Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Who Censored Roger Rabbit?

Who Censored Roger Rabbit?
A mystery
Gary K Wolf

Let’s start off by saying, I blooming well love Who Framed Roger Rabbit? It’s one of my favourite films of all time and I would recommend it to anybody and everybody. As a piece of filmmaking and as a piece of animation it is simply mind blowing, five stars.
Imagine then, my glee at discovering it was an adaptation of a little known novel, Who censored Roger Rabbit? And imagine my despair when I found the novel out of print and only available at incredibly elevated prices.
Well, fast forward a few years and the novel has been released on the kindle for the bargain price of £1.94. I immediately snapped it up and I’m glad I did.

I should mention up front, this is a totally different beast from the film it spawned, characters and locations being almost unrecognizable. I personally think this is a good thing, most of the time, film adaptations exist as little more than watered down versions of the novel. And though the films may still be fantastic, they can rarely measure up to the original source material.
The film adaptation of Roger Rabbit is almost entirely different to the book, the novel features no Judge Doom, no Benny the Cab, no Weasels and no Toon Town.  In fact, apart from the core cast of Valiant, Roger and Jessica the only character that made it into the film is the cigar smoking, whiskey swigging toddler, Baby Herman.

The novel starts with down on his luck gumshoe Eddie Valiant investigating a contractual complaint made by Roger Rabbit, a character in the newspaper comic strip Baby Herman. Roger believes he was promised his own strip and not the supporting role he was granted. Valiant investigates and is ready to write off the case when suddenly both Roger’s boss Rocco DeGreasy and Roger himself are found murdered in their homes. The police are under the impression that Roger shot DeGreasy then someone else killed Roger but Valiant, believing Roger to be innocent begins an investigation of his own.

The style of the novel is that of the trashiest of trashy pulp novels and each of the characters are deliberately overly stereotyped renditions of those pulp staples, Valiant is the hard drinking, perpetually broke gumshoe detective, Rocco and Dominick Degreasy the shady business tycoons and Jessica the tough as nails femme fatale. The dialogue too is purposely hard boiled with Eddie constantly spurting hilarious one liners that you can imagine Humphrey Bogart saying, lit only by street lamps that leak through the gaps in the window blinds. The locations and plot points are clichéd and we’ve seen then a thousand times, but here, re-contextualised, they are simply brilliant, the young Jessica Rabbit getting her first break in the comics business in a seedy porno rag being perhaps the best off all.

There’s a lot to love here but there are a few points where I feel the book could go a little further. One of the main differences between the two versions is that references to other well known characters are much fewer in the novel. Perhaps the author was worried about potential legal troubles that may have followed had he meddled with well known characters but that was one of the things that made the movie so special. The fact that the movie featured characters from Disney, Warner Bros, Harvey and many more made the world seem so rich and oddly believable. Here we are left to make do with occasional references to Bugs Bunny, Kermit and Mickey Mouse. To my recollection the only established character making an appearance is a quick cameo by Dick Tracey. Would it be too much to ask for a couple more of these? Snoopy chasing Garfield around a set perhaps? Dilbert at a coffee machine?

Any complaints I could make would be deliberate nit picks however. Bottom line, this is a smart, well written, loving send up of pulp detective novels. Is it better than the movie? The two are too different to really say, I’d probably still say I like the movie better, but this is a great book. If you’re a cartoon fan, it’s a must read.

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