Who Censored Roger Rabbit was a 1981 novel written by Gary K. Wolf. In this novel, we follow Eddie Valiant as he tries to find the murderer of Roger Rabbit, a secondary character in a newspaper strip. The murderer, by the way, is a convoluted set-up that reveals that Roger Rabbit himself murdered a doppelganger of himself.
This would prove to be the basis for a more popular adaptation called Who Framed Roger Rabbit, created by the Walt Disney Company in 1988. The adaptation was an utterly different story, with only a few characters in common as the shift from being about comic strip characters to animated characters would require a rather drastic and dramatic change. Gary K. Wolf would later return to the character in a future novel called Who Plugged Roger Rabbit that retcons the events of the first book as a dream.
What was generally liked about the Roger Rabbit movie was its incorporation of toons and live action actors. Not only do the cartoon characters have to be lit as if they’re really there in a three dimensional form that implies much more depth than what was usually present for animation, but they had to interact with real objects and people as well. The film does a fairly good job of this, even if some bits even now haven’t held up as well.
What made Roger Rabbit particularly notable was its roster of characters- while Disney had a fairly large roster of characters in it’s library by this point, it didn’t have Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck. It’s well known that certain characters had to have equal screen time as their Disney counterparts, creating sequences that had to be boarded and animated around this limitation such as Daffy and Donald’s piano battle.
What’s all this about Roger Rabbit, though? I thought this was an article about Chip n Dale: Rescue Rangers, the 2022 movie? Well, if you thought I was laying down this ground work because this movie is a spiritual successor, you’d be partially correct, but why begin at the novel, of all things?
See, what my real beef with this movie comes down to three distinct themes that it’s concerned with. One is the basis of the actual movie’s plot, which is your typical buddy-buddy movie with two former friends who are rediscovering their friendship. This doesn’t really bother me, per say, but it’s certainly not a interesting take on it. As someone who doesn’t even really have that much familiarity with the Rescue Rangers, I can’t really say whether the movie does these characters justice, although apparently the movie decides to make up episodes.
Regardless of how faithful it is to a show I never watched, that can all be excused by the “characters are actors” set up, which is how this whole genre more or less operates. There are friendships that don’t exist in the text of the original work that these characters play actor for, although generally most of their character traits carry through because they are still ultimately cartoon characters. I think this is where this movie makes its first error, however, because it goes with a completely hackneyed set-up.
In a pretty big deviation from this particular trope, the characters in this are often just skins for roles in the movie at times. Ugly Sonic is the prime example of this, being turned into a FBI agent who apparently works with them on a tv show? Really, this joke could have worked with any ugly CGI character, and the only specific jokes to the original design for the Sonic movie design (which clearly was written and produced in a timespan where not only the redesign was quickly put together but also a sequel has since come out months before this movie hit streaming) are just regarding his teeth and general ugliness.
Which makes me ask… why is this movie so mean?
Everything has this undercurrent of both snide smugness over being a Disney production that gets to play with these other brands, usually only to use them in a really crass or tasteless manner, even with it’s own IP that it has no concern for or even deeper thought. Shrek merchandise gets melted down into toilets, there’s several maimed body parts of characters like Jimmy Neutron, Shenron, Sora, and there’s a bunch of completely worthless cameos that don’t really do anything smart with the characters.
Even Disney’s own IP is ripe for skewering, but not in any particularly smart manner. Flounder from the Little Mermaid gets kidnapped, his lips removed, and then trafficked over to another company to star in knock-off movies. This isn’t a commentary on Disney themselves- you see, when they do it, it’s actually fine and cool. Even the widely reviled CGI movies are canonized as the same characters as the 2D counterparts were, as seen with Baloo. It’s a comically small thing to focus on, but the movie purposefully lacks self-awareness while still being incredibly cruel almost constantly.
This movie isn’t dark in a way that makes any sense, either. The entire crime this film is built around has to be just the fucked-up thing you see it as- any deeper reading into it will be largely unappreciated by the mass audience that this film has admirers for. There’s a greater movement of movie audiences that are completely jaded by Cinema Sins that they have now trained themselves into liking movies on first impression and aren’t willing to actually engage with any other reading. This can be fine for some movies, sure, but I feel like there’s some really troubling aspects with this movie that people are just ignoring because they liked the references and laughed through this movie’s humor which just generally seems to be reliant on references.
The first troubling aspect to me is that this movie seems to be built around the crime of bootlegging, which in this universe is… a trafficking metaphor? Like, what else is it supposed to be? These characters aren’t dead, but they’re robbed of agency and forced to do things against their will, changed without consent. Like that alone feels needlessly cruel but it also makes no sense given what else we know of knock-off movies. Why does Peter Pan have to kidnap other cartoons to star in knock-offs when he willingly created a knock-off of the Peter Pan movie and found success out of it? How come his other co-star we see in the movie, one of the lost boys, didn’t age?
