Hollywood and Toontown, 1947
Here's a fun fact, Shmoopers: Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is based on a true story. Well, take away the whole cartoon element. And the fact that Eddie Valiant never existed. Nor Judge Doom…
But the backdrop and setting of the film—well, not Toontown—is rooted in history.
Roger Rabbit takes place in Hollywood and Los Angeles in the 1940s. It's different than the Los Angeles of today, and not because Dumbo is flying around and Yosemite Sam is walking the streets. We'll let Eddie explain why, as he hitches a ride on a trolley.
VALIANT: Who needs a car in L.A.? We've got the best public transportation system in the world.
Come back when you're done laughing.
This isn't just a joke, though. Roger Rabbit exists in a parallel world from ours, where Toons are real, but this fantasy world intersects with ours here. In the 1940s, General Motors, through a subsidiary company a la Cloverleaf Industries, purchased a bunch of municipal car systems. Many people believe that GM did so to purposefully run them out of business, forcing people to stop taking public transit and start buying cars. GM was later convicted of monopolizing the transportation market. (Source)
It's not hard to imagine Judge Doom working for General Motors. His ultimate plot is to build a freeway. Yes, a freeway. Here's part of his villainous reveal:
DOOM: Who's got time to wonder what happened to some ridiculous talking mice when you're driving past at seventy-five miles per hour?
JESSICA: What are you talking about? There's no road past Toontown.
DOOM: Not yet! Several months ago I had the good providence to stumble upon a plan of the city councils. A construction plan of epic proportions. They're calling it…a freeway.
VALIANT: A freeway? What the hell's a freeway?
DOOM: Eight lanes of shimmering cement running from here to Pasadena. Smooth, straight, fast. Traffic jams will be a thing of the past.
VALIANT: So that's why you killed Acme and Maroon? For this freeway? You're kidding.
Doom, like GM, is greedy. He wants a part of what will become a great American industry—road trips. He envisions a world of truck stops and roadside attractions.
Doom is the darker part of this great American pastime. He's like high gas prices personified. There isn't necessarily anything wrong with his goal, but the methods he uses to achieve it—namely the genocide of Toons and the eradication of Toontown—are nefarious.
When not being a totally historically accurate account of real world events*, Roger Rabbit takes a brief detour into Toontown. It kind of has to. Not going to Toontown would be like if Star Wars never showed the Death Star or Pulp Fiction never showed what's in that briefcase. (Hey…wait.)
One of the biggest draws for this film was that Disney and Warner Bros. cartoons, among others, joined forces for the first time. They live in the bustling metropolis of Toontown. And boy, is it bustling. It's one those cartoon places where clouds, buildings, trees, and even the sun has a face.
Honestly, that sounds pretty nightmarish. And Roger Rabbit does a good job of both playing to our nostalgia for classic cartoons, and giving them an adult spin by showing just how creepy and weird this place would be if it actually existed.
You'd have no privacy in a place where even your furniture is watching you. And can you imagine walking down those long hallways, past the same picture and houseplant again and again? You'd go insane. Although the cartoon kitchen, which is larger than an sitcom New York apartment, would be pretty nice.
The entire Toontown sequence is an extended assortment of sight gags and physical comedy, as Eddie falls off buildings, runs from cartoon hags, and gets into other slapstick mischief. Plus, he interacts with the big stars of cartoons, like Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Droopy Dog, Tweety, and others.
It's like the Love, Actually of animated movies—a bunch of characters you'd never expect to see in the same place.