In 1988 filmgoers got the equivalent of a ‘Marvel/DC Comics’ crossover in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. By taking a hard boiled detective story and mixing it with a cartoon universe we got every single famous cartoon character (at the time) in one place. You want Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny together? You got it!
Or how about Daffy and Donald Duck playing dueling pianos? You better believe it’s there! (Side note: As a five year old who was HUGE on the duck characters seeing this scene is one of the happiest moments in my life. Probably says a lot about my childhood but I so wanted the rest of the movie be about these two trying to outdo each other. Later I realized legal issues made it impossible but I never understood why we didn’t see more of Disney and Looney Tunes characters interacting.)
What I do love about this movie though is how well crafted the universe is. This could easily have been a cash grab but Robert Zemeckis and his crew really wanted to make a legit, detective story. You got the seedy P.I. (played perfectly by the late Bob Hoskins), the femme fatale (Jessica Rabbit who, if you truly wanted, has a huge and pervy collection of fan art), and a villain who isn’t what he seems. The latter is Judge Doom played by Christopher Lloyd who goes full out in his ridiculous trench coat garb. His reveal being a toon is still one of the creepiest moments I’ve seen in a film (damn you helium voice!). This film has a good mystery to it and despite being filled to the brim of talking, cartoon animals this is a serious, adult drama.
I honestly don’t think a film like this could play in today’s world. Mostly because a good chunk of these cartoon characters are not as relevant anymore. Looney Tunes and classic Disney shorts still exist but in a much smaller capacity than twenty-five plus years ago. (Apparently the Looney Tunes are now inhabiting a sitcom-like universe which makes me cringe every time I hear about it.) And who honestly remembers Betty Boop or Felix the Cat? But the real reason why is that this was a legal nightmare to begin with to get made and I very much doubt we’ll see major film studios sit down again for something like this. It is why the always rumored sequel never goes anywhere because who wants to deal with it? So even if you watch the end of this and wish for more adventures within this universe I say don’t think like that. Just be amazed that we got Who Framed Roger Rabbit and enjoy the controlled chaos that is on screen.