Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Jessica Rabbit Debate - Park Character Under Heavy Scrutiny

For all these 25 years since Who Framed Roger Rabbit was released, I had hoped for the day when somehow Jessica Rabbit would be a walk-around character in the Disney parks. It seemed very much improbable. Pretty darn close to every Disney character has been included over the years. However, regardless of popularity, ANY character omissions are very noticeable. Jessica was one of those characters, from a ground breaking and critically acclaimed movie, to never be seen walking around the parks. On May 24 2013, Jessica Rabbit made her first ever character debut in the Disneyland Paris park, which was part of the Disney Dreamers Event. The photos got a lot of attention, very VERY negative attention. People were not at all pleased with how Jessica looked.

Above images courtesy of

The big argument around the internet was that Jessica should be a face character. This is not technically the first time there was a real Jessica character by Disney. They did toy with the idea back in 1991 for their Disney On Ice show, making that her only live appearance until now. The Jessica character for that show was a woman in a Jessica costume. While it was great the character was included, there is something that didn't hit the mark - and that brings us to the face vs. masked debate.

Face characters are those who naturally don't need masks. Characters like the Princesses, The Evil Queen, Peter Pan - are all people whose faces we see, while they are dressed as the characters. That's not to say all humans are face characters. Captain Hook, Jafar and the Dwarfs are a human, but they are masked characters. Normally, any animals are masked - like Mickey, Minnie, Roger Rabbit and Goofy (as are other magical characters like the Genie and Pinocchio). Jessica Rabbit was designed specifically to be cartoony (that is, she's out of the realm of human proportions). So, while she is a human, she is overly exaggerated in many ways. This is very much UNLIKE the Princesses. They were designed to look and be a real human being from the nose, to the hands, to the proportions, etc. This is why face characters work for them, and wouldn't for Jessica. The shape of Jessica's face alone does not match a real human, so if a woman were to take on this role as a face character - as good as she might look - she won't really look like Jessica.

Above images courtesy of

That's not to say she cannot ever work as a face character, but there is such a big difference between the two. Take for example Betty Boop, Popeye and Olive Oyl. They were walk-arounds in Universal Studios for many years as masked characters. It's been a few years now but they were eventually changed over to face characters. The look, to me, is boring, cheap and unappealing. Although these characters have been portrayed by actors well in movies, there is no difference with these face characters in park compared to anyone on the street who can buy these costumes from a Halloween store. Though it does spare an employee from having to walk around in that heavy costume, rather than trying to improve upon that, it seems it's all done away with so as not to have to deal with it. The "special-effect" is gone. I really enjoy the look of those masked characters so much more than the face characters.

For all intents and purposes, Jessica Rabbit IS the "special-effect." This is why the only way it would work well is for her to be masked. I'm not saying the mask here looks perfect. There needs to be some work done on this. The shape of the head, eyes and lips needs improvement. They also need the hair covering her eye more, but as someone pointed out to me, that might be a safety issue with having the person being able to see clearly out of the mask. I can understand the feeling of uneasiness, she does have a mannequin-like face. This is exactly what's wrong with it - it's lacking expression - and that's a huge deal. As for the body shape, it needs to be remembered it is still for Disney Parks. There is only so far it can go. While I love the character probably more than anyone, I'm willing to allow for alterations out of respect for the needs of the company and family-friendliness. That is something people seem to not care about anymore unfortunately. As a face character, it would be a big issue for Disney to have a scantily clad woman in a low cut dress walking around the parks - so it would never happen. To have the character masked though takes a lot of that away since real skin isn't showing.

People also took note of Jessica's shoes, which are different for some unknown reason in some photos - though no one has complained that she's wearing a diamond necklace. There is also the fear people have that there may be a man in that Jessica costume. Shocked as you might be, I know for a fact men do perform as female costumed characters all the time, just as women do for male characters. The bigger picture I wish people could be looking at, is the simple fact this even happened at all. The visual appeal, however important, is minimal to me for now. The use and creation of this character for the park after 25 years is much bigger. All that said, I discussed the new Jessica Rabbit with a few people for an objective and thought-out opinion:

The creator of Jessica Rabbit, Gary K. Wolf, shared his thoughts:
"First, let me say any Jessica is a good Jessica.

However, I think this could be a better Jessica. In this rendition, she does look a lot like a blow up doll.

I wouldn't mind if they had a real woman playing her. That would not compromise the Toon/human concept for me. I would keep the same outfit below the neck. Use a beautiful woman face character. Plenty of those in Paris! Put her in a wig that always covers her right eye.

It would also be more fun and more interesting if she could talk."

Robert of Filmic Light - A Snow White Archive had this to say:
"I think it's great that she's finally made it to the parks. And I totally agree with you! I actually like the mask. Yes, maybe the costume could use a little tweaking, but it usually takes Disney a few tries to get these kinds of things right.

But overall, I like how she looks. Jessica is very much like Captain that she translates much better as a masked cast member rather than unmasked. For all those people saying she'd be better as a real human face, they are missing the point. Jessica was a cartoon character in a live action movie. That's how she should appear in the parks too."

Juan, the founder of Toontown Antics stated:
"Well, I'm actually glad Jessica Rabbit showed up at Disneyland Paris!

I'm reading your comments and I fully understand your concerns about people bothered about the costumed character look. I agree the costume needs a little work (the mask looks like a mask, not like the Jessica we know), but it's a great start for a character that only had a costumed version on that old Disney On Ice show.

I agree with you: she's a cartoon character. Princesses and other face characters are closer to real humans than Jessica Rabbit, so they can get away with a little make-up and fake noses (like the Mad Hatter). Jessica's approach is more similar to Kigurumi-costumed characters (those animé costumes with masks and full body suits) and suits better to her.

People need to set aside all that negativity: in fact Jessica Rabbit fans (and WFRR fans as a whole) should be thankful for having that costumed character in Roger's big event. A little tweak here and there should be enough to get her right without looking too watered down or too sexy. As you said, she can't be too sexy because the wholesomeness of Disney Parks wouldn't allow it.

I'm glad Jessica made it to this event, and let's hope for more appearances of this costumed character."

Above image courtesy of

Jessica Rabbit pin collector, Nicole, had this to say:
"I have mixed feelings about it, I guess. Like you said, it's awesome that they're using the characters at all (they seem to push WFRR a lot at their Studios, like ours here at WDW used to). And they have an Eddie! I'm actually more taken with the fact that they have a really, REALLY good looking Eddie than anything else!

As far as using a mask for be honest, it creeps me out a little! I get why they did it...the two toon characters are in mascot outfits so that Eddie can be the human- it makes sense. But when you try and use a mask for a humanoid character (as opposed to an animal of some type), it always looks just slightly wrong, no matter how good the face is. I think, but it still unnerves people (the way mannequins can, too).

For that reason, I think they should just go ahead and make Jessica a Face character. They already alter her costume, even for the Mascot version (it's definitely less sexy), so making her more family friendly was going to happen, no matter which face you give her. They could also control the hair and accessories better on a regular Face actor.

This version actually looks like anime Kigurumi cosplay to me." friend and often correspondent for the site, Andoni, had this to say:
"My initial reaction upon seeing the photos of the walk-around Jessica Rabbit character is that it's pretty poor. It seems odd to have a cartoon character represented in this way of what looks like a normal person, but with a faux facade of face, hair, chest, etc.

Also, the fact that her right eye is fully exposed and not covered by her famous Veronica Lake "peek-a-boo" hair is an obvious inaccuracy. Having said all that, I'm very glad to see that Disney has even considered revisiting Jessica, let alone add her actual presence to a park. I sincerely hope this is the start of a more prevalent presence of her in the American parks, both in a walk-around character and in terms of merchandising."

Good friend of the site, Mark, shared this information:
"At first glimpse of the Jessica costume character, I wasn't too thrilled. It's not our actual diva we love, but with that being said, and after looking at a few different pics, I've come to really like her. I mean come on it's freakin Jessica Rabbit at a Disney park!!!! We can't expect the character to be a face character.

I was told by a friend who was a Disney Cast Member Jessica was tried as a face character back in the day but immediately taken out due to inappropriate behavior towards the actress playing the role of our fave diva. This version of Jess has been Disneyfied so she isn't so sexual. I honestly would love to get my pic taken with my fave character while on vacation at one of the happiest places on earth...."

The All Jessica Rabbit Tumblr page said:
"I don’t think Jessica would work as a face character for a few reasons. I agree it would just come off as cosplay, and she’s a toon! You can’t have a human portray a toon! Also no human has her body type. I am just excited that she was actually in the parks!"

Betty Boop Lover gave us this information:
"The costume version doesn’t look bad. To be honest it looks alright. I really don’t think anyone could pull off Jessica’s style, you’d have to be a ultra cosplayer to pull off her unique style.

The only difference with Betty Boop is that she actually used to be portrayed by “Little Ann Little” and various voice over artists in person in the early 30’s to the 80’s aka “Sandy Fox” (1980’s) one of Betty’s current voices at Universal Studios. It makes more sense for her to be portrayed by by a real woman. I prefer Betty as a walk around face character, although to be honest the masked version of her still makes various appearances at Universal Studios, same goes with Olive Oyl and Popeye.

Well with Jessica I think only the costume version could pull off her style, although I’d love to see what she would look like if she was portrayed by a person. (Keep a look out you might see Jessica portrayed by a person someday, it worked with Alice and Peter Pan)"

Costumed characters looks have changed over the years, and are often improved. That can definitely happen over time for Jessica Rabbit if people would give constructive criticism, rather than "Kill it with fire." The original look of Mickey and Minnie seems pretty frightening by today's standards. The Mad Hatter was originally one big huge head. This was also a similar look for the seven Dwarfs first appearances. Lest we ever forget that the first incarnations of Lady Tremaine and the wicked step-sisters was portrayed by men! I think that's fairly hilarious and they should have kept with it. While Lady Tremaine was only on a TV special, I clearly remember the Anastasia and Drizella men in drag appearing in the Main Street Electrical Parade back in the early 1980's.

Photo via Disney On Parole

Characters like Jack Skellington were introduced in park due to the popularity of Haunted Mansion Holiday. People were not too fond of his costumed character at first. It does look odd since it's a man in a half mask - but it's still Disney's Jack all the same now. To say Jessica should just be a face character is taking the easy way out. This isn't cosplay. That seems to be the look everyone is wanting from the character, and I think that's pretty sad - especially since Disney is often scrutinized for not taking more chances or upping their budget. Disney needed to step up their game since some cosplayers are Really good at what they do - while also keeping the whole thing copacetic with parents and other park visitors.

I've never seen a person with Jessica Rabbit's actual face, ever. This is the same reason Captain Hook, Queen of Hearts and the Dwarfs are masked as well. You can see how well The Emperor's New Groove characters were pulled off (photo courtesy of Yes, you can get someone who resembles them - but how then is that different from a Halloween party. The masks, when done correctly, add so much more appeal. Jessica falls into that tough category of needing to be cartoony in person for the sake of the park visitors, while still needing to look right. I think, beyond the look, it's an important moment if you are a real fan of the character. While there needs to be a bit more attitude to the face and other tweaking, to have Jessica Rabbit in and walking around the parks is a big deal. Especially as we approach the official 25th Anniversary next month. This masked version, while a good effort now, would have worked fine had it be the 1980s when the movie was released. Today, the look need to be much more refined and on-character. I don't know if this was a one time thing, a rare appearance, or a test for feedback - but I'm hoping we get some more insight on the Jessica Rabbit walk-around character in the coming days.