A Few Frames Short of a Feature : THAT'S ALL, FOLKS! By Greg Snow (Random House: $21; 243 pp.)

Wolf's creations, Roger Rabbit and the denizens of Toontown, continue their antics in his latest novel, "Who P-P-P-Plugged Roger Rabbit?"

Jumpin' Jibbers! I've turned into a metaphor. Or a semaphore. No, make that a petit four !

P-p-p-please let me explain.

These days, Toons hobnob with the highfalutin. Mickey functions as a corporate spokesmouse. Donald Duck hands out Oscars at the Academy Awards. Bugs Bunny teams up with Michael Jordan to dribble for Nike sneakers. Toons are boffo on the big screen and prodigious on prime time.

Now, finally, Toons plunge through the portals of prose, taking the big leap from comic books to hardcover novels.

I generally restrict my reading to the carrot section of the Burpees seed catalogue. However, the primary premise of this timely tome tickled my tail enough to draw me in.

Our hero, Nick Taig, personifies every single obnoxious human characteristic. He's snobbish, callous, highhanded, bigoted, humorless and so stuck-up. To quote Sylvester Puddytat, "He's des picable !"

This good-for-nothing creep does a forward flip and a sideways somersault into metaphor Mecca when one day, presto chango, he turns into a cartoon! His thoughts pop out of his ears encased in word balloons. He can twist himself into a pretzel or slip-slide across the floor like a jellyfish.

Wow, I said to myself, now he'll sing us a few Merrie Melodies.

No siree, Bob.

Nick Taig might look like a Toon, but he lacks our most important ingredient: a funny bone. He never once employs his Toonishness for its traditional purpose, to make people laugh. He doesn't even have much fun with it himself.

He uses it mostly to engage in outlandish sexual escapades, a strrrrretch of the truth if ever I saw one. (Real Toons can scamper around pantsless without compromising their PG rating.)

Nick runs a few frames short of a feature in the smarts department, too.

Nick's initiation into Toonhood occurs when he puts his hand down a garbage disposal and the infernal device accidentally turns on. Instead of slicing and dicing his mitt into mincemeat, the grinder twists his arm around like a rubber band and sends him spinning across the room. Nick examines his extremity, expecting to find a bloody mess. Surprise! Not a mark.

Nick convinces himself the incident never occurred. He believes he suffered from a drug-induced hallucination. How does he prove it didn't happen? He sticks his duke into the disposal again . Dopey on his dippiest day displays more sense than that.

Nick wakes up in the hospital with a pound of hamburger where his digits used to be.

His fingers quickly heal--an advantage of being a Toon. (I've lost count of the pinkies I've sacrificed to exploding cigars.) When Nick finally seeks help (a lot further into the scenario than even Goofy would have waited), a gang of CIA operatives kidnaps him, and the story takes a detour sharper than the ones Wile E. Coyote sets up to sidetrack the Roadrunner. The action shifts to a supersecret NATO enclave established to study folks with aberrations. A human cartoon? No big deal in this compound. They already have a boy who can turn himself invisible and a woman who can teleport a herd of elephants from Africa to England.

Rather than explore Nick's unique and potentially amusing predicament, the story lumps him in with a bunch of metaphysical marvels who make him appear almost normal.

While in captivity, Nick meets Alison, a fellow inmate. She loves him, he loves her. Don't expect to find them competing for space with Mickey and Minnie in next February's Valentine-card rack, though. First chance Nick gets to escape, he leaves Alison forever without a second thought. That's Nick's problem throughout: He never thinks of anybody but himself. If the seven dwarfs had been as uncaring as Nick, "Snow White" would have been a very short movie.

But Nick Taig is lucky. At least as a Toon he rates two dimensions. The humans in this story have only one. They are the real cartoons, and sketched in very broad strokes. Elmer Fudd would feel a distinct kinship with characters like Christian Kidd (the leading man's noble best friend), Loewick (a mad scientist), Professor Ryemann (ditto), Benedict E. Sweet ( deus ex machina --even identified as such on his business card), Marcus Trilling (the resident fop) and flack-about-town Herman Coprolite (I'd give a pawful of simoleons to see Mister Disney animate him!).

Here comes my semaphore analogy. Any Boy Scout with a merit badge in flag-waving can decipher the message delivered here: Becoming a Toon can make a person a better human. Unfortunately, Nick Taig doesn't show much at either end. He goes from born bad to basically befuddled. Benny the Cab would have trouble passing many scenic highlights on a trip that short.

Real cartoons cram more drama, humor and human interest into eight minutes of screen time than this book contains in 244 pages. It's as squishy and soft as the aforementioned petit four , but not as yummy. Give me Tom and Jerry and a bucket of popcorn any day.

Columbia Pictures bought the film rights. They ought to star Bugs Bunny as Nick Taig. A stretch for the Bugster, but he might give the action the rollick and frolic and colic it needs to truly tell a Toon tall tale.

That's all, folks. Thank goodness.

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