You Got Live Action in My Animation!


One thing I wanted to mention about the most recent Simpsons episode was the use of live action footage. Principal Skinner forces the students at Springfield Elementary School to sit through all 152 minutes of the 1967 Doctor Dolittle, and we see bits of the actual movie. It seems like this isn’t something the show would have done in its earlier days, when everything was animated. The only early exceptions I can think of were in Halloween episodes, like when Homer fell out of the third dimension into a live-action street, and when an animated Bart and Lisa ended up with a live Regis and Kathie Lee.

The Christmas episode “‘Tis the Fifteenth Season” had the characters watching television specials using stop-motion puppets and Claymation, and they actually used these styles of animation instead of just drawing them.

It looked weird, but it was cool that they were able to make the parodies appear more accurate. By using footage from an actual movie, they were able to joke about specific scenes without having to animate them, which worked, although you could potentially argue it was a little bit lazy.


I’d actually been reading about Who Framed Roger Rabbit on TV Tropes recently, and that ties into this. Mixing live action and animation was certainly nothing new by the late 1980s. The full-length Disney features that used both tended to use the cartoons in imaginary or fantastic scenes, like inside a chalk drawing in Mary Poppins, or on a magical island in Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

Disney’s Alice Comedies from the 1920s had a live actress in a cartoon world, and there were scenes of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck interacting with live-action people in Fantasia and The Three Caballeros, respectively.

Warner Bros. did something similar with Daffy Duck and Porky Pig in a 1940 short. The idea that cartoon characters are actors playing roles was used since the early days of animation, and Roger Rabbit expanded upon this idea, also making Toons a persecuted minority of sorts.

I’ve seen the question raised as to whether there are any animators in the Roger Rabbit world, but it’s never addressed. Although a Disney production, the film included cartoon stars from other companies, including the only official scenes with Mickey and Bugs Bunny together.

I’m not sure how true it is, but I’ve read that Judge Doom’s plot to buy up streetcars and put them out of commission, based on an accusation against General Motors for doing the same thing, was going to be the plot of a Chinatown sequel before it was used here instead. There already were freeways in 1947, but I think they’re allowed a little artistic license. They also had Eddie Valiant and Roger watch a Goofy cartoon that wouldn’t come out for another two years.


The animated series Bonkers, aired as part of the Disney Afternoon, used much the same premise as Roger Rabbit, and its lead character Bonkers D. Bobcat was a lot like Roger. The common rumor is that Disney had wanted to do a Roger Rabbit series but couldn’t clear the rights, but apparently such was never the case, and it was just heavily inspired by the movie. Of course, since there’s no live action in it, it’s harder to tell the difference between Toons and humans. For the most part, the human characters are just less colorful and zany, and are drawn with five fingers instead of four. While we get the idea, and I’m sure they didn’t have the budget to put in live actors, it’s not as much fun to watch. One odd thing about the show was that Bonkers had two different partners, and there were clear differences in style between the Lucky Piquel and Miranda Wright episodes.

While the Lucky episodes aired first, the Miranda ones were actually made first, and delayed because of poor quality. A good number of them were never aired at all. So instead they brought in Lucky, who in many ways was basically a G-rated Eddie Valiant, making the connections to Roger even stronger than before. A two-part pilot launched the show, and another episode made a transition between the two partners, making it clear that the Miranda episodes officially took place after the Lucky ones. I understand that they stopped showing that episode after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, as the main villain was a terrorist bomber. While the show was never that great, it had its moments, more so in the Lucky episodes. The Miranda ones did feature Bonkers’ co-stars from the shorts shown on Raw Toonage; they were only in the first and last Lucky episodes.

Also, Chief Kanifky, a minor presence in the Miranda episodes, became a major character in the Lucky ones.

I remember thinking that Fall-Apart Rabbit, Bonkers’ friend and stunt double when Lucky was his partner, had a similar to voice to that of the dog Runt on Animaniacs, which in turn was based on Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. Frank Welker did voice both characters. I read that Bonkers was a proposed name for Animaniacs, which is part of why the latter show took a fair number of shots at the former. Animaniacs is a better title, though, so they really dodged a Toon bullet there.

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4 Responses to You Got Live Action in My Animation!

