LA Plays Itself in the Movies: Who Framed Roger Rabbit

In addition to being a just plain fun movie and tribute to so many classic hand-drawn cartoon characters (Disney characters! Warner Bros. characters! and Fleischer characters! All together!), Who Framed Roger Rabbit is also a tribute to the Hollywood of yesteryear – when Hollywood the industry actually existed in Hollywood the place, and the Hollywood sign was still a big advertisement for the “Hollywoodland” real estate development (Fun fact: a Hollywoodland poster makes a cameo in the film, but when you see the sign and Cahuenga Peak in the background outside Eddie Valiant’s office, it only says “Hollywood” – it wasn’t actually changed until two years after the film takes place. Yes I am a nerd.). I love that it’s all about the real Los Angeles, where it was founded – what’s inland a bit, surrounding the river (the Glendale-Hyperion bridge does make an appearance!), not just palm trees and beaches like those shown in far too many films.


Oh, and apparently back then people said things like, “Who needs a car in LA? We’ve got the best public transportation system in the world!” Yea, that’s about when I started laughing/crying/exclaiming about how now they’re just picking on me, a car-free transit geek. It had been a few years since I’ve seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit, so I got caught off guard and a little emotional. But at first it was wonderful, when just a few minutes in one of those Big Red Cars with “Sunset Blvd” splayed across the top pulled into frame, and I was transported into some magical version of Los Angeles where the public transportation vehicles and the automobiles co-existed in happiness along our city’s major thoroughfares (I get so sad every time I remember that the big median down Eagle Rock Blvd. is just covering up where the Red Car tracks used to be!).

For most people, this is a movie about cartoons and a fun take on showbiz with the underlying theme of the big transportation shakeup in Los Angeles and the arrival of the freeway. But, for me, it’s a movie about the death of our once well-respected transit system set against the backdrop of this whole “Toon” thing. You see just as much of fictional neighborhood Toon Town as you do the watering hole across from Eddie’s office, which is located at the train terminal and is decorated with model trains, old signs, the light shining through a red “Pacific Electric” sign instead of a window, and a big huge map of the Pacific Electric Railway system up on the wall behind the bar. Someday I will own a bar and I will decorate it just like that. Or maybe I’ll just decorate my bathroom that way.

Basically, the cartoons are just there as a framing device to make the story a little more accessible, right? I mean, come on, the movie’s villain is out to buy up all of Toon Town (he already bought the Red Car system) just so he can build a freeway through it, then make tons of money by creating an economy of gas stations, off-ramp restaurants and billboard advertising spots. And who would ever want to live in a place like that?

9 thoughts on “LA Plays Itself in the Movies: Who Framed Roger Rabbit”

  1. The way I figure it, since both Disney and Warner Bros. characters populate Toontown, it must be located in Burbank right between the two studios…

    of course, today that’s where the 134 freeway is, “eight lanes of shimmering cement running from here to Pasadena”, so in real life Judge Doom was victorious.

  2. I like the movie, but unfortunately too many people take it as history. As Jillian showed in her awesome post on LA’s number one legend, the idea that GM or Firestone, or anyone else in the auto industry had some devious plan to kill the Red Cars just isn’t true:

    “I was transported into some magical version of Los Angeles where the public transportation vehicles and the automobiles co-existed in happiness along our city’s major thoroughfares”

    Unfortunately, that really is a magical version. From the early 1900s onward, there were numerous collisions between trains and cars, with drivers hating the trains, and train passengers hating that cars were taking up the road. Scott Bottles’ book Los Angeles & the Automobile shows that quite early on, auto traffic was given preferential treatment by LA’s leaders on busy downtown streets, and train times became quite slow.

  3. Though I do have one tiny quibble with Jillian’s post. She says:

    But by 1911, Huntington had developed most of the land he had bought, and sold the Red Cars to Pacific Electric in what would be known as the “Great Merger”. The majority of the track went to P.E., with the exception of the Los Angeles Railway, or LARy. These were the Yellow Cars, which he eventually sold to the Southern Pacific Railroad.

    Actually, the Pacific Electric was Huntington’s company. In 1911, he bought up all the other interurban lines built by other developers like Sherman & Clark and L.C. Brand, and merged them into the Pacific Electric – which he then sold to Southern Pacific.

    Huntington did not sell the LAry Yellow Cars to Southern Pacific. He (and subsequently, the Huntington family trust) owned them up until they were sold to NCL in the ’40s, and became the Los Angeles Transit Lines (LATL).

    (Personally, I suspect Huntington sold Pacific Electric to Southern Pacific as an act of revenge – he knew full well that the money to be made was in the land development, not the operation of the interurban lines – and he’d already made his bundle on the land deals – so he sold the money-losing PE to SP to pay them back for some years earlier having ejected him from the SP board and what he felt was his rightful position as heir apparent to his late uncle Collis. In all the years that SP owned the PE, it only turned a profit twice.)

  4. The exterior location of Maroon Studios was filmed on Cahuenga a block or so north of Melrose. This is not significant other than for the scenes they laid down tracks and installed a street car that ran up and down the street. As chance would have it I was passing Cahuenga on Melrose once during filming and I saw the Pacific REd Car in place and my eyes nearly popped outta my head all cartoon-like.

    Also in mentioning the 110 Freeway, I’d heard that it had originally been routed on a course that would have resulted in the demolition of the AAA buiding and St Vincent de Paul church at Adams and Figueroa. But ecause of the power of those two institutions, the freeways planners tracked it a block east to avoid the ruination of those historic structures.

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