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Movie Review : Roger Rabbit Returns in Slapstick 'Trouble'

June 23, 1989|CHARLES SOLOMON

Screening with "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" is "Tummy Trouble," the first installment in the new Disney-Amblin "Maroon Cartoon" series starring Roger Rabbit and Baby Herman.

Director Rob Minkoff and his crew meet the challenge of matching the brilliant opening of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." Mother once again leaves Roger in charge of Baby Herman, who promptly swallows his favorite rattle. Roger rushes him to the hospital ("St. Nowhere") and pandemonium ensues.

The animators use Roger as a rubbery physical comic. His eyes swell to the size of kettle drums when he is surprised, and his nose, tail, ears and tongue stretch with the Silly Putty elasticity of Daffy Duck in Bob Clampett's wilder "Looney Tunes."

But Roger's personality is closer to that of the monumentally inept Wile E. Coyote of Chuck Jones. His misplaced faith in his ability to solve any problem makes him the architect of his own defeat.

At the end of the film, Roger and Baby Herman walk off a live-action set, repeating the premise of the feature. The device works nicely, although the cartoon would be complete without it.

"Tummy Trouble" is the first Disney animated short to be released in nearly 25 years. Its manic pace and slapstick humor burst with the zaniness of the Warner Bros. cartoons and Tex Avery's MGM shorts, rather than Disney's more restrained "Silly Symphonies."

For decades, animators and fans have prayed for the return of the short films that were once the mainstay of the American animation industry. As audiences rediscover the pleasures of watching a cartoon before a feature, instead of a Coca-Cola commercial, they may start demanding them.

The Disney animators are already at work on a second Roger short, "Roller Coaster Rabbit." "Tummy Trouble" will be a tough act to follow.

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