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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Title: Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Year of Release: 1988

Date Viewed: June 15th, 2010

MPAA Rating: PG

The other night I found myself in the mood to revisit an old favorite from the past. Not always the easiest task since I have a lot of old favorites stashed on my bookshelf and in the basement closet. Often I'd spend so much time deciding what movie to watch that by the time a choice is made, I could have been finished with that movie had I decided on it immediately. This time was an exception. Such random things encountered during the day can trigger flashbacks of quotable lines and memorable scenes from movies engraved in my mind. For the life of me I can't remember how this one started, but there was no question that I was eager to watch Who Framed Roger Rabbit again; a film that I loved as a child and love even more now as an adult.

Set in 1940s Hollywood, Who Framed Roger Rabbit takes place in a universe where animated cartoon characters are real and known as "toons". They hail from the neighboring city of ToonTown and their only purpose in life (which they take great pride in) is to make people laugh. Seeing dollar signs, Hollywood producers have hired the toons to star in studio exclusive short films and main features for big-time profits. One such producer R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern) is having trouble dealing with one of his main stars Roger Rabbit (voice of Charles Fleischer). Roger's focus on work has been on the decline and Maroon believes one of the reasons is that he is too distracted (and who can blame him?) by his attractive wife Jessica (voice of Kathleen Turner) who works at the popular underground Ink and Paint Club.

Maroon hires private detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) to uncover some dirt on Jessica in the hopes that Roger would abandon her and return his primary focus to his film career. Valiant along with his deceased brother Theodore were once a respected pair of crime solvers in toon-related cases. That all changed the day Theodore was murdered during a bank robbery case in a toon. As a result of the tragedy, Valiant became an alcoholic and has been prejudiced against toons ever since. He at first refuses to investigate on Jessica but eventually gives in since he is in need of money.

During a snooping job that would make today's paparazzis proud, Valiant captures and releases a set of photographs to the press that reveal Jessica having an affair (but presented as a metaphor) with the owner of ToonTown: Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye). Probably the same Marvin Acme that has Wile. E. Coyote to thank for being his number one customer. Outraged by what he has seen, Roger looses his cool and appears to have murdered Acme in a fit of rage.

However, the toons and Roger himself insist he is innocent and that there are more layers to the case than what appears on the surface. Valiant is encouraged to dig deeper and find the real person responsible for Acme's murder. Further questions are raised concerning Acme's non-recovered last will and testament, leaving the ownership of ToonTown in doubt. Valiant has to act quickly since Roger is now a wanted fugitive and the newly elected and obsessed ToonTown district prosecutor Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) is hot on his trails with a new toon-executing liquid he calls "the dip."

Who Framed Roger Rabbit had been critically acclaimed for its technical achievements as well as its original story. It is loosely inspired by a 1981 novel titled "Who Censored Roger Rabbit?", a creative work in its own right but bearing little resemblance to this picture.

The movie is not the first to blend live action and animation nor would it be the last. But the near flawless execution of this innovative style has never been better than what is seen here. The animated toons interact with the human characters and their environment seamlessly, almost making you forget that they are animated in the first place. Despite dozens of viewings and many future imitations, I am still wowed at the sheer impressiveness of the visuals.

Commenting on the superb effects reminds me of a story posted on IMDBs trivia page. According to the story, Bob Hoskins' young son refused to speak to his father for two weeks after seeing the movie. When he was finally asked why, he said he was angry that his father got to work with all those cartoon characters and he was never given a chance to meet them.

Robert Zemeckis is probably the only director alive that loves special effects more than George Lucas. He is the kind of visionary that always knows what he wants before it comes time to make it happen. With a strong script under his arm by Peter Seaman and Jeffrey Price and with an enormous budget to work with, Zemeckis has created something truly special. He should be proud.

As far as flaws go, I only noticed one glaring one. Valiant becomes motivated to find the truth only after noticing that one of his photographs has the tiny image of Acme's will sticking out of his coat pocket. Since that picture was released to the public, I find it hard to believe that only Valiant was able to notice it while the rest of the Hollywood's law enforcement were busy chasing after Roger. There shouldn't have been any doubt of the will's existence but the screenwriters decided to ignore that in order to advance the plot forward.

Everything else works. From the visuals, to the humor, to Christopher Lloyd's chilling villain performance.....just the overall fun factor of this film should be enough to please both adults and children alike. If you haven't seen it yet, don't wait any longer.

There are rumors of a sequel in the works. It may actually be the perfect time for one. Classic hand-drawn characters like Roger Rabbit have became almost entirely phased out and replaced by advanced computer technology. Perhaps the sequel can feature an out-of-work Roger struggling to find his place in a world that has nearly forgotten about him. A scene in the original makes reference to this idea when we see Betty Boop waiting tables at the Ink and Paint club because "life's been slow since cartoons changed to color." If the sequel can provide even half the imagination of its predecessor, I would welcome it with open arms.

Rating: 9


  1. A someone who grew up watching the Warners and Disney cartoon characters, seeing them combined together in the same scenes was pure heaven. Seeing Daffy Duck and Donald Duck in a piano battle? Unbelievable. "That duck has a speech impediment."

    Seeing the seemingly hundreds of characters all show up at the end had me darting my eyes all over the place, sometimes seeing characters I had not seen for 20 years.

    I agree that it is almost nothing like Who Censored Roger Rabbit. I guess they felt Jessica Rabbit being caught up in "toon porn" was not family friendly. :-)

  2. The piano battle with the ducks is a one-of-a-kind memorable scene. It's a shame we probably won't see anything else like it anytime soon.