Written by: Sal Crivelli, Special to CC2K
CC2K takes a look at an unproduced script for a prequel to Who Framed Roger Rabbit and finds that it’s not all bad.
When I was offered the opportunity to write a review for what I only saw was Roger Rabbit 2, I had to see it for myself. I already had preconceived notions about how stupid it was going to be, and wondered exactly who commissioned it in the first place. I read it in about two hours, and I have to admit, it’s not half bad. The question really is, which half?
Roger Rabbit 2, or Toon Platoon, (written by Nat Maudlin and Jeff Stein) is a prequel to the original 1988 Robert Zemeckis-helmed film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It centers around Roger’s life before he hit it big with motion pictures, when his life was simple on a farm in Kansas in 1941 with his human mom, dad and siblings. On his 18th birthday, Roger learns a startling secret: he’s adopted. A cartoon rabbit dropped him off on their doorstep on her way to California, claiming she couldn’t provide the life for him she wanted. Roger sets off to California with a picture of his many, many bunny siblings, and his mother’s bottom-half in an oddly-patterned dress (her top cropped off in the picture).
The story takes full advantage of the “prequel” formula. We have multiple origin stories and fourth-wall breaking references to the original material (there’s a half-second, one-lined cameo from a certain surly private detective we’ve seen before). We discover how Roger breaks into the film business. We meet his first real, human friend. And finally, we see exactly how he and Jessica find each other and, eventually, live happily ever after.
Jessica works in radio, but privately desires to be in the movies. Her “toon” origins make her a perfect radio commodity – she can imitate any sound necessary for radio drama: the femme fatale, the slamming of a door, the revving of the getaway car, and everything in between. Her conservative dress, tied-back hair and glasses keep her from realizing her true calling, and it takes a desperate makeover in the same, overdone style as She’s All That in order to reveal her full sexual potential. If you’re worried Jessica discovers her sexual identity in some tawdry, seedy tone like the one in the original Roger Rabbit, don’t despair. It’s pulled off with all the originality and tact of a Saturday morning cartoon. The only difference is, Jessica unergoes her makeover in preparation to seduce a Nazi. Don’t ask.
No Roger Rabbit film would be complete without a cynical, bitter human to react to Roger’s innocent calamity. The Eddie Valiant character in this film is Richie Davenport, an Air Force dropout with a horrible secret: crippling acrophobia (fear of heights), preventing him from climbing a steep set of stairs, let alone set foot in a fighter plane. He decides to try to make a go of his acting career, and that’s where our two main characters cross paths – literally. Richie hits Roger with his Ford, en route to Hollywood. The two form an unlikely relationship that reaches tinseltown, where our heroes go off in search of their own destinies: Richie’s career in the pictures, and Roger’s quest to find his mother.
Of course it doesn’t take long for the two to find out their destinies are intertwined, and the two move into a small apartment right in town, next door to two beautiful ladies: a woman named Wendy Roan, who has the natural talent of screaming on cue, and a toon named Jessica Krupnick (who may eventually marry our hero Roger simply to change her name). Jessica’s job in radio catches the attention of radio director Otto, a Nazi spy who seeks to perpetuate American political neutrality in his radio programs. When Pear Habor is bombed shortly thereafter, all bets are off.
There is an interesting bit showing the toons enlisting in the Armed Forces, and the excitement about having unkillable soldiers who could produce bombs and weapons of all kinds from thin air. Overseas, however, the scene is decidedly different: the toons are ineffectual and zany, refusing to actually kill any human opponents, compromising their first and only mission. The toons are relegated to a lowly base far from the fighting. Richie’s cowardice shows itself during a pivotal battle, and he is placed in charge of this league of animated losers, and I think you can all see where this is going.
The story devolves into a sinister Nazi plot to blow up the Malta convention with an early prototype of the V-2 rocket and Otto’s kidnapping of Jessica and Wendy in the interests of demoralizing American troops, forcing the voluptuously voiced vixen to spout Nazi propaganda and images of being back home in America to Allied troops. Richie and Roger and a handful of third-tier toons infiltrate the base, save the girls, stop the rocket, and vindicate the disgraced toons. Jessica falls for Roger, Richie beats his feat of flying, and the heroes are thrown a ticker-tape parade in Hollywood. In the end of the film, we find out just who Roger’s mother is, and we even get an idea of who his father is (in one of the more pandering jokes the movie has to offer).
I thought the movie was going to be a kind of funny, pop-culture Dirty Dozen, or The Great Escape. Instead, it had minor homages to the war films of before, but didn’t really manage to pull it off. Whereas Who Framed… is a perfect riff on Chinatown – hell, it’s practically a sequel – whereas Toon Platoon is more of a ham-fisted origin story. With Nazis. I really thought they might use this movie to make references to the old propaganda cartoons Disney and Warner Bros. made featuring their major characters helping the war effort, but sadly that wasn’t the case. The reference is made, and quickly tucked away and ignored until the last 10 minutes of the movie.
In the end, is it as horrible an idea as I previously thought? Not really horrible, but certainly unnecessary. It answers a lot of questions you could raise from seeing Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but who out there wants to know? Who needs to know how Roger broke into the film biz? Who needs to know what Roger did during the war? While some of the script is full of fun and nostalgia (and certainly trumps the ill-fated Looney Toons: Back in Action), it’s a movie that nobody asked for. Curiously, they wanted to make a prequel back in 1989, which must have seemed positively revolutionary back in the day. Today, it’s almost expected– take a classic that resonates with the general public, give the script to the writer of The Scorpion King, make a few half-hearted references to the original, and make your money off the backs of the suckers who loved the original. This is no Star Wars Prequel trilogy, to be sure. But then again, it’s not really anything.