Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Scene Dissection: "Yeah, What a lucky girl"

I'm always trying to find interesting series to bring to the blog, some hit like our Friday Creature Feature, others fail like my videos doing board game reviews, but let's try this one:

This series will take a scene from a film, TV show, book, comic book etc. and dissect it down to its bare components and why it's significant to both the piece and to culture in general. This lets me flex my research muscles and get some use out of my degree as it sits rotting away in its frame in my den. 

With all that out of the way, let's talk about Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Setting the Scene

Who Framed Roger Rabbit takes place in a 1930's world where all our beloved cartoon characters are real and are hired by studios to make cartoons. How they come into being nobody says and that's not why we're here. Roger is a toon along the same lines as the old Looney Tunes/Tex Avery line, and his boss, RK Maroon is having trouble getting quality acting out of the rabbit. He hires our protagonist, Eddie Valiant, played by the late Bob Hoskins, to get some saucy photos of Roger's wife, Jessica, because this will chill him out... somehow... 

Later it turns out they were part of a plot to frame Roger, hence the title, but whatever. 

We find ourselves with Eddie in the Ink and Paint Club, a place where toons perform onstage to a human audience. After an absolutely BRILLIANT scene of Daffy Duck having a piano duel with Donald Duck, Eddie is ready to see this Jessica perform so he can follow her later and get his pictures. 

Just before Jessica's performance, Eddie runs into an old friend, Betty Boop. She's working as the cigar girl at the club (Okay, this job doesn't exist anymore, but it was a woman who sold cigars and cigarettes to patrons of night clubs. Kind of a lower end job). Betty tells Eddie that "Times are hard since toons went to color", before doing her iconic line and causing a mini Betty Boop craze that lasted through the 90's. 

Literally, it was this one scene that sparked it. 

The lights dim as the band starts up and men rush to the stage eager to see Jessica. Another patron, Marvin Acme, starts dousing himself in cologne and straightening his tie, Betty telling Eddie that "Mr. Acme never misses a night when Jessica performs." to which Eddie replies "Gotta thing for rabbits, huh?" 

Keep that in mind it'll become important later. 

As the music starts up and that sultry voice starts to sing, we get the reveal that Jessica Rabbit, wife of Roger, is a beautiful vixen with a voice that could melt butter. A stunned Eddie says "She's married to Roger Rabbit" and Betty says "Yeah, what a lucky girl." then picks Eddie's jaw up off the floor. 

Foreshadowing and Origins

Fun fact: Who Framed Roger Rabbit was originally a book named Who Censored Roger Rabbit?" In it we get the origin of Jessica and why she looks the way she does. In the novel, the toons are characters from comics, and Jessica is from a dirty pulp comic that was an early form of pornography. In the film they leave Jessica's origins out and just imply that toons the viewing public have never seen before exist in this world like her and Roger. 

Now seeing Betty Boop wasn't just a random happenstance, Betty is significant to Jessica. Old Betty Boop cartoons sit at an awkward point between the slightly dirty comics and the wacky cartoons that were being made, with Betty usually portraying the na├»ve innocent but scandalously saucy female. Like Jessica her appearance was partially for male audiences to have something to look at that was a bit naughty while the kids watched the fun cartoons, so for her to be at the introduction of Jessica foreshadows what we're about to see. 

Remember the line Eddie said about Acme having a thing for rabbits? Up until now we've had no idea what Jessica Rabbit was (the film was made in 1988 so I know most of us NOW know what Jessica looks like but bear with me). All we'd met in new toons were Roger, his foul talking baby friend, and an octopus in the background of the club. The implication to the audience was that Jessica Rabbit would be like Roger, a zany cartoon rabbit that would be a living migraine to work with, but instead we get a sultry vixen walk onstage. 

For the rest of the film Jessica is constantly subverting expectations, making us think she's a concerned wife, a seductive temptress, or even the villain at points. Her first subversion is with her simple existence, not being what the audience would envision when they think of the wife of a cartoon rabbit in red overalls. 

Why She's Lucky

Betty's line and the title of this piece is an idea that comes up a few times throughout the film: People envy Jessica for being married to Roger. Toon logic seems to dictate that the more wacky toons are the more popular ones, with Roger gushing over Goofy and generally unfunny toons getting low paying jobs. Roger then would be a highly sought after rabbit in the Toontown dating market, while in the human world Jessica's beauty and singing talent might be the more appealing piece. In yet another subversion of expectation, we see that most of the toons see Roger as a highly respected actor, while the ones who chase Jessica, like Acme and for a moment Eddie later, are all human. 

Jessica meanwhile, is a toon, and is deeply in love with Roger. When asked all she says is "He makes me laugh," as though that's all he'd need to do. She was willing to seduce and kill anyone who she thought would harm Roger, and take the fall if necessary to save her beloved "honey bunny".  Jessica is one of Disney's best written female characters for the subversive elements she brings to the film, and it all starts with one reveal, that she is married to Roger Rabbit and that she's a lucky girl. 


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