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100 Greatest Animated Shorts / Roger Rabbit Short #3: Trail Mix Up / Barry Cook

100 Greatest Animated Shorts, Featured

USA / 1993

The Roger Rabbit shorts are three seldom seen little treasures. Made as cinema shorts in an era when cinema shorts didn’t really exist, more as a tribute to the golden age of Warner Bros, MGM and Disney shorts, and riding on the nostalgia generated by ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’, than any serious attempt to revive the form. The high production values of this trilogy however far exceed anything by Warner’s and MGM and are probably up there with Disney’s previously most expensive entries in the Mickey Mouse era and this expense is probably the reason why the series was so short. In fact they seemed to be something that was used to occupy the whole of the excellent (but also short lived) Disney Florida Studio between features, hence the sheen of full on feature quality that emanates from the shorts.

The high level of production values on show was needed to follow on from the superb ‘Maroon Cartoon’ that begins the feature ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a ‘short’ from which Roger Rabbit steps out of and walks away, totally convincingly, into the ‘real world’, with irate animation director yelling for a retake (if only it were that simple in real life). This is a great moment in cinema history, selling the whole concept of the film to the audience in a few wonderful seconds and is an ending device that is used also in the three shorts. These shorts got a cinema release supporting some pretty dud features which they were far superior to, which is one reason no one remembers them too much. They can however fortunately be seen in full quality in various DVD issues of ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’.

Of the three I personally narrowly prefer the third ‘Countryside Park Ranger’, partly because the manic energy of the first two, like Warner Brothers turned up to eleven, can be a bit overwhelming at times, a bit like, along with the unfortunate Roger, you yourself are being beaten over the head by many blunt instruments. Not to say that this one isn’t also over the top, in fact it ends with the cartoon characters, in a fittingly destructive end to the series, managing to literally destroy the whole of planet earth.

Another reason I like this one is the beautiful forest backgrounds, supervised by Robert E Stanton who would go on to supervise the backgrounds in, amongst others, ‘Pocahontas’ (1995), ‘Mulan’ (1998) and the similarly lovely bright and pastel style natural backgrounds in ‘Lilo and Stich’ (2002). ‘Trail Mix Up’ short was directed by Barry Cook, who would go on to direct ‘Mulan’, whereas the other two, ‘Tummy Trouble’ (1989) and ‘Roller Coaster Rabbit’ (1990) and were directed by Rob Minkoff, who directed ‘Lion King’ and the first two ‘Stuart Little’ films.

The final reason for choosing this one over the others is that Jessica Rabbit looks sexier than ever in her park ranger uniform, even better, surprisingly, than in her nurse uniform in ‘Tummy Trouble’ (1989), but that’s probably just me and my thing for uniforms, which you don’t really want to know about.

The reasons for closing the Florida studio have never been adequately explained, as it produced films arguably better and more successful than in LA. However I have recently come across a proposition to reopen the studio in Disneyland Florida as not only an traditional animation production studio but as a full on tourist exhibit, a kind of aquarium of working animators, with glass corridors for civilians to walk round and experience the animation tradition that the Disney Empire was built on. In my experience people are pretty interested to see animators at work, especially the ones who are drawing, and this could be a valid idea for subsidizing some more 2D animation.

Note: The 100 greatest animated shorts is an list of opinions and not an order of value from best to worst. All suggestions, comments and outrage are welcome but please don’t shoot us, it’s only a list!

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