Tuesday, April 26, 2011

PROFILE: Roger Rabbit

CG Rendition of Roger
for the new millennium.
Quite possibly the last great cartoon character before traditional 2D animation went flaming straight to hell, Roger Rabbit stands as a benchmark in animation history. Comprised of the top three animation studio styles (Disney, Warner Brothers, and Tex Avery) he draws inspiration from several characters across the board. Roger is the ultimate Toon, creatively engineered to be funny. Even his color scheme (Red, White, and Blue) was a conscious choice to make him subliminally likable to audiences. The dash of yellow also keeps him tide to the primary colors, of which all other colors are based. Despite his corporate marketability, Roger’s character embodies a genuine stance in regard to humor and its power over adversity.

Beginning as a literary character in the novel, Who Censored Roger Rabbit? (1981) by Gary K. Wolf, Roger evolved into a mainstream icon when the book was adapted into the feature film Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). The premise established in the film is that “toons” are real living entities that work in the film business as contract players. They co-exist with humans, but derive from a place known as “Toon Town,” where toons from every era and studio denomination exist in unscripted anarchy. The film is significant in displaying all of these characters together, such as Disney stars Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck along side their Looney Tune contemporaries, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, legally. However, in spite of being surrounded by fan favorites, Roger manages to hold his own and carry the show. The film established him as an up and coming star popular among both children and adults, although his wife, Jessica Rabbit, was decidedly more popular with adult males.

Nevertheless, Roger had a promising career before him. The film was a great gateway into the hearts of audiences, but it left a void within them; a longing to see Roger in action. The film begins with an original cartoon that is being filmed like a movie on a soundstage. It is ultimately cut short when Roger fumbles one of his directions. After seeing the potential and marketable interest generated by the film a series of animated shorts were produced and released theatrically, preceding studio features. This gave the public what they wanted, while continuing to build the credibility of a new character. Unfortunately 2D animation was already a dying marketplace. Roger, being a symbol of the golden age of animation couldn’t rightfully make the jump into 3D CGI animation. An attempt was made to bring Roger into syndication with the Disney cartoon, Bonkers (1993), but legal issues prevented that move, calling for original characters to be created instead.

The theatrical shorts are the only testament to the entertainment value of the character outside of the film. They are also the only way to see the character function in his own, natural habitat, sans humans. Below you will find all three shorts, in their entirety, in the order in which they were released. The quality is top notch, just escaping the steep decline brought on by the lack of skilled artists who either switched over to computer animation, or found new careers. To watch these shorts and know that they were produced in your lifetime and then look at the choppy, un-“tweened,” heavily eastern influenced crap that passes for animation today makes you wish “the dip” really did exist.

Tummy Trouble (1989) Originally released with Honey, I Shrunk The Kids (1989)

Roller Coaster Rabbit (1990) Originally released with Dick Tracy (1990)

Trail Mix-Up (1993) Originally released with A Far Off Place (1993)

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