  1. nebbie916 says:

    Animaniacs, along with Tiny Toon Adventures and Bonkers, are “self aware toon in-universe” shows in the 1990s.
    In Animaniacs, every character is at least implied to be a toon in-universe, even the human characters who work at the WB studio in the show (Dr. Otto Scratchnsniff, Hello Nurse, Mr. Plots, and Ralph Guard).
    There are the “classic 30s and 40s cartoons” Warner Sib (Yakko, Wakko, and Dot) and Slappy Squirrel shorts, the “contemporary WB studio backlot and LA area setting” shorts, which usually feature the Warner Sibs or Slappy Squirrel, the “contemporary age and setting” shorts, which could feature any character segment, and the “historical setting or period piece” shorts and the “fairy tale and myth setting” shorts, which can feature The Warner Sibs, Pinky and The Brain (which spun off into their own show), Rita and Runt, The Goodfeathers (Bobby, Pesto, and Squit), Slappy and Skippy Squirrel, the Flame, or sometimes Chicken Boo or Mindy and Buttons, the “holiday (i.e., Halloween, Christmas, Thanksgiving) themed” shorts, which usually feature the Warner Sibs, the “educational” shorts, which usually feature the Warner Sibs, the Good Idea, Bad Idea skits with Mr. Skullhead, the Randy Beaman skits (featuring a boy named Colin), the “musical, parody, and musical parody” shorts, which most often featured the Warner Sibs, Slappy and Skippy Squirrel, Pinky and The Brain, Rita and Runt, and The Goodfeathers. However, none of the different episode types of Animaniacs are implied to be in the “real world” of the show, if there is one.

  2. nebbie916 says:

    I’ve noticed some different rules that the different character segments in Animaniacs follow.

    The Rules of the Different Character Segment Types in Animaniacs

    Warner Sibs: They are toons in-universe and aware of it. There are a few other talking and funny animals in these segments, a few of whom are antagonists (Like Fermin Flaxseed). Most of the antagonists and characters they interact with are human however.
    Slappy and Skippy Squirrel: They too are toons in-universe and aware of it. There are many other talking and funny animals, often self aware toons, in these segments, many of whom are antagonists. Some of the antagonists are humans.
    Pinky and The Brain: They are toons in-universe, but not self aware toons. Most of the antagonists and characters they interact with are human. Usually, only genetically spliced animals are talking animals that humans can understand.
    Rita and Runt: They are toons in-universe, but not self aware toons. The antagonists can be either human or animal. These shorts are implied to abide by the rules of Animal Talk, in which animals can talk to other animals but not humans.
    The Goodfeathers: They toons in-universe, but not self aware toons. The antagonists are usually animals. These shorts, like Rita and Runt shorts, are implied to abide by the rules of Animal Talk.

    • Nathan says:

      Yeah, there are definitely different rules, which makes it weird when the different characters cross over, but crossovers usually have to bend the rules somewhat. As far as talking animals go, I remember a Warner Siblings segment with a Howard Stern parody named Howie Tern, who was a bird. Later, a Pinky and the Brain episode used the same name for a human Stern analog.

      I enjoyed your comments, by the way.

      • nebbie916 says:

        In the “crossover” shorts and episodes (like Star Warners, Katie Ka-Boo, Spellbound, and The Big Wrap Party Tonight) and in Wakko’s Wish, the general rule was that any talking character was able to talk and the animal characters that do talk (Warners, Pinky and the Brain, Rita, Runt, Goodfeathers, e.t.c.) were understood by the human characters and capable of talking to the human characters. The only characters that don’t talk are the ones that don’t talk in show at all, like The Mime (although he is a human character, he is mute because he is a mime), Chicken Boo, and Buttons.

        There were also “crossover” cameos in the show, most often featuring Yakko, Wakko, and Dot with Ralph chasing them in other characters’ segments.

        Here are a few examples of “crossover” cameos

        1) In the Hip Hippos (Flavio and Marita) short, “A Moving Experience,” Rita and Runt run towards Gena Embryo and on her head. Rita is running on two legs and Runt is running on all fours. For some reason, the Warner Sib’s leitmotif plays in their presence instead of the usual Rita and Runt leitmotif.
        2) In the Goodfeathers short, “West Side Pigeons,” Krupp Kitty sneaks up on Squit, who is perched on top of a trash can singing “Carloota.” The Warner Sibs peak their heads out of the trash can, but duck back in when they notice Krupp Kitty.
        3) In the “Rita and Runt” short, “Of Nice and Men,” a Lennie parody character is shown holding The Brain and massaging his head, which is a reference to Lennie of Of Mice and Men carrying a dead mouse in his pocket.

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