Retro Recaps: Roger Rabbit – The Resurrection of Judge Doom
If you were a kid in the late 80’s, chances are you saw 1988’s blockbuster film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
The film was Robert Zemeckis’ second big hit following Back to the Future in 1985, and it was in essence, a perfect storm of a film. With Steven Spielberg producing, the film noir homage also united characters from both The Walt Disney Studios and Warner Brothers, in a tour-de-force that many have never seen since.
It also ingrained in many of our young minds, one of the freakiest scenes of all. There was already something ominous about the stone-faced Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd), but things got even stranger when he was flattened by a steamroller…and rose up, to become the screechy-voiced, red-eyed toon that was revealed to have killed Eddie Valiant’s brother, Teddy!
Of course, Doom soon met his own doom by way of his own Dip creation (a mixture of turpentine, acetone, and benzyne, or the stuff used to wash off old animation cels). With his demise, a happily-ever-after was in order as Eddie had avenged his brother’s death, and the fate of Toontown was revealed in Marvin Acme’s hidden will, bequeathing the property to the toons who resided there.
Roger would take hold of my young mind in a big way. I was enthralled by animated characters interacting in our world, giving in to the illusion the filmmakers had crafted. Roger would then be given a series of shorts, beginning with 1989’s Tummy Trouble, attached before the start of that year’s Disney summer release, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
Unknown to quite a few people, Disney had released a graphic novel some time before Tummy Trouble’s release. This was known as Roger Rabbit: The Resurrection of Judge Doom. I can still remember my parents balking at the $8.95 price tag for the piece, when they saw it in the local bookstore.
Luckily since then, I managed to finally read what this ‘mid-quel’ between the 1988 film and Tummy Trouble held. I decided to encapsulate it here, for those of you who may not have had the opportunity to see it.
The comic starts off with Roger Rabbit and Jessica watching Frankenstein at a theatre in Toon Town, before a news reel starts up, telling of the recent death of Judge Doom. The reel then goes on to reveal more about the Judge’s true identity: a former toon actor named Baron Von Rotten!
Known as “The Toon of a Thousand Faces,” Von Rotten was largely known for portraying all manner of villains in early cartoons. However, an accident on the set of a propaganda cartoon sent Von Rotten to the hospital. When he came out, many noticed that he would seldom drop the villainous personas he’d portray. As well, his eyes had taken on a reddish hue, which he soon hid behind dark glasses.
The footage then shows investigators looking into his elaborate mansion, which housed not only memorabilia from his many roles, but also his secret parlor wherein he’d turn into many of the parts he’d portray, along with a stolen Multiplane Camera system from an unnamed studio.
As the newsreel footage ends, a weasel in the rear of the theater sneaks out, and goes off to an undisclosed location. Meeting up with several other weasels, he tells of his grand plan to resurrect Judge Doom!
Sneaking into the now-closed Maroon Cartoon studios, the weasels manage to find a model sheet (used to show animators how to draw a character) of Doom in a dumpster. They then take the sheet to an ‘evil ink and paint lady,’ who traces and paints the figure of Doom onto an acetate cel.
The three then head to Doom’s mansion, and place the cel on the Multiplane Camera. Through the use of the camera, and a ‘freak electrical storm’ (shades of Frankenstein), Doom is resurrected! With his memory coming back to him, Doom is bent on revenge against Roger and Eddie Valiant. His first thoughts are to kill the wabbit, but then decides on another course of action.
The comic then cuts to Eddie Valiant, who it seems has made good on kicking his drinking habit…now finding his addiction in popping jelly beans. Eddie soon gets a letter from C.B. Maroon, the twin brother of R.K. Maroon, who if you recall, ended up being killed by Doom in the film. Through his brother’s will, C.B. has inherited the currently-shuttered Maroon Cartoon Studios. Just like R.K., C.B. also has something he wishes to have Eddie investigate.
Eddie soon meets C.B., who does resemble his deceased brother, except for the dark shades on his face. C.B. explains how he intends to put the studio back into production, though using a more limited-style of animation to save on costs. C.B. wants Roger back as one of the studio’s main attractions, but wants Eddie to investigate if Roger is okay to be rehired. It seems odd that Eddie would seem fit to re-investigate a rabbit he is now friends with, but then again, C.B. is offering him $500 for his report. As expected, Roger’s clean, and C.B. calls him in. This works out in Roger’s favor, as he hasn’t done any work since the studio originally shut down.
Roger eagerly accepts C.B.’s job offer, but is shocked when on the first day of production, C.B. claims that Roger’s fully-animated stylings are too animated, and over-the-top. Roger struggles to tone down his animation style (see right), but finds he can’t ‘simplify’ what he’s doing. This leads to C.B. terminating Roger’s contract, and kicking him out into the street.
The Toontown Tattler, after hearing about Roger’s termination, soon begins a field day with all sorts of negative Roger-related headlines, leading the rabbit to go to Eddie, asking him for help to clear his name (again!?).
Eddie then goes over more issues of the Tattler, and is surprised when he sees articles telling how C.B. has laid off all the rehired staff, and intends to sell off the studio! As well, a 30-gallon drum of paint thinner has also gone missing.
The next day at a press conference, C.B. explains that the toon stars they hired were ‘too animated,’ which kept the studio unable to work within its budget, which has prompted the sale of the studio and all its holdings.
Eddie’s perplexity at this turn of events continues to grow, when the Tattler tells how C.B. has sold the studio and its holdings for only $100, to a firm called The Wiesel Development Partnership.
