Normal cells respond appropriately to various signals, while sustaining proper developmental programs and tissue homeostasis. Inappropriate signal reception, response or attenuation, can upset the normal balance of signaling within cells, leading to dysfunction or tissue malformation. To understand the molecular mechanisms that regulate protein-kinase-based signaling in the context of tissue morphogenesis, we analyzed the domain requirements of Drosophila Slpr, a mixed-lineage kinase (MLK), for Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) signaling. The N-terminal half of Slpr is involved in regulated signaling whereas the C-terminal half promotes cortical protein localization. The SH3 domain negatively regulates Slpr activity consistent with autoinhibition via a conserved proline motif. Also, like many kinases, conserved residues in the activation segment of the catalytic domain regulate Slpr. Threonine 295, in particular, is essential for function. Slpr activation requires dual input from the MAP4K Misshapen (Msn), through its C-terminal regulatory domain, and the GTPase Rac, which both bind to the LZ-CRIB region of Slpr in vitro. Although Rac is sufficient to activate JNK signaling, our results indicate that there are Slpr-independent functions for Rac in dorsal closure. Finally, expression of various Slpr constructs alone or with upstream activators reveals a wide-ranging response at the cell and tissue level.