Eddie Valiant's a private eye whose latest gig involves investigating the nightclub-singing wife of a famous cartoon rabbit. (If any part of that previous sentence seems weird to you, you've obviously never been to L.A.)
Valiant's asked by R.K. Maroon of Maroon Cartoons to investigate Jessica Rabbit. Maroon's biggest star, the goofy cartoon bunny Roger Rabbit, hasn't been on top of his slapstick game lately, and the rumor is that Jessica might be getting down and dirty with another man.
In case you haven't figured it out by now, in this world Los Angeles borders Toontown, a world where all the cartoons live. Humans mingle with Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, and the brooms from Fantasia. It's just like our world, but with more anvils.
Speaking of heavy objects falling from the sky, Valiant hates Toons because a Toon killed his brother by dropping a piano on his head. (Does he hate pianos, too?) But he takes the job because he really needs the cash. He needs to pay all the essential bills: rent, electricity, and his bar tab. That last one might be the most expensive. Valiant has quite the drinking problem.
Jessica Rabbit works at the Ink and Paint Club, a place where humans go to ogle cartoon babes. (Eventually the Ink and Paint Club went out of business because of internet message boards.) One of the humans in the audience is Marvin Acme, the guy whose name is on hundreds of gag products. He squirts Eddie with ink, angering the short-fused detective. But the ink soon disappears. Classic.
The curtain rises, and Valiant is startled to discover that Jessica Rabbit is a rabbit in name only. She's a curvaceous redhead with a sultry voice and moves to match.
After Jessica wiggles around and croons her routine, Eddie waits outside the window of her dressing room. He spies on her with a camera as she plays patty-cake with Marvin Acme. Patty cake isn't code for hanky-panky. They are literally playing patty cake, and nothing else.
Hey, whatever floats your boat.
It's still a betrayal to Roger who wails and cries after seeing the photos of Jessica bumping palms with Acme. The next day, Acme's found dead, and Roger is suspect numero uno. A sinister man named Judge Doom, who looks like a serial killer stole Judge Judy's robes, wants Roger dead. He's invented a concoction to kill Toons, and he calls it The Dip. (We like sour cream dip. French dip sandwiches. But we don't like this Dip.)
Later, Roger, a rabbit on the lam, sneaks into Eddie's office and begs his help. He s-s-s-swears he's been fr-fr-fr-framed. (He stutters when he's nervous.) Doom's henchmen, five cartoon weasels with a homicidal streak, smash into Eddie's office looking for Roger, wanting to kill the wabbit. Eddie hides the wabbit. Feeling guilty that his sensational photos got Roger into this mess, Eddie decides to help Roger.
Roger's cartoon co-star Baby Herman, a fifty-year-old Toon man who looks like an infant, tells Eddie that Acme was planning on leaving Toontown to the Toons, but no one can find his will. Eddie re-examines the pictures he took, and sees the will peeking out of Acme's pocket. Le gasp!
Valiant thinks that Maroon set up Jessica and Acme to get his paws on Toontown. That's a figure of speech. Maroon's a human, not a cartoon dog.
Because Roger's in danger, Eddie hides Roger in his girlfriend Dolores's bar. She agrees to help Eddie investigate, and discovers that Cloverleaf Industries, a transit company, wants Toontown. Are they looking to make a bullet train out of cartoon bullets?
Doom arrives and searches the bar for Roger. Eddie causes a commotion, distracting Doom, and he and Roger escape. On the street, they find Benny…a cartoon cab who takes them on a high-speed chase.
They hide out in a movie theater. (Guess Judge Doom isn't a fan of Hollywood.) A newsreel reveals a real-estate deal between Cloverleaf Industries and R.K. Maroon. You don't need to be a detective to connect these two dots, but it helps.
Eddie confronts Maroon, who says he was trying to save the Toons. Before he can elaborate how being a sell-out helps the Toons, someone shoots Maroon from the window. Eddie looks out the window and sees Jessica fleeing the scene.
Jessica puts the hot in hot pursuit. Eddie chases her to Toontown, where slapstick madcap mayhem ensues. A summary cannot do it justice. Just imagine your favorite cartoon, but way more manic.
Eddie eventually encounters Jessica in an alleyway. She has her gun pointed at him, and fires. But she was firing at someone behind him—the real killer, who Jessica swears is Judge Doom.
Now allied with the femme fatale, Eddie and Jessica chase Doom in Benny the cartoon cab. Doom, who probably comes in first in every match of Mario Kart, causes Benny to skid out in a puddle of The Dip. Benny crashes, and Doom takes Eddie and Jessica hostage.
He takes them to Acme's gag factory, where all those joke toys suddenly look not particularly funny. Roger arrives to save the day, but Doom's weasels dump a ton of bricks on him. Ouch. Okay, it doesn't hurt a Toon, but it incapacitates him long enough for the Weasels to tie him and Jessica up. Doom takes aim with his Dip cannon, ready to rub them out.
But he slips and falls, and the Weasels laugh at him. Doom tells them they'll laugh themselves to death if they keep that up. The worst that's ever happened to us after a maniacal burst of laughter is hiccups, but we're not cartoon weasels, so what do we know?
Eddie has an idea. (Missed opportunity for a cartoon lightbulb going off over his head, in our opinion.) He performs a goofy comedy routine, and the Weasels literally die of laughter. Now it's one vs. one instead of one vs. six, which is a much fairer fight.
Doom and Eddie duel, using all the cartoon weapons at their disposal—mallets, magnets, singing swords, and cartoon holes. Doom eventually wanders into the path of his steamroller and is crushed flat like a human cartoon.
The reason this isn't gory isn't because this is a PG-rated family film, but because Doom is actually a Toon. Not only that, he's the Toon who killed Eddie's brother. Eddie manages to turn Doom's Dip on him, dissolving him into a greasy puddle. Good riddance.
There's still the matter of the will, however. Everyone shows up to celebrate Doom's doom, and Dolores notices the ink smear on Eddie's shirt. Acme's world-famous disappearing ink has reappeared. Eddie has another idea. (Seriously, guys, where's the light bulb?)
He asks Roger to get out the love letter he wrote for Jessica. Turns out that the blank page he wrote it on was Acme's will. The gag master wrote it in disappearing-reappearing ink, and it has reappeared right on time. Toontown is saved. Phew.