Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

14 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Who Framed Roger Rabbit” is one of the most ambitious, visually impressive, narratively spellbinding movies I’ve ever seen. It’s one of those movies that is just absolute magic—a movie you’ll remember for years to come and just can’t bear to see only once. It just gets better with every viewing. It’s creative to say the least and showcases some great special effects that are not just there as gimmicks, but to serve the purpose of the story.

If you’ve seen “Song of the South,” “Mary Poppins,” or “Pete’s Dragon,” you’ll notice something similar in each of those movies—blending live human actors with cartoon characters. But you never really get the impression that the cartoon characters are really there with the people and interacting with them. This is what “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” does different. This blends human actors with cartoon characters, but in this movie, they really look like they’re there. They look more three-dimensional than their two-dimensional sketches, they cast shadows, and they occupy the same space as the people. It’s unbelievable. They’re so convincingly blended into the scene with the actors, and they’re able to move around the settings of the scene because the camera doesn’t just stay in one spot to make it easy—the camera moves all over the place, following the animated characters…sort of.

“Who Framed Roger Rabbit” is shot as and takes plot elements of a 1940s thriller. But it takes place in a Hollywood that hires cartoon characters, or “toons.” Nearby is ToonTown, where every toon lives. But some are in show business and have moved to Hollywood to star in their own cartoons. Wherever you look, there’s a toon. There’s black-and-white vintage Betty Boop in a bar, upset that cartoons have turned to color. There’s Disney’s Dumbo flying outside an executive’s window. There’s a series of dancing broomsticks, occupied by a saxophone player playing their theme from “Fantasia.” And look! There’s Warner’s Daffy Duck and Disney’s Donald Duck having a piano duel! How great is that! The best thing about the cartoon characters we recognize is that we don’t just see variations of them—including Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Warner’s Bugs Bunny; the only time they’ll ever be seen together. We see them. They are the cartoons we grew up with. They’re here in this world.

There are a few newcomer toons that should be welcomed among the more popular ones (although, in this world, they are). They’re Roger Rabbit—a wacky, zany, clumsy white rabbit with a bowtie; Jessica Rabbit—Roger’s wife, who is not a rabbit but a sexy femme fatale with a seductive voice provided by an uncredited Kathleen Turner; and Baby Herman—a tough-talking midget who plays the innocent baby in the Roger Rabbit cartoons.

As the movie opens, we see one of those cartoons and it’s a true delight. Roger has to babysit Baby Herman while Mother is out shopping, and immediately gets into trouble. There’s enough cartoon slapstick humor to cause laughter for a long time. The cartoon is a masterpiece. And we see that the director Raoul had to call “Cut!” because when a refrigerator drops on Roger’s heads, little birds fly around his head when he wants “stars, not birds!” And Baby Herman walks, complaining in a Brooklyn accent and asking for a cigar—hilarious.

Anyway, what’s the story of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” Well, like I said, it’s in the style of a 1940s thriller if intersected with toons. Private detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) is hired to follow Jessica Rabbit from the Ink and Paint Club, where she performs as a nightclub singer, and catch in the act of cheating on her husband Roger (or in this case, playing “Pattycake”). Roger doesn’t take the news very well, and that’s why when the man who was seeing Jessica—a rich prankster named Marvin Acme (get it?)—is murdered by a toon, Roger is the prime suspect. Eddie doesn’t think much of it, since he has a prejudice against toons. You see, a toon killed his brother by dropping a piano on his head…is it wrong to say that that’s hilariously catastrophic?

But Roger finds Eddie’s office and is in desperate need of help. He didn’t commit the crime and knows that Eddie and his brother used to stand up for toons and give them justice. Nowadays, the justice system is more direct and diabolical. It’s mostly run by Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd), who has found a way to kill toons—something called “the dip”; one drop burns them like acid. He and the slimy, cartoonish (haha) Weasels, who serve as his squad, are on the hunt for Roger to execute him. So Eddie decides to keep him hidden as he tries to solve the mystery, but the main problem is that Roger can’t be one place without causing a lot of attention. This proves to be a difficult task.

Perfect examples of how technologically groundbreaking this movie is are two scenes that just stand out. One is the scene in which we first see Jessica Rabbit. She really interacts with people. She squeezes Marvin Acme’s cheeks and plays around with his handkerchief, and then she takes off Eddie’s hat and shoves it right back in his face. It really looks like she’s there, doing these things. Another example is when Eddie tries to keep Roger hidden from the Weasels in his office. He and Roger are handcuffed together after a prank, and there’s no key to separate them. So Eddie hides Roger in the sink full of water, making the Weasels think Eddie’s cleaning his underwear. Roger, of course, can’t hold his breath very long (which is kind of odd, since he can’t feel pain and there’s only way to kill a toon, as the movie keeps suggesting), and panics in the water. The water splashes about, making it look like Roger is really there. How did director Robert Zemeckis and his crew do all of this? They always keep the toons in the right places and the actors look like they’ve been seeing toons for a very long time.

This is some of the best special effects I’ve ever seen. They’re far from simple. Every detail was plotted out and the result is just perfect.

Bob Hoskins does an excellent job as Eddie Valiant. He has the hardest part of the other actors—Christopher Lloyd as the villain and Joanna Cassidy as Eddie’s girlfriend—in that he interacts with the toons the most. He acts to pretty much nothing, except for a few wires that move certain things, and he has to imagine that he’s really looking at a cartoon character. He does an incredible job. Without the right credibility, it wouldn’t be convincing that there’s human interaction with toons. And Hoskins is also a great comic actor and for his character, he mixes gruffness with sincerity and gets a good amount of laughs as well.

The story goes through many turns as we get many hints of social commentary, all of which developed to the final act, in which Judge Doom (I’m not giving away that he’s the villain; you’ll know the first time you see him) has a plan to get rid of all toons as if they were secondary individuals and turn their world ToonTown into a “freeway.” There’s also a lot of inventiveness in ToonTown, seen near the end as Eddie gives chase inside. This place seems pretty cool—a whole world full of cartoon characters. It’s every kid’s dream come true. But the place is an insane, chaotic hell ride where everything is just completely nuts and even your favorite cartoon characters are…somewhat sadistic. Look at Mickey and Bugs skydiving while Eddie is free-falling—they offer him a spare parachute, and what do they give him? An inflatable tire!

From the first scene to the last, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” is a joyous, funny, delightful, inventive entertainment. It’s a ton of fun and visually remarkable. I can imagine seeing this movie a hundred times and never getting tired of it. That’s the magic of the movies that comes through with this movie.

One Response to “Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)”

  1. Florene August 6, 2013 at 5:43 am #

    Hello, all is going sound here and ofcourse every one is
    sharing information, that’s genuinely good, keep up writing.

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