Who Framed Roger Rabbit – (1988)
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy, Charles Fleischer
Screenplay by: Gary K. Wolf, Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman
Robert Zemeckis, in my opinion, was one of the best, most accessible directors to ever grace Hollywood screens. Most directors excel at one (or a few things) while falling short in other areas. Zemeckis, however, seemed to really know how to deliver a movie that was both thoroughly entertaining AND rich in content. He was, in a sense, a James Cameron-lite: while Cameron excelled at the big, beautiful blockbuster, Zemeckis excelled at smaller (if still expensive) family, heart-warming fare.
Some of his best works, like Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump, and Cast Away, utilize a seamless, almost-perfect blend of special effects, fine acting, strong symbolism, solid direction, and beautiful set design. Nothing pushes into the artsy realm like a Kubrick or Malick film; but when he brings the love, Zemeckis brings the love. (While movies like The Polar Express, Beowulf, and Contact may not have the idyllic temperament that his other movies have, they still are competently done; it’s the writing that usually falls short in that regard. Although I will admit that he is somewhat slipping nowadays, like so many infamous 90s directors.)
How awesome is Zemeckis? Take note of this awesome bit of trivia taken from IMDB.com concerning today’s feature: “The first test audience was comprised mostly of 18-19-year-olds, who hated it. After nearly the entire audience walked out of the screening, Robert Zemeckis, who had final cut, said he wasn’t changing a thing.”
Motherfucker knows what’s up.
NOSTALGIC LENS: Prior to the overwrought and somewhat overdone love for bizarre crossover video game Kingdom Hearts, this, my dear readers, was probably the most awesome-est crossover thing to ever awesome an awesome. Bugs Bunny AND Mickey Mouse in the same film? Kid-mind-orgasm. With a host of amazing and all types of animated characters interacting with live humans, this here was the true fantasy of every child (sorry Goonies, treasure hunting ain’t got shit on this). Also, it helps that the film was well done with competent actors. While I may not have fully understood the plot or the setting, you still had to love the frantic pace and the perfectly, in-character toons.
DOES IT HOLD UP: People, c’mon. Disney bought Marvel, but while you whine about their child-friendly image effecting everything, you’re forgetting that, indeed, Disney can also be very, very badass. They won’t put the “Disney” name on it (this movie is produced through Amblin Entertainment and Touchstone Pictures, which are owned by Disney), but they’ll definitely bring the noise (like in the aforementioned Kingdom Hearts).
This movie is a delight. Fun, frantic, hilarious, and intriguing, Who Framed Roger Rabbit exploits the 1947 time-period with seamless interaction with animated figures so perfectly, there are hardly, if any, awkward moments. It’s the richness of Chinatown with heart of Disney cartoons and the funness of Looney Tunes (and a bit of Tex Avery—but all cartoons have a bit of Avery).
Private eye Eddie Valiant is tasked with taking “risqué” pictures of Roger Rabbit’s wife and Marvin Acme, owner of Toontown. The paddie-cake photos cause Roger to lose it and, suddenly, Acme is dead. People all over town blame Roger for the murder, and it’s up to a reluctant Eddie to return to the world of toon-crime solving to clear Roger’s name.
Why is Eddie so reluctant? A toon killed his brother. Pretty harsh, I know, but the movie spares no expense in this regard. If you ever saw Chinatown or LA Confidential, you may have an understanding of this moment in American history, of the power of the paparazzi and stardom, of studio control and the relationship of this to the public, private, and government sectors.
I included this clip specifically for 7:30 – 8:30, one of the best, heartwarming, and underrated tracking shots in film history. Zemeckis shows an incredible amount of control in this film, maintaining the perfect blend of wackiness and seriousness; no scene is awkward or out-of-place (like numerous moments in Space Jam), and we as viewers are easily brought into this parallel world of cartoon stardom and the seedy underbelly of the Hollywood that controls them.
I especially love the attention to the details. Along with the costume and set designs, little bits here and there jump out, like the general lack of concern for Eddie’s drinking problem (there’s no AA in 1947; no one cares, and they even have a few jokes at his expense). All complemented by a powerful score by Alan Silvestri and the incredible hard work by the animators and the special effects crew, there’s very, very little to hate about this movie.
And speaking of the animators: of course, I can’t do a review of this movie without noting the amazing cartoon characters themselves. It’s a grab-bag of classic characters, both minor and major, and audience members will have a blast just pointing out every one they remember. But no one character seems forced in any scene; they fit like a glove, and the fact that the humans and toons interact comfortably, as if it was always like this, really gives this world and, consequently, the movie, it’s heart.
Of course, the most iconic of the characters appear, and they indeed steal the show:
“They never get to finish the act!”
“Ya, you could get killed!” Cue Mickey’s laugh.
If I had to choose some flaws in this movie, I would say that the actual mystery here isn’t really all that complex. In fact, it’s kind of simple, and the actual resolution hardly takes any time. But the moments that Who Framed Roger Rabbit does include are special and hilarious, and rather inspiring. I could imagine that the legal considerations was a nightmare (in fact, Popeye and Felix were to appear but the rights weren’t secured in time), but when a director has the passion and vision to prevail through the odds and bring about a spectacularly enjoyable crossover of such epic proportions, you know you have something special on your hands. (Watch the movie on Youtube to find out whodunit, although, the real culprit is obvious – and yet, the twist behind it may not be as much.)
IN A NUTSHELL: I once irritated my ex when we watched this movie together by quoting lines before they were actually spoken. With such an infinitely quotable script, how can you not? If there’s anything you can take from this movie, is that deserves a serious amount of respect (there were no CGI or computer-use whatsoever). But it’s a wonder and a treat: parents, at the very least in the midst of your over-protectiveness, let your children see this.
September 28th: Robin Hood
October 5th: Theodore Rex