Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Release Date: June 22nd, 1988 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Robert Zemeckis Actors: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy, Charles Fleischer, Betsy Brantley, Joel Silver, Lou Hirsch
range-haired, floppy-eared, polka-dot-bowtied, clown-costumed, accident-prone cartoon character Roger Rabbit is assigned the task of babysitting a doe-eyed baby intent on stumbling into precarious situations. But it’s all an act, as he’s a “real-life” toon star employed by Maroon Cartoons in Hollywood, 1947. In the world of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” animated characters walk amongst humans. And despite having been made in 1988, the blend of live-action and hand-drawn imagery is beautifully seamless. Reflections, shines, and shadows seem to work far more impressively when fused with real footage than previously seen in animated features (so much so that the film picked up the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, along with a special achievement Oscar for animation director Richard Williams).
Classically film noir-clothed, booze-guzzling, private detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) is hired by R.K. Maroon himself to spy on Roger Rabbit’s voluptuous wife, Jessica (also