Going to 2719 Hyperion Ave, Eddie manages to get past the weasel-guard out front, and goes to the small office of the company’s President, Mr Mood. Entering the office, he finds C.B. Maroon, sitting behind the desk. Eddie questions why Maroon would create another company to buy up one he already owns, as Maroon’s claims that he doesn’t…but will very soon. As his movements become wilder, Maroon reveals himself to be Judge Doom in disguise! He then tells how he intends to use the development company to purchase the studio, and raze it once the sale is finalized. The destruction of the studio he feels, will end Roger’s career, as well as many other toons’ as well.
Doom then has several of his weasel henchmen knock Valiant out, and place him in a film vault on the Maroon Studios property. Awakening in there, Eddie is surprised to come across the real C.B. Maroon, who is also incapacitated.
Back in Toontown, Roger tells Jessica that he hasn’t been able to get ahold of Eddie, and the two head to Valiant’s office…only to find it ransacked and in ruin! Jessica notices the Hyperion Ave address on the notepad, and the two find their way to the development company, and free Eddie and C.B.
With time running out, the group heads to Maroon Studios before noon hits…only to find Doom in disguise as C.B., has already signed the deed.
It is then that Eddie pulls out a cartoon squirt gun, spraying Doom and the weasels. The group simply assumes Valiant is playing some kind of joke…only for Eddie to reveal that what they were squirted with, was Dip (of which he found a barrel in the film vault where he and C.B. were kept hostage)! The weasels and Doom then melt before everyone’s eyes, trickling down the gutter of a nearby drain.
Eddie then introduces the real C.B. Maroon. With Doom’s false signature null and void, C.B. intends to take back control of the company, and continue on with what his brother R.K. Maroon did: making quality cartoons!
As the toons cheer, C.B. tells Roger and Baby Herman that he has an idea for a cartoon the two can star in, titled: Tummy Trouble!
The graphic novel then finishes with 11 pages, showcasing the animated short, in sequential art form.
When it came to Judge Doom, he was one of those menacing characters that noone ever really gave a back story to in the films. He was this enigmatic character that seemed a little off-kilter in his mannerism and attitude (and there was always an unseen wind blowing at his wardrobe).
In commentary for Who Framed Roger Rabbit, writers Jeffrey Price and Peter Seaman say that in an early draft, they envisioned Doom as being the hunter who killed Bambi’s mother. It would have made for a fun little animation in-joke, but overall, it probably was best left out. In the end, Doom became little more than a figure to keep the plot going. He also served to do what director Robert Zemeckis loved: taking historical fact and turning it into historical lunacy. This was evident in the film’s subplot of the dismantling of the Red Car Trolley Line, which was actually part of a grand scheme by the auto companies, to try and get people to buy and use more cars. Though in Roger Rabbit, it is Doom who has purchased the train line, and force people to take what his company Cloverleaf Industries will create: freeways! The cherry on top of the ridiculousness is Doom’s kooky idea of what they will be for people: “smooth, safe, fast. Traffic jams will be a thing of the past.”
For the comic reviewed here, writing duties fell to Bob Foster, with art by Dan Spiegle, and Todd Kurosawa.
On Foster’s blog page, he posted a 3-part piece, showing his early rough layouts. Originally, Bob saw Doom’s villainous personas to be those of famous old-time villains, like Peg-Leg Pete, and The Big Bad Wolf.
Foster also threw in some great inside gags. His original scripting told how Von Rotten got his start in a small animation studio in Kansas City in 1921…which is no doubt the Laugh-O-Grams studio that Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks worked together in founding, before Walt headed west.
Still, plenty of animation references made it in to the final product. Von Rotten’s title “The Toon of a Thousand Faces,” is a riff on Mel Blanc’s similar title, only Blanc was known for his voice work, which encompassed almost all of the Looney Tunes characters.
The address of Doom’s fake development company (2719 Hyperion Ave), is also the same as Walt Disney’s first studio location. The company would do work out of this location from 1925-1939, when the company moved to its current location at 2100 W Riverside Dr in Burbank, CA.
The gag about the imposter C.B. Maroon wanting Roger to simplify his animation style, is also a nod to the way animation became simplified in the 50’s. During that time, the stylings of the UPA (United Productions of America) became largely about abandoning the smooth and refined art style that had been prevalent before the war, in favor or simpler shapes and movement. Many of the cartoon studios during these years, would streamline their processes, including those like Warner Brothers.
This scheme of Doom’s isn’t that far off from the freeway gag in the 1988 film. Though in a sense, much of the plot of that film seems recycled for this one, with another race-against-time storyline to secure a will and save something deeply personal to the community of toon actors.
As well, Foster puts in an homage to one film that it seems every other animator or film fan homages sooner or later: Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. This is seen in how the newsreel footage is put together (called Toons on the March, a parody of the newsreel titled News on the March in Kane). Though a most-telling scene, is when the weasels make their way to Von Rotten Manor, its towering silhouette and single-lit room, harkens back to the opening image of Welles’ film.
On a final note, Doom’s scary persona has rarely been captured in toy or figure form. He was part of a bendy figure set in 1988, with his dark robes, hat, and a detachable buzzard (a leftover bit from a previous script draft).
Luckily, thanks to the great guys at FunkoPop, Doom has gotten a second likfe, as part of their vinyl figure line…and this time, with his ‘burning red eyes’ staring right at you!
He also comes with that tuft of blonde hair atop his head, and in his gloved right hand…the toon shoe from one of his more ‘brutal executions.’
*If you’d like to see some more information from Bob Foster’s blog, regarding his information about working on the production, and early layouts for the comic, you can find them at the following links: