In 1988, Who Framed Roger Rabbit stunned and entertained audiences. It won several Oscars and became a merchandising success.
In 1990, Dick Tracy was released to mixed reviews, but won several Academy Awards. Merchandise was also pushed heavily.
The two movies have a lot in common. Aside from the themes of the films, both of them disappeared pretty quickly (Dick Tracy did faster though than WFRR) and both were caught up in legal troubles which lead to the stop of future projects and merchandise.
WFRR was first to be released in 1988, with interest said to have started in the project when the original novel, Who Censored Roger Rabbit, was complete in the early 80's. Although, Dick Tracy was an existing character for many years before, and interest in making a film version began in the late 70's.
Being released first, WFRR definitely set a lot of groundwork for the Dick Tracy movie. Dick Tracy did appear to borrow quite a bit from WFRR. But, one can't overlook that Dick Tracy, created in 1931, had to be some inspiration for the Roger Rabbit story. Let's compare!
Both movies are set to a similar film noir theme. DT opens with a cartoonish bunch of gangsters playing cards, and WFRR opens with a cartoon.
We are introduced to one of the main characters in DT, Breathless Mahoney, a bit earlier than we are to Jessica in WFRR. But, both girls work at a private speak-easy; Breathless at The Club Ritz and Jessica at the Ink and Paint Club, and pose similarly for a stunning debut.
While Breathless' first appearance is pretty short and not all that engaging, Jessica had everybody "tittering" as one producer put it. Again, the incorporation of animation and live action, done very convincingly, brings about a certain interest from the start.
In looks, the two can't possibly be compared. While Madonna as Breathless certainly looks stunning, Jessica - an animated character drawn with such impossible proportions - is jaw dropping.
WFRR is a bit of a slower ride after watching the zany cartoon at the beginning, but what will hold the audiences attention is of course the blending of live action actors and animated characters. DT is a little faster paced. The "comic book" look of the buildings and backgrounds come off a little campy, yet that's in the tone of the film, acting and plot by now.
Things are a little different in each story for a moment. Breathless and her boss, Lips Manlis, are kidnapped by Big Boy Caprice. With Lips disposed of the movie villain is face to face with Breathless herself and makes her join his side when he takes control of Club Ritz.
The next time we see Jessica, she confronts Eddie about taking the photos of her and Marvin Acme playing "patty cake." Sadly, a scene with Jessica and WFRR villain, Judge Doom, was originally to be in the movie, but was cut. The scene is on the Special Edition DVD, although Judge Doom and Jessica do not share the same frame, it was to lead the audience in thinking Jessica was in on the plot against her husband.
Also gaining in points for WFRR is the cast. Voice acting aside, with Kathleen Turner and Charles Fleischer doing a great job as Jessica and Roger; Bob Hoskins as Eddie, Joanna Cassidy as Dolores and Christopher Lloyd as Judge Doom pull off every moment they have to share the film with the toons to a perfection that had not been seen before or since.
Eddie Valiant and Dick Tracy seem to have little in common at first. Dick Tracy is the typical all-american do-gooder. Eddie drinks and has no love for his job since the death of his brother. Their girlfriends also reflect the same attitude. Tess Trueheart works in a greenhouse and is all sugar and spice with a heart of gold. Dolores works in a run down bar and is always quick with her dry humor.
A very similar scene takes place, yet in opposite moments, when Breathless and Jessica pay unexpected visits to their detectives. We see Breathless overhear a conversation from the car before her visit, we see Jessica overhear a conversation after her visit. The Dick Tracy movie definitely borrowed this "seduction" scene from WFRR. It plays out almost exactly the same, for the same amount of time, and ends with the detectives girlfriends showing up and at most inopportune moment. Tess and Dolores are both angry, the stability of the relationships seems shaky and the audience, although now seeing a bit more vulnerability in Breathless and Jessica, still don't know if they are good or bad (in spite of Jessica's classic "I'm not bad" line).
As the action in WFRR picks up, DT slows a bit, but points are gained in one aspect - the music. Jessica is a singer and only gets one song, which is not her own. Breathless (also a singer which was especially for the movie version of the character) gets many of her own songs - which did go on to win real awards.
As we get to the endings of both movies, they play out differently but have some similar moments, like when both detectives realize the vixens can be trusted.
Another thing Breathless had was her bevy of dancing girls, although none of their characters were developed other than being dancers and backup singers at Club Ritz.
And lets not forget the costume changes. While Jessica only had two (not including anything from the short films) Breathless was in a new dress for each scene.
While Dick Tracy was a fun movie, WFRR had so much more going for it in technical terms, and the only movie to bring us ALL the past cartoon stars we love on one screen.
Jessica was a lot more active in the end of WFRR, providing great one-liners and memorable moments throughout the movie.
In case anyone out there has not seen either movie, I won't reveal the endings, but they do end differently. Even with my bias of being a Jessica fan, I enjoyed both movies a lot when they were released, yet over 20 years later, Who Framed Roger Rabbit still holds my attention in a way Dick Tracy does not. To sum it up - Breathless Mahoney did have the first doll and a lot of other merchandise, yet now she is non-existant. She had several great award winning songs, costume changes and a surprise end movie scene. Jessica had her very own store, had far beyond made a comeback with merchandise thanks to Disney Pins, great movie dialogue and scenes and in a well constructed movie. (note: It came to my attention that before becoming the Jessica's store, it appears from this picture (via StartedByAMouse.com) that the building housed a Dick Tracy Store.)
With such little knowledge about the Dick Tracy era at Disney, if this store did exisit in the same building it means the Jessica's store was open less than I had thought. Pleasure Island opened around 1989. Dick Tracy debuted in June of 1990. The Jessica Rabbit store was definitely open in winter of 1991, as I was there. It was gone by winter of 1992 when I went to visit again. This means it's highly possible that Jessica's may have only been open a year and a half. Breathless even had her own cardboard cut-out, just like Jessica did in MGM Studios.
As for who wins, this would only be judged by who had the most staying power. However both girls fall under unfair circumstances. With a lawsuit over the rights to Dick Tracy starting after the movie came out and lasting until 2011, any projects or merchandise couldn't see the light of day. Similarly, with Disney and Amblin Entertainment jointly owning the rights to Jessica (and rumors of Michael Eisner and Steven Spielberg not being fond of each other) this also held back use of Jessica. Both were at a disadvantage - but somehow I think it's safe to say that Jessica pulled out of this fight going stronger.