Enter the Bobby Driscoll discourse. Bobby Driscoll was a child actor who was blacklisted by Disney after he grew up, and he got addicted to drugs and died alone in a unmarked grave. Is there more nuance to this story? Sure, in a sense- he signed a bad contract that meant he relied on roles from Disney and being locked in a contract without being used meant that there wasn’t much he could do as a child star. It’s not like anyone involved likely still works there or is even necessarily might be still alive, but it’s still really a messed up part of Disney’s history.
So why is Peter Pan, specifically, this person they created to be this aged up former child star that couldn’t get another role so he had to invent his own? Why is that exactly portrayed as this horrific, body horror trafficking nightmare metaphor? Why is the only other Peter Pan character in this looking exactly like he did in the original motion picture? It’s all so bizarrely pointed that it doesn’t feel like you can just excuse it as the thought process of making Peter Pan grow up because it’s ironic. The actor meta-text feels like it had to inform a significant part of why it had to be Peter Pan, and as opposed to trying to make this character any bit sympathetic, it’s just turned into this icky crime.
Also, isn’t it bizarre that knock-offs in this universe harm the original character actor? It feels like such a leap to even try to make this claim, but you remember how particularly restrictive Disney is regarding the use of their characters. It feels far too intentional to be something the screen writers happened to walk into while writing this out, making a case for extending copyright dominion over their works and characters because you see, if they can’t do this, everyone’s characters get warped and harmed!
Let’s talk about cops, because in this universe, they’re set up as good but useless because of that. They have to get paperwork, they have to follow the rules pretty closely, it’s the whole reason why Chip and Dale are even doing the majority of the detective work in this movie. The police even encourage the two to continue because they can’t without getting in red tape and there’s a ticking clock of 48 hours. It’s a pretty standard trope all things considered, but one that kind of feels rooted in the American myth of the cop that can’t play by the rules because playing by the rules doesn’t get results.
That alone would feel pretty suspect, but the movie tries to have it both ways. The police chief, the Gumby knockoff character made of clay, is actually corrupt and working with Peter Pan and his goons this whole time! The good cop who’s a fangirl of the Rescue Rangers, has to fight him in the climax of the movie. And it only really gets resolved through Ugly Sonic who brings in the FBI.
Are we really trying to say that to stop corrupt cops, we need to bring in the next level of cops? The bigger fish method this movie uses for cops is so baffling to me. I get that a movie like this isn’t going to have the most radical ways of dealing with cops, but this cannot be the solution the movie throws at us. The FBI can be corrupt too, as can the CIA and so on. It just doesn’t really make any sense to tackle institutional corruption through another institution privy to the same kind of corruption.
Sorry, this movie sucks! I really wanted it to surprise me and actually be good, because there were some interesting ideas at play like the CGI surgery or even on a base level, the idea of knock-off fusions isn’t even that bad, but it’s marred with so many bad messages, jokes, and is just weirdly mean and way too dark that I just feel like actively telling people to stay away from it. It doesn’t even have that cohesive of a world- why do humans even exist in this world? There’s so few actually playing a role in this movie that you could cut out the humans entirely out of this world and it would have no impact.
Not to mention that even visually, this movie looks as if it was cobbled together from various points in production over a rather long time and suffers from it. A Muppet character inexplicably exists, but not any actual Muppets in both character and material- the cheese shop owner is a 3D CGI modeled character. Many of the major 2D characters are actually, rather painfully obviously CGI models with a cel-shaded look and they almost never look like what they’re actually going for. Even if this movie was able to accomplish what it wanted, the overall aesthetic is grimy in a really unappealing way that doesn’t come off charming.
The biggest problem coming off this movie is that it’s made by Disney. The whole plot about knock-offs and kidnapping characters feels rather unaware coming from the company that often nicks stories and twists them in ways to service a simplified narrative. The original Roger Rabbit book sounds like a confusing mess, sure, but is it really being treated better under Disney’s (lack of) care? This is the first time in decades they’ve bothered to acknowledge Roger Rabbit, and it’s practically worthless to anything this film wants to say or pull from despite being a “spiritual successor.”
I typically try not to be too negative on my site but it really just specifically gets under my skin in a really repulsive way. A lot of the people who seem to like this movie don’t seem to think much of it beyond it’s reference humor, which is just so shamelessly dated already. It’s engineered off nostalgia in the very ways that Space Jam 2 was derided for, but as opposed to having any sort of dumb fun with it, it’s just crass and disgusting about it.