Who Framed Roger Rabbit? celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. But the 1988 film that joined animation’s favorite characters with live action has its roots in a 1981 novel by Gary K. Wolf — Who Censored Roger Rabbit? It’s a different story altogether. Literally.
Who Censored Roger Rabbit? is set in the present day. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is set in 1947. Where the Roger Rabbit character in the film is immature, hyperactive, and likable, the book version is smart, intuitive, and conniving.
Roger hires Eddie, a private detective, because he thinks someone wants to buy out his contract from comic strip syndicate sibling kings Rocco and Dominick DeGreasy. The DeGreasys refuse to sell and Roger wants to know why.
When Rocco is murdered, the evidence points to Roger. Then, Roger is murdered. Eddie stays on the case, shadowed by Roger’s dopplegänger. A dopplegänger is a double that a “toon” can create for a dangerous situation, for example, a stunt. But it only lasts for a brief amount of time, usually a few hours, before disintegrating
A highly significant plot point of Who Censored Roger Rabbit? is an ancient solid-gold teakettle with jewels and stones inlaid, commissioned by a gourmet potentate for his royal chef in the 10th century. Hundreds of years later, the Templar Knights possessed the object, claiming it during one of their grand crusades to the Holy Land. To disguise the teakettle and protect it from potential pretend possessors, the Knights change the color to gray.
Eddie discovers that the teakettle’s genie killed Roger. He defeats the genie with pure heart and physical strength. But he wants proof that Dominick DeGreasy killed brother Rocco and Roger Rabbit. Miraculously, a suicide note explaining the killings appears in Dominick’s handwriting. In fact, the genie also killed Dominick. Eddie kills the genie despite his bargain to let him go after getting the proof.
Eddie further deduces the real killer of Rocco was Roger Rabbit. He finds out in the nick of time. Just as Roger’s dopplegänger begins to disintegrate, Eddie confronts him and the rabbit confesses. Roger created the dopplegänger for an alibi.
On the night of Rocco’s murder, Roger sent his twin toy a pair of red suspenders with a fifty dollar bill. Eddie figures that this action would stand out, thereby giving the shopkeeper a reason to remember Roger.
Wolf’s dialogue fits the private detective genre mad famous by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. In Chapter 5, Eddie describes his thoughts about Carol Masters for the reader. “Before I left, I got her home address and phone number, just in case I decided later to ask her a few of the more personal questions that kept jumping to mind every time I saw her move.”
In Chapter 19, Eddie needs something to wash away the tension. “I went back to my office and let my bottom desk drawer buy me a drink.”
Wolf gives a wink to the reader in Chapter 10 by naming a toon psychiatrist Dr. Booker T. Beaver. Dr. Beaver services the community with comics like VD pamphlets and family-planning brochures for the medical associations to give to the free clinics.
Comic strip characters appear throughout Who Censored Roger Rabbit? as their cartoon counterparts did in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Dick Tracy and Hagar the Horrible are two examples. Cleverly, Wolf details a world where the toons communicate via word balloons.