1988 was the year that Who Framed Roger Rabbit bounded into theaters and obliterated the box office. As a frenetic combination of animation and live-action cinema, the world gobbled up the hard-boiled action of Eddie’s adventures in Toon Town, the stuttering, slobbering Roger, and the vixen curves of Jessica Rabbit, the film’s ostensible femme fatale.
While Who Framed Roger Rabbit might be remembered as that crazy mix of animation and live-action, aping an L.A. noir for laughs, it’s worth appreciating the film’s grander ambitions. Tor offers an interesting perspective, and celebrates those ambitions, which the film largely achieved in the face of some serious odds. Based on the 1981 Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, the project was locked away in development hell for several years. Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment help revive the project. That strange partnership infused more money, but also opened the door to creating a large number of visual gags that played on Warner Bros. and Disney’s respective areas of the animation rivalry.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a subversion and commentary on the sexual politics of the noir genre, animation, and American culture in general. Specifically, the film is mired in the objectification of women, and Jessica Rabbit’s refusal to be defined as an antagonist or villain, in spite of her appearance. Her famous line, “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way,” indicts everybody from the residents of Toon Town to the Disney animators and studio heads who are literally responsible for her appearance—which is a pretty gutsy move from a studio that built an empire indoctrinating generations of children with conflated messages of outward appearance and morality. The end result is a movie that’s as much a referendum on the legacy of studio animation as Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven is a meditation on the cultural impact of Westerns.