Who CENSORED Roger Rabbit: An old(er) perspective on an old classic

RRFair warning: We’re heading into major spoiler territory here (though it’s on a 25 year old movie and a 32 year old book)

If you grew up in the 80’s, chances are you’ve seen the 1988 classic (wow, calling it a classic makes me feel old) Who Framed Roger Rabbit? A few years back, a friend of mine told me that the movie was based on a 1981 mystery novel called Who Censored Roger Rabbit? When told about this, I started trying to find a copy of the book, only to find it had been out of print for DECADES. While it was possible to find copies of it, I wasn’t interested enough to pay $50 – $80 for it.

Then, in 2011, I bought a Kindle Fire (a regrettable purchase, but that’s another story). Around the same time, I discovered that Who Censored Roger Rabbit? was available in kindle format for $1.99, so I purchased it instantly. Between watching way too much tv, gaming, and trying to catch up on a backlog of books I already had stacked up in my apartment, my purchase collected digital dust for a year and a half.

A couple weeks back I finally started reading it, and found it fascinating. The book, which is considered the source material for the movie, is very different, and more mature than the movie, which was clearly aimed at kids.

Second and last WARNING: If you’re interested in reading the book, stop here to avoid major plot spoilers.

rrbWhen I finished the book , I decided to watch the movie again to have them both fresh in my mind. The integrated live-action alongside animation, which was revolutionary at the time, stands the test of time pretty well in the looks department (in particular, the scene in the nightclub where Jessica is singing, rubbing Eddie’s handkerchief over his head and pulling his tie is absolutely seamless). What shocked me the most is the amount of mature things they could get away with in a kid’s movie in the 80’s. While the limits continue to get pushed on what is considered a PG-13 movie these days, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a PG movie with the amount of drinking, smoking (by adults and kids) and sexual innuendo as you do in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Who Censored Roger Rabbit? is definitely more explicit though. While in the movie, most Toons live in a place called Toon Town, in the book, Toon and human society is completely integrated, though most humans have pretty racist feelings towards Toons. Also, rather than making cartoons like in the movie, in the book, Toons make comic strips for newspapers, which are photographed rather than drawn.

While the book and movie share a handful of the same characters (Roger, Jessica, Eddie Valiant and Baby Herman), the plots go in very different directions. In the movie, Roger is framed for the murder of Marvin Acme (owner of both Acme Corporation and Toon Town). In the book, Roger is framed for the murder of Rocco DeGreasy, co-owner of the syndicate Roger is under contract with. The plots sound similar so far, but they definitely start to deviate from here.

The first major difference in plots comes in the fact that Roger Rabbit himself is murdered within the first few chapters. The twist that makes this work is the fact that in the book, Toons are capable of creating doppelgangers/clones to do dangerous stunts for them in their comic strips. The doppelgangers generally disintegrate in a few hours, but if made carefully enough, can last a couple of days. Roger had created one the day he was murdered, and the doppelganger’s last wish is for detective Eddie Valiant (who is even more of an alcoholic than in the movie, finding a drink at just about every location he goes to) to not only find out who murdered the real Roger, but also find out who framed his ex-wife, Jessica for the murder.

Roger never stops believing that Rocco was manipulating Jessica in some way, but when the plot unfolds the truth is much stranger than you’d imagine, and VERY different from the movie. In the movie, Jessica defends herself to the end that she loves Roger, and by the end of the movie, we see this is the truth. In the book, Jessica denies ever having feelings for Roger, and can’t explain why she married him in the first place.

This ends up being the truth, though Jessica did not murder Roger. In the book, Roger swipes a teakettle from the set of a remake of Alice in Wonderland that he worked on. This teakettle ends up being a mysterious lantern with a genie in it. Roger is completely oblivious to the fact that he is conjuring a genie (as he is always in another room of his house when he does so), and wishes for both Jessica to fall in love with him, and to score a contract with the DeGreasy brothers syndicate, both of which come true.

However, the effects of the wishes are only temporary. Jessica eventually snapped out of her spell, left Roger and went back to Rocco DeGreasy, who she was dating previous to Roger putting a spell on her. This infuriates Roger, and he actually did murder Rocco as it turns out. The final kicker is that when Roger accidentally conjures the genie for the last time, it turns out the genie is very disgruntled for being locked up in his lantern for thousands of years, and the genie is the one who murdered Roger.

Roger’s doppelganger was always in on Roger’s plan to kill Rocco, and was meant to be an alibi for Roger, who sends the doppel out to a store so he can be seen in public at the time Rocco was murdered. It somehow all comes together in a extremely bizarre way as Roger’s doppelganger confesses to the truth of the scheme before disintegrating at the end of the book.

I would have honestly liked if the movie stuck closer to the source material, as it’s a more interesting story. However, with the themes being more mature (Jessica has a past in pornography she tries to hide, yet at one point blatantly offers Eddie sex in exchange for helping to prove she’s innocent of Roger’s murder), the murder count being higher, and the plot too confusing to be able to market towards a younger audience, I see why they had to stray so far from the book.

Even stranger is that in 1991, the author of Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, Gary K. Wolf, wrote a second Roger Rabbit book, Who P-P-P-Plugged Roger Rabbit? The strangeness is the fact that the book is a sequel to the movie, not the original book. I haven’t read it yet (it’s next on my list), but from what I’ve read about the plot, it completely breaks continuity with the movie, not recognizing it’s existence.

In December of 2012, it was announced that Wolf is writing a third Roger Rabbit novel called Who Wacked Roger Rabbit? According to Wolf’s official website, this third installment is coming in November of 2013.

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