Who Wacked Roger Rabbit? – book review by Fred Patten.
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Who Wacked Roger Rabbit?, by Gary K. Wolf.
Colorado Springs, CO, Musa Publishing, December 2014, trade paperback $14.00 (306 pages).
This is the third “Roger Rabbit” novel by Gary K. Wolf in 30+ years. The first, Who Censored Roger Rabbit? (St. Martin’s Press, October 1981), was bought by Walt Disney Productions and turned into the considerably different animated feature Who Framed Roger Rabbit (June 1988). (For example, there is no Toontown; Roger talks through speech balloons; does not spray his P’s; and he is killed in the novel.) The movie was a mega-hit, and Wolf wrote a second novel, Who P-P-P-Plugged Roger Rabbit (Villiard Books, August 1991) that was not as much a sequel as a movie media tie-in. The title emphasized Roger’s distinctive stutter from the movie, and the dust jacket showed Roger and his wife Jessica as they appear in the Disney cartoon design in the movie. But the second novel’s new background was not that of either the first novel nor of the movie.
Now Wolf has written a third novel. Who Wacked Roger Rabbit? seems betwixt & between the first two. The date is 1947 or ’48, when “Walter Windchill” and “Luella Parslips” are still active gossip columnists.
Eddie Valiant, the private eye, is the hard-boiled narrator. “Me and my smog machine rattled our way down Sunset Boulevard to Columbia Studios, the toniest movie lot in Hollywood, where the bungalows are painted with the pixie dust that coats silver screens and the streets are paved with pure movie gold. A schmoe like me rarely gets an invite to a top shop like this. My gumshoes stick to the seamier sidewalks of Tinsel Town.” (p. 3)
Columbia is about to make a new movie starring Gary Cooper, but a deliberate change from his usual Westerns and sophisticated roles. Producer Barney Sands (a human) explains to Eddie that it’s to be set in Toontown, with Coop playing a low-class human living there.
“‘Coop will immerse himself in his role, actually living the life of the character he plays. I want him to hang out in Toontown. Get inside the heads of his Toon co-stars, find out what makes them tick. Use those emotions to structure his own performance.’ Sands flipped his Zip and lit another cigarette. I never saw a guy smoke so fast. Like he had a pair of suction fans inside him instead of lungs. ‘The end result will be sensational. The new Cooper. Crude, basic, and untamed. Giving a performance that delivers a punch straight to the gut.’
Sands amplified. ‘The Method method demands that Coop get the close-up-and-personal experience to make it work. Coop has to go to Toontown. He has to live there. He has to soak Toontown in.’
As far as I was concerned, they could both go soak their heads in a bucket. ‘Sounds like you got everything all worked out fine. Waddya need me for?’
‘Insurance, Mister Valiant.’ Sands reached into his desk drawer. He pulled out a stack of word balloons, the kinds Toons put up over their heads when they talk. ‘Somebody doesn’t want this movie made.’” (pgs. 10-11)
Eddie has worked with Toons before (in the first novel and the movie), and he doesn’t want to repeat the experience; especially when he learns that Coop’s co-star in this movie will be Roger Rabbit, who Eddie knows better than he likes. But Sands reaches into his drawer and “pulled out a wad of simoleons so thick he needed both of his tiny hands to lift the stack. He set the moola on the desk between us.” (p. 15) Eddie takes the case.
Who Wacked Roger Rabbit? is closer to the Disney movie than to Wolf’s first novel. Roger Rabbit is still alive, and with an important Toontown profession rather than being a minor second-banana actor. Toontown is a zany Toon ghetto, rather than the Toons living spread out through Los Angeles. The Toons speak in word balloons while in Toontown, and in regular speech elsewhere, rather than all one or the other. Eddie has to exchange his .32 Smith & Wesson pistol and his sawed-off shotgun for a cap pistol and a shotgun that produces a flag that says BANG! when he enters Toontown, because they’re funnier. He also, because he’s so sour-faced, is given a cute puppy that he’s required to keep with him for laughs. “The puppy’s idea of making me happy was to pee on my leg.” (p. 37) When Roger is introduced, he makes an allusion to his famous movie slobbering his P’s, but he fortunately talks in normal speech (or word balloons) for most of the novel.
