#10 Who Framed Roger Rabbit

(1988, Robert Zemeckis)

“A laugh can be a very powerful thing. Why, sometimes in life, it’s the only weapon we have”

Period dramas are often a popular choice for directors, setting a movie in the past and drawing on the conventions of the time to drive the plot. We’ve already seen Raiders Of The Lost Ark on this blog, which set itself in the 30s to be able to draw influence from classic serials. Roger Rabbit does the same thing, only this time it takes two popular genres of the 1940s and combines them into one.

Of course, the odd thing here is that these two genres are dark, moody film noir, with its femme fatales and smoky dive bars, and the cartoon shorts of Walt Disney, Tex Avery and Chuck Jones. It’s a very odd combination, and yet, director Robert Zemeckis somehow manages to pull it off.

Roger Rabbit takes place in a strange parallel universe where cartoon characters are actually actors in Hollywood productions, with their own society and their own district of LA to live in. But things aren’t always perfect. Private detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) has been contacted by one of the cartoon studios to investigate the murder of Marvin Acme, the owner of Toontown, who it’s believed was murdered by Roger Rabbit after allegations Acme had been fooling around with his wife Jessica.

The film is superb blend of gritty film noir and the Golden Age Of Animation, seamlessly mixing live action footage with animated characters. It’s impressive enough just seeing Bob Hoskins acting with a cartoon rabbit, but then when the Toons interact with live action objects, the illusion becomes complete. It’s easy to spend much of the film just thinking to yourself “how did they do this?”

Plot-wise, the movie is a strange one. It takes the tropes of grizzled detective fiction and throws in cartoon characters, so things occasionally take a slightly wackier turn. Apart from this, it’s fairly standard though, and there’s not a lot of mystery hidden within. The villain is obvious, and most of the “clues” are shoved in your face early on, making it fail as an effective mystery. There’s also a small romantic subplot involving Eddie and local bar owner Dolores that largely goes nowhere and adds little to the overall story.

But it’s best to see this plot as merely a homage, a framing device to allow the worlds of reality and cartoon to blend. After all, the performances are excellent, and the cartoony aspects manage to hold things together. There’s also naturally a great deal of humour here too, especially since the Toons, by their own admission, feel their only purpose in life is to make people laugh. And they do. A lot.

As stated, the blend of animation and real actors is flawless, at least for the most part. There are a few occasions (mostly around the Weasels’ visit to Eddie’s office) where there are some minor cracks, but overall the illusion is effective. And of course, the animation is high-quality, but since this came from a division of Disney, this was to be expected. And the performances between the voice actors and the onscreen actors gel perfectly, and it’s hard not to think these characters were all in the same place at the same time.

And speaking of the performances, they are generally effective. Bob Hoskins is suitably surly (although sometimes his accent threatens to slip back into his native Cockney), Christopher Lloyd is effectively creepy in his role as Judge Doom, and an uncredited Kathleen Turner plays the perfect femme fatale as Jessica Rabbit, even if it’s entirely in voice alone.

Roger Rabbit is a technical feat that has yet to be equalled. It’s also immense fun to watch. If you’re a fan of the Golden Age Of Animation, then it’s a film that you would do well to see if you haven’t already.

Starring Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Charles Fleischer & Joanna Cassidy
Written by Gary K. Wolf (book – Who Censored Roger Rabbit), Jeffrey Price & Peter Seaman (screenplay)
Produced by Robert Watts & Frank Marshall, executive producers Steven Spielberg & Kathleen Kennedy
Music by Alan Silvestri

Favourite Scene: It’s hard not to love watching Bob Hoskins act like a cartoon character dancing around to “The Merry Go Round Broke Down” (better known as the Looney Tunes theme tune)
Scene That Bugged Me: I’m not a huge fan of the Toontown sequence, especially with the Lena Hyena chase. It’s clear Bob Hoskins was struggling to act with nothing. That said, the Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny cameo made up for it.

Watch it if: You want to believe cartoon characters are real, at least for 90 minutes
Avoid it if: You don’t work with Toons!

Originally posted on Blogspot Thursday 27 October 2011

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Posted on April 2, 2012, in 1980s, Animation, Comedy, Film Noir, Mystery and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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