As Wikipedia helpfully explains, Jessica Rabbit is “renowned as one of the best-known sex symbols in animation.” That makes Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’s beloved — and famously busty — femme fatale an anomaly in the otherwise reliably family-friendly world of Disney Animation.
The popular character, though, is getting a makeover. While the va-va-voom cartoon version will remain intact in the feature film directed by Robert Zemeckis, the Jessica Rabbit featured in Disneyland’s Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin ride will be redesigned to be more empowered and far less scantily clad. Fans are — stop us if you’ve heard this one before — both applauding and ridiculing the move.
Since the ride’s 1994 opening in Mickey’s Toontown at the flagship Anaheim, Calif., theme park, the red-headed, sultry-voiced nightclub singer — originally voiced by Kathleen Turner in the 1988 box-office hit — could be spotted tied up in the trunk of a car.
The character was recently removed, though, and replaced with barrels of acid.
— 🔥 FIVE FIRES 🔥 (@thecalibae) September 15, 2021
Last week, the Orange County Register reported that Walt Disney Imagineering was in the process of giving the ride a “more relevant” reboot with a new plot that features Jessica in a lead role — and no longer a damsel in distress but now a trench-coat-wearing private investigator.
“Citing the recent return of the Toon Patrol Weasels as the main driver behind the recent sharp rise in crime statistics throughout Mickey’s Toontown, Jessica Rabbit has determined it is past time for her to throw her fedora into the ring by starting her own private investigations service,” reads a poster that will be displayed in the ride’s queue. “While taking inspiration from longtime friend and legendary Toon Detective Eddie Valiant, Jessica shows that she certainly means business.”
Here's some more information about the new Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin backstory at Disneyland. This poster will be displayed in the queue.
Some background: https://t.co/ddPkhxX9ZB pic.twitter.com/bzNrM3Cb5c
— Scott Gustin (@ScottGustin) September 15, 2021
“This is an outrage, the worst Disney decision since they closed Mr Toad’s Wild Ride in Disney World in 1998,” proclaims one user on the Mouse House fan website, as originally quoted by Britain’s The Times. “But maybe I take these things seriously, unlike managers at Disney.”
“They are risking spoiling a good thing,” wrote another.
Disney does not understand the concept of Jessica Rabbit... pic.twitter.com/shD7aO6zge
— TrueUnderDawg (@TrueUnderDawg1) September 17, 2021
Other responses were far more measured and positive.
I recently heard about Disney re-designing Jessica Rabbit for "modern audiences" and while I am not fan of that idea at all - it got me thinking.
Are damsel-type female characters still allowed to exist?
— Yogensha (@YOG3NSHA) September 15, 2021
No Disney is not removing Jessica Rabbit, they're just replacing an animatronic in a ride
Also imagine being mad at a potential sexy milf in a trenchcoat (yes I said it 😏) pic.twitter.com/l9Izr6JjME
— 🎃LoZza🎃 (@CocoaFox023) September 15, 2021
Does somebody really think that putting Jessica Rabbit in a trenchcoat and fedora is going to de-sexualize her and not, you know, do the exact opposite of that...
— Stephen "Dirk" Libbey (@childe_dirk) September 16, 2021
Disney’s decision to tweak Jessica Rabbit’s role in Toontown is the latest in a number of sweeping changes the company’s theme parks have made in the name of more contemporary and more culturally sensitive optics.
Last summer, Disney’s theme parks vowed to “completely re-imagine” its popular Splash Mountain attraction, replacing the ride’s influences from the controversial 1946 film Song of the South and rebooting it as a nod to the 2009 animated favorite The Princess and the Frog featuring Disney's first Black princess. And Disney has tinkered with the animatronic antagonists in the iconic Pirates of the Caribbean ride for decades, including changing depictions of women being chased by pirates in 1996 and then in 2017 removing a scene featuring a woman being auctioned.