’Toon Politics

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Who Framed Roger Rabbit remains a technical marvel and a lot of fun 15 years after its initial release, but it’s also lacking — and I don’t just mean the question mark at the end of its title. The story is constructed around mixing the cartoon and live-action world and incorporating as many classical ’toon characters as possible. Hmmmm. Change a few words, and that sounds strangely like another Robert Zemeckis movie. The result is a film that often plays to an adult audience with its references and jokes but with story and characters fit only for kids. Of course, that’s the classic Disney-animation model (particularly with Aladdin), but the best family movies are those that are fully made for adults and kids, not half and half; they respect the intelligence of children without insulting that of adults.

What interested me most seeing Roger Rabbit recently were the implications of Valiant’s dislike of ’Toons. Watch the movie and replace “’Toons” with the racial epithet of your choice, and you’ll begin to see the movie’s political overtones. The club where ’Toons perform for the humans but aren’t allowed as patrons. The segregated city. The developers’ efforts to raze ’Toontown to make room for the freeway. The cop who used to be kind to the ’Toons until a heinous crime by a ’Toon turned him bitter and sent him to drink. You can see Valiant in this reading as a model for NYPD Blue’s Andy Sipowicz, and that is fun to watch.

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