The reader can discover for him/herself which parts of Who Wacked Roger Rabbit? are more like Who Censored Roger Rabbit? and which are more like the Disney movie. All of the original Disney characters are replaced by lookalikes. Instead of Benny the Cab, Roger as a wannabe outlaw biker rides a giant talking motorcycle, Charlie Cycle, with an eyeball for a headlight.
“‘How you doin’, pukes?, said Charlie in the skinny, vertical word balloon felons used to send messages between the bars of their jail cells. ‘Waddya say we burn some rubbers? And I’m talking tires, not the kind you slip over your exhaust pipes. Follow me. If you can.’” (p. 47)
The plot that emerges from all the zaniness is that Willy Prosciutto, the crime lord who runs Toontown (“One of the movers was a massive Toon swine. His overweight, jiggly body demonstrated the ugly result of gobbling double helpings of slops and swill. The porker wore the pinstriped suit favored by costumers of third rate gangster movies. The suit’s overly broad shoulder pads forced the pig to turn sideways whenever he walked through a doorway. The brim on his fedora was the same circumference as his ample belly. [etc.]” (p. 49), doesn’t want the movie made, for unknown reasons. Eddie, Roger, Gary Cooper, Barney Sands, Miss Ethyl Gravitz (Sands’ super-efficient secretary), and the puppy Mutt have to confront Willy Prosciutto and his gang: Louie Louie Louse, his henchbug; Honey Graham, his moll; Boss Tweedeedledum, the corrupt two-headed Mayor of Toontown; and the whole crooked Toontown police force.
Jessica Rabbit is mostly offstage at first. (Her appearance is worth waiting for, for male readers. Wolf takes advantage of Who Wacked Roger Rabbit? being unillustrated to describe her in more revealing detail than Disney could show.) Her description is still vague enough as to be impossible to say whether it matches her appearance in the movie. It rapidly becomes obvious that Wolf had to avoid the Disney movie as much as possible. The novel’s cover is by Jacques Muller, one of the animators on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but it doesn’t show either Roger or Jessica. Instead it features Willy Prosciutto, Honey Graham, and Mutt – all original characters in this novel.
The fourth character, holding the Toon blunderbuss, is supposed to be Eddie Valiant. Gary Wolf posed himself for this photograph as Eddie. He also appeared as Eddie on the dust jacket of Who Censored Roger Rabbit? in 1981. Then, the 40-year-old Wolf looked reasonably like a tough private eye. Today, he’s a bit long in the tooth for the role.
There are plenty of other funny animals among the Toons, such as Ask Me My Name, the gorilla customs agent at the Toontown entrance; Twentieth Century Fox (a.k.a. Wunderfox), a Toontown vulpine teenaged cartoon director; Catman, a feline former superhero actor now selling used anthropomorphic vehicles at Car Toon Terrace, and Tweeter, his old co-actor; Hardware Henri, a lobster tailor and fashion designer; Hippity Hopper, a female kangaroo scriptwriter; and Delancy Duck, the publisher of Toontown’s newspaper. Humanoid Toons include Doc Trinaire and Annie Mation.
Who Wacked Roger Rabbit? rambles a lot to get in all the Toons. Most of them turn out to be much more serious than Roger, or than what Eddie has been told that all Toons act like, such as the sadistic Louie Louie Louse. The mystery is also serious. An important supporting character is murdered, except that Roger and Gary Cooper get glimpses of him walking around. Is his death phony, or is someone faking that he’s still alive? This also makes the threats against Barney Sands and Gary Cooper seem more deadly.
Who Wacked Roger Rabbit? is good fun, especially for furry fans who enjoy funny animals. It was originally published by Musa Publishing as a $4.95 e-book in November 2013. It published this trade paperback edition in December 2014. On March 1, 2015, Musa Publishing went out of business, and the e-book edition disappeared. Readers are advised to act fast before Amazon.com runs out of its stock of the paperback.