In the beginning, was the Mouse: Mickey, the squeaky-voiced cartoon rodent born in Walt Disney's brain.
That same brain begat Minnie, Goofy, Dumbo, Bambi and a host of other profitable characters of the silver screen.The latest scion of the house the Mouse built is Roger Rabbit, star of his own high-tech animated film noir, a movie that could make him the cartoon bunny for the 1980s.
"Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" drew adoring critical notices and brought in nearly $15 million in its first weekend, and nearly $40 million in its first two weeks.
Roger's certainly has the qualifications of a modern media hero: a slightly scruffy look, like Mel Gibson but with longer ears: a gorgeous actress wife--okay, she's a vampy cartoon named Jessica--who married him because "He makes me laugh": and the backing of Steven Spielberg and the Disney studios' Touchtstone division, along with the technical wizardry of George Lucas's Inustrial Light and Magic.
But what has critics and audiences gaga is the movie's seamless interaction between cartoon stars and human actors, including British actor Bob Hoskins, who plays the most rumpled gumshoe in Tinseltown.
Hoskins, who played a small-time hood with a heart of gold in the film "Mona Lisa," this time plays the disillusioned Eddie Valiant, a private eye lifted from the pages of Raymond Chandler--except that this case involves the infidelities and double-crosses of a rabbit with a juicy stutter and a tendency to carom off the ceiling when he drinks a shot of liquor.
The case also involves a heavy dose of nostalgia: for streetcars, for hand-made cartoons, for the post-war world of Southern California before freeways, shopping malls and suburban sprawl.
Unlike the ground-breaking cartoons of the past--Disney's "Snow White" and "Fantasia", the dark 1970s animated comedies "Fritz the Cat: and "Heavy Traffic"--Roger Rabbit" walks the line between happy-ever-after and despair.
There's a happy ending: the streetcars stay and the freeways are held at bay. The racism that was a fixture of some of the early Disney feature cartoons is turned inside out, making heroes of the oppressed Toons (as the cartoon characters who serve the big studios in the film are called).
Toontown, the animated characters' ghetto in the movie, is a glorified Disneyland, and in fact there are murmurs that a for-real Toontown is being discussed for the real Disneyland.
Other spinoffs are also in the works: when Coleco, known for its Cabbage Patch Kids dolls, made a deal to produce a Roger Rabbit doll, its stock jumped.
As befits any $45 million blockbuster, there are big-name guest stars. Dumbo the flying elephant and the hippo from "Fantasia" make cameo appearances; Daffy Duck and Donald Duck, in a Disney-Warner Brothers confab, play a frenetic piano duet; Porky Pig gives his "Th-th-th-that's all, folks" sendoff. Mel Blanc, the creator of Bugs Bunny's trademark "What's up, doc?" does many of the cartoon voices.
Such talent does not come cheap and Touchstone clearly wanted to promote it.