Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Roger Rabbit Doesn't Have To Be "Funny"

It's my birthday again. So, like I've done many times on this blog of mine over the years, I will use this time to talk about one subject or another that has somewhat been nibbling at my craw for an amount of time.  Here are links to other posts I've made in the past:

Daffy Duck

Pepe Le Pew

Tweety

Jimi Hendrix

Barbra Streisand

You can read (or re-read) those posts at your leisure.  Whether you do that or not, I will still continue to elaborate on what I mean by this blog's title.  Since it's the 30th anniversary of the release of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, why not take this opportunity to do so?
In order to even start to explain what I mean by Roger not needing to be funny, I first have to give a bit of background information. First off, the animation for this movie was under the guidance of a man named Richard Williams.  He got his start in the animation industry working at the Disney studio mentoring under many of the highly skilled veteran animators, 9 of which came to be known as Disney's 9 Old Men.  Flash forward to the late 80's when the Roger Rabbit film is completed and ready for screening.  After the first test screening, Mr. Williams enthusiastically got on the phone and called one of those 9 Old Men, Frank Thomas.  The phone call went something like this:

Richard Williams: Hey, Frank, have you seen footage of Who Framed Roger Rabbit yet?

Frank Thomas: Yes I have.

RW: Well the first screening went over great. People loved it.

FT: OK

RW: You should've seen the kids when Judge Doom was about to shove Roger into the dip and kill him. They all kept shouting, "NO! NO! DON'T KILL HIM!!"

FT: .......He should have.




Ouch! That's some cold-blooded shade being thrown by Frank Thomas.  Although it's not just Mr. Thomas who felt that way. I've heard consensus that the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit is terrible simply because Roger Rabbit himself is a highly unlikeable character.  This right here is the sentiment that I have some contention with.   I do not think the movie was ruined at all by Roger and I'll explain my position with two main points.

1. Roger Rabbit merely represents the golden age of animation.  We're being asked to believe that Roger had a nice huge following with his own cartoon series that was popular around the year 1947 when this movie takes place.  That's how it's set up.  Just look at the short Roger cartoon, Something's Cookin', that begins the movie and how he is presented:

His 'severed' yet smiling head appears with a glowing halo behind it just like the Disney characters. 

This is followed by concentric circles just like the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies.
We then see a character card that other golden age studios, such as Walter Lantz or Terrytoons, would use especially when trying to promote new characters either being first introduced or are just starting to develop a heavy following.
And finally, the title card looks like the same design that MGM used at the start of their cartoons, especially any one of the Tom 'n' Jerry cartoons.

Then you see the basic situation in the cartoon itself.  The premise is that Roger is given the task of babysitting Baby Herman and making sure nothing happens to him..................... or else.



The mayhem ensues when Baby Herman's penchant for innocent mischief is a much bigger load to handle that Roger anticipated.  While watching him trying to accomplish his goal in any way he can, you can see the personality traits and basic schtick that Roger employs.

He has an altruistic nature similar to Mickey Mouse, Porky Pig or Andy Panda. 

He has the manic energy of Daffy Duck, Woody Woodpecker, and pretty much most characters from any of Tex Avery's filmography.

He even possesses that whole persona of a 'nice guy who's not too smart but will do what he can to solve any problem or injure himself trying' that makes Goofy so fun to watch.

You see, Roger Rabbit seems to have been carefully crafted to embody every single golden age cartoon character ever made.  That's pretty much the type of character creation process the Simpsons spoofed in the Poochie episode.  So it's somewhat understandable that people would find him unlikable.  Heck, that's kind of how the main characters Eddie Valiant and his girlfriend Dolores feel about Roger as they hang out with him too.
However, I feel people are putting some rather unrealistic expectations on ol' Roger. Because he's in the same realm of golden age cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Donald Duck, Droopy, Woody Woodpecker, etc. that too many people expect Roger to instantly be at the same level of likability as those characters.  But, as anyone who's every created anything can tell you, that doesn't happen with just one cartoon.  Sure, for example, Bugs Bunny's first cartoon was a hit with audiences, but it was the many many cartoons afterwards that more often than not also did well with audiences are what established Bugs as a bonifide superstar character and no mere flash-in-the-pan that got lucky.
I think the movie's creators knew the uphill battle for the Roger character to win over audiences was because of this, which unfortunately gave the Rabbit that 'trying-too-hard-to-please' vibe around him which most undoubtedly contributed most to his lack of appeal.  However, I consider this to be a rather moot point because of the next point I want to make.

2. The movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit has a well crafted story.  It's plays like an homage to the great film noir detective movies that were prevalent in that same time period.  It contains a who-done-it murder mystery with many twists and turns that in my opinion all wraps up quite well.  Roger is simply a catalyst that helps this plot of intrigue move forward.  For this movie's story to work, Roger doesn't have to be a 'likeable' character per say.  It just has to be believable that Roger could have been a cartoon character in 1947 big enough that a major cartoon studio would be willing to give him work.  As long as his character can conceivably exist within that universe, I think the story still works. Whether Roger Rabbit himself could sustain any kind of following and be an appealing character for anyone in the real world is up to us as individuals. For some the answer is yes, for others it's no, and still others would have no opinion either way.

Although, Disney did take a gamble on Roger developing his own following as they released three other cartoons sometime after Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  The cartoons in question are Tummy Trouble, Roller Coaster Rabbit, and Trail Mix Up.

I'm embedding one of these cartoons below to end this blog post.  Feel free to judge for yourself if Roger is appealing enough or not to sustain any kind of a following.



Anyway, that's my birthday present to myself this year. I hope you had as much fun reading this post as I had writing it.

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