Mild-mannered Robert Rabbit travels from his small hometown to the city of San Francisco, where he starts work as a pianist in a jazz joint. It's a simple job and he appears to be a simple rabbit. But there is more to Rob than meets the eye, and when a gang of jackal thugs threaten the people he cares about, Rob becomes the American Rabbit, superhero and defender of good.
In a quiet little unnamed village somewhere in America, a handsome young baby rabbit is born to loving parents who name him Robert. Rob, as he is called for short, grows up into an intelligent and kind rabbit who shows remarkable talent at anything he chooses to do. During this time he is occasionally visited by an elderly mysterious rabbit who seems to be checking on his progress.
One day during a family picnic, a large rock falls along the side of the cliff, directly heading for Rob's parents. But before they are crushed, Rob runs to their rescue and automatically turns into the American Rabbit, with powers of flight and super strength. When the danger is out of the way, Rob and his parents are all confused about this sudden change, until the mysterious wizard rabbit appears to explain. Rob is the Chosen One of this generation, a hero who will go out into the world and protect good and fight evil.
Rob takes to his new responsibilities with enthusiasm. He heads to San Francisco, where he gets a job in a jazz bar called The Panda Monium, run by a panda bear named Ted and his booker Bunny O'Hare. It looks like a sweet gig, until the Jackals enter the picture. The Jackals are biker thugs who extort "protection money". When Ted refuses to pay them, they wreck his club. But Ted refuses to give up, and with some help from Bunny, Rob and the rabbit band the White Brothers, they hold a marching rally to protest the unscrupulous activities of the Jackal gang. The Jackals try to sabotage the rally, but Rob transforms into the American Rabbit and saves the day.
But that is only the beginning. The Jackals' boss, Vultor, has big plans. He wants nothing less than nationwide domination, which he hopes to achieve by holding the Statue of Liberty hostage. (Well, sort of.) It's up to the American Rabbit and the American people to save the day.
American Rabbit is, if you haven't guessed, is a superhero movie. But it's not one of those bang-bang special-effects-spectacular type of superhero movie. It's actually about patriotism. Deep, burning, chest-thumping patriotism of being American. As someone who is not American, I have to say I found its messages quite subversive but very intelligently done. A great deal of the production team behind this movie are Japanese, but at the core of it, the writers themselves, hold that true-blue American pride.
Besides the obvious American landmarks that appear throughout the movie (eg. Golden Gate bridge, Grand Canyon, Chrysler Building, Niagara Falls), the film's message is very American, proudly waving the banners of family values and patriotic pride, while shunning cold gangsterism (which in this movie holds remarkable similarity to communism). I'm not saying this is a bad thing, just that it might be a tad more difficult for non-Americans to appreciate the home-baked-apple-pie feeling this movie has.
American Rabbit is also at least a little bit inspired by the Superman tv serial and movies. The American Rabbit practically *is* Superman, except that he has different powers and isn't an alien. Mild-mannered Rob Rabbit, whom everyone thinks is a bit of wimp, is secretly the super-powerful and super-good American Rabbit who always flies into the picture in the nick of time. He's also just as bad at hiding the fact that Rob always disappears when the American Rabbit is around. On the upside, there's no love-triangle between Rob, American Rabbit and Bunny O'Hare, because Bunny has her eyes on Rob and that's fine by me.
There's a lot about this story and the world it's set in that doesn't sit quite right with me. For example, throughout the entire movie the Jackals are able to roam free, terrorizing anyone they want without consequences except when the American Rabbit chooses to intervene. Where are the police in this world? Not only that, various characters seem genuinely surprised or unprepared by the evilness of Vultor and his gang, as though evil is something strange and unexpected. Maybe this really is a world filled with goodness and sweetness, where they are just not capable of dealing with wickedness (Vultor is able to take over the whole country just because he has a few people hostage?) but that pulls me out of the believability of this alternate America. Speaking of which, why is the Statue of Liberty in this film still shaped like a human being?
When all's said and done, this movie boasts some beautiful animation. It's not ground-breaking, but it's warm, fluid and consistent. I feel like I could just reach out and cuddle any of the characters, that's how shnuggly they all look, even the jackals. Maybe it's just because I've been spoiled by a lot of more recent productions where they take shortcuts to reduce costs, but American Rabbit comes from a time when quality meant something.