toons runs parallel to the casual xenophobia of classic noir. We could easily replace "'toon" with "colored" throughout the novel and come to a sardonically accurate portrait of racial integration (and white fear and disdain for it) in major metropolitan areas during the post-war era.

Wolf's 'toons aren't film stars; they're essentially models. Comic strips are reproductions of still photos of posing 'toons. Most 'toons speak by having word balloons appear above their heads. Some, like Jessica Rabbit, suppress this to "pass" for human.

There are no car chases with gruffly likable talking cabs or star-filled detours into Toontown. There's no "dip," no Judge Doom, and no weasel goon squad. Jessica is a heartless bitch who posed for some porno pics as she was clawing her way to the top. Roger is by turns a love-struck idiot and a plotting, back-stabbing little shit.

And there's a genie.

Basically, Who Censored Roger Rabbit? and Who Framed Roger Rabbit are two entirely different stories with overlapping characters. They share exactly one line of dialogue (spoken by Baby Herman), and even that meets with slight alteration.

This is what bugs me about the standard-issue Disney adaptation. They take a perfectly good source work (be it a Märchen, a kid's story, or even a classic novel), bowdlerize it, toss in some catchy musical numbers and marketable plush-toy sidekicks and release it into the American collective unconscious like some sort of Burroughsian thought virus. And then they soak up all the credit and the cash. The Roger Rabbit that lives in the public's mind isn't Gary K. Wolf's...it's the Disney Corporation's. It lives alongside Disney's Snow White, Disney's Pinocchio, Disney's Aladdin, Disney's Hercules, and Disney's Quasimodo---all pale shadows of their original incarnations. And these shadows are further diluted by the continuous flood of straight-to-video sequels, theme park rides, and TV series.

Words fail me. Let's face it, you've probably already seen the movie. Try reading the book now. It's a surprisingly smart and gripping little novel. Introduce yourself to the real Roger Rabbit. Find out what a little rat bastard he is. And wonder why Spielberg and the Mousketeers thought the whole thing should be reduced to big, loud, expensive, broadly played, special-effects-laden family event film.

{Oh, that's right, it's the fucking money, stupid.}

No comments: