Lost in the Movies: An Open Letter to Toontown

An Open Letter to Toontown

November 20, 2011

Toontown City Council, c/o Cloverfield Development Co.
Acme Avenue & Avery Alley
Toontown, CA 90@#!

Dear Toons,

Well, gang, I just watched Who Framed Roger Rabbit again, this time for an online series called "Fixing a Hole." (You remember holes, those convenient black discs you carry around in your pockets, portable escape hatches when you're in a pickle. Incidentally, how much those go for nowadays?). Anyway, the movie was a delight as always; though the climax is a bit drawn-out, the appearance of a one-dimensional Judge Doom, crushed and cackling like some maniacal cross between Johnny Paper and Johnny Rotten, is well worth the wait.

I dug that, and I laughed along with Roger, cringed for Baby Herman (somebody tell that middle-aged infant about Viagra, or better yet, don't), and marveled at Bob Hoskins' ability to play it straight even as he was acting against thin ai-  er, I mean, against real, live Toons who must have been rather intimidating “in the flesh.” And Jessica Rabbit. Oh Jessica Rabbit. With her in their extended family, it’s no wonder the fluffy-tailed little mammals are so eager to breed.

Anyhow, not to sound too much like Eddie Valiant, bitterly hitting the keyboard instead of the bottle, but the movie got me thinking. Yes, thinking - I know you happy little animals are just supposed to provide escapist entertainment, but I can't help myself. I was thinking that, compared to a Hollywood dominated be remakes, reboots, and rejects, Roger Rabbit seems positively avant-garde, a relic from an era when blockbuster entertainment surprised audiences with clever stories and witty details, a time when audiences were informed enough to delight in classic cartoon and noir references.

Ok, Chinatown it wasn't, but still a sight better than the gruel we're spoon-fed today. Hell, sometimes I wonder if Judge Doom himself hasn't comandeered the American film industry like a runaway steamroller, spraying imagination with rancid Dip and paving over colorful contours with the cinematic equivalent of an endless, dreary freeway.

Sorry to be such a sourpuss, Rog. I’ll try to take your advice, and cheer up – but then again, maybe you should be listening to me. Come to think of it, are things really so swell for you folks?

I can’t figure out where you all come from, exactly, but it’s clear enough that you aren't “out of the inkwell” like the characters in those old Max Fleischer or Chuck Jones cartoons. Those were clearly drawings, sprung from the page, sure, but at the mercy of their animators. No, you guys can hold your own in the human world, working, fighting, even fornicating with your live-action counterparts. And yet: you Toons are getting a raw deal. Reliant on perverted benefactors like Marvin Acme, at the mercy of mercenary moguls like R.F. Maroon, stabbed in the back by googly-eyed scabs like Judge Doom - and working for peanuts!

After all, why should a smart, sexy lady like Jessica be forced to fondle leering old men in nightclubs? What’s with the monochrome racism going on, whereby a black-and-white dish like Betty Boop is forced out of work (or was it the Code, and not the Color, that did her in)? Why do the police detectives just loaf about while that poor innocent shoe loses his sole to the monstrous Dip and the devious Doom?

What if you staged a revolution, a sit-in, what if Toontown “Occupied Tinseltown” to demand recognition of their rights and dignity? What would happen if the Toons went on strike? The theaters may not run shorts anymore, and television may have syndication, but sooner or later the kiddies would get restless and the moguls would grow nervous. You guys could have the town eating out of your white-gloved hands.

Citizens of Toontown, unite! (I’d say you have nothing to lose but your chains, but as a handcuffed Roger reminds us, you can slip in and out of those whenever you like.) Storm the studios, maroon the Maroons, flatten the Dooms, and tell the condescendingly patriarchal Marvin Acmes to take a hike off the nearest desert cliff. Let Porky inform the stinkers where they stand. And then Hollywood is yours, to run or run into the ground as you please.

And why not? After all, you couldn’t do a much worse job than the five-fingered lot running things now...

Your (five-fingered) friend,

Joel Bocko

Psst, Jessica: Could you drop me a line sometime? I don't want to step on Roger’s paws, but I do play a mean game of paddycake.

A clip from "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" recently featured in "New Age," a chapter in his video series "32 Days of Movies."

Cast, credits, and story summary, which usually precede the piece are featured below today, given the entry's peculiar form (inspired in part by Daniel Getahun's "Open Letter to Hollywood" in 2010):

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988/United States/directed by Robert Zemeckis)
stars Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy, Stubby Kaye, Alan Tilvern, and the voices of Charles Fleischer, Kathleen Turner
written by Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman from the book by Gary K. Wolf • photographed by Dean Cundey • designed by Roger Kane, Elliot Scott • music by Alan Silvestri animation department: Dale Baer, Andreas Deja, Russell Hall, Max Howard, Nik Ranieri, Wes Takahashi, Simon Wells, Richard Williams, and others

The Story: Private detective Eddie Valiant has hated Toons ever since his brother had a piano dropped on his head in Toontown. But when he photographs animated sexpot Jessica Rabbit in a compromising position with Marvin Acme, and Acme turns up dead, Jessica's husband Roger comes to Eddie for help in clearing his name. Will they find out who framed Roger, or end up going for a Dip?

You get the picture.

Read the comments on Wonders in the Dark, where this review was originally published.

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