Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios

Opinion

In Praise of Jessica Rabbit, 30 Years Later

Thirty years ago today, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? exploded across American cinemas and instantly became a pop-culture classic, on its way to winning three Oscars and landing as the year's second-highest-grossing film (behind Rain Man). Not only was it the first time that a movie had seamlessly blended cel animation with live action, but director Roger Zemeckis' over-the-top Toontown tale walked the line between childish and adult humor, which meant audiences were rowdy all around.

There were comedy bits and multi-generational cinematic references for everybody. For example, it was the first time that Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse shared the screen, while Daffy Duck and Donald Duck faced off in a crazy, combative piano duel. Famed characters from the Golden Age of cartoons shared the stage three decades before Ready Player One attempted a major multiple-brand crossover (and to better effect than RPO). Fans loved it.

The film also produced one of the most iconic cartoon characters of all time: the sultry, seductive Jessica Rabbit, voiced by Kathleen Turner, the husky-voiced actress who was also one of the supreme sex symbols of the 1980s. (Oddly, Turner went uncredited.) So immediate was Jessica's impact that on the Nov. 1988 cover of Playboy, model Laura Richmond was dressed up like her. Further, rumors of Jessica going panty-less in a few shots (later debunked) allegedly led to many men rewinding and wearing out their VHS tapes in hopes of spying some toon naughtiness. (Yes, it was the '80s, when gratuitous nudity ran rampant in movies, and some men clearly had nothing better to do. Now we have the internet to waste their time.)

Jessica Rabbit only appears in about 20 minutes of the film, but her presence lingers throughout the whole movie. The central mystery concerns her husband, Roger, a goofy toon who likes to evoke laughter but isn't too quick when it comes to serious matters. When Roger becomes a murder suspect, Jessica helps her beleaguered spouse uncover the reason he was framed. Indeed, she proves herself to be more than she appears.
Her classic line, “I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way,” proves relevant to any woman (or person, for that matter) who gets judged solely by their looks
Ultimately, Jessica Rabbit is a woman who has a strong sense of self and is also devoted to her husband. She even knows when to conk him on the frying pan and stuff him into a car trunk to keep him safe (and safe from his loony self). Adding to her relatability, Jessica breaks the fourth wall by coyly looking toward the audience during a couple of key moments, almost as if to say, “Can you believe all this?”

Of the married pair, she truly is the dominant one, and not in a sexual way. Her sense of calm and quick-witted thinking is the perfect balance to Roger's scatterbrained antics and wild reactions to dangerous situations. She is taking care of him because she cares deeply for him. Jessica could have anyone, and she picked Roger. At one point, when Jessica and Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) are speeding away from danger in a toon taxi, the ill-tempered P.I. looks to her incredulously and asks, “What do you see in that guy?” She simply and honestly replies, “He makes me laugh.”

The character's impact continues to this day, long after the film's release on June 22, 1988. Her classic line, “I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way,” proves relevant to any woman (or person, for that matter) who gets judged solely by their looks and the way people perceive them. (It's interesting to note that the screenwriters nor Zemeckis get around to revealing who actually created Jessica or some of the other characters original to the film.) Even irascible but well-mannered men like Valiant go gaga over her and immediately get the wrong idea, equating her hot stage act with her “real-life” persona. The only actual flirting she does is when she begs the P.I. to solve the film's titular mystery. After that, she becomes the most sensible and calm character of the bunch.

Jessica belongs to a long tradition of memorable film femme fatales, and what adds to viewers' fascination with her is the fact that she exists at all, in a film aimed at family audiences. Some may see the character as problematic, and indeed, Zemeckis said in 2016 that a long-rumored Roger sequel was unlikely to ever happen because Disney higher-ups "certainly don’t like Jessica at all," suggesting that she is contrary to the studio's current approach to female characters. Yet not everyone agrees with this mindset; in a story examining the character's feminist appeal, the Independent writes that "Jessica Rabbit may not be much of a femme fatale at heart, as we come to learn, but she’s certainly a woman who understands its power: to shun traditional femininity gets you marked as a danger, but it can also gain you control over those interested only in controlling you."

Perhaps the biggest indication of the character's staying power is reflected in Kathleen Turner's interactions with fans over the years. The two-time Golden Globe winner—known for countless indelible roles, in projects ranging from Body Heat to Friends—told Playboy in 2014, "I sign more Jessica Rabbit photos than mine, almost. I'm not kidding. Isn't that crazy?" Thirty years after Jessica took the stage, it somehow makes a lot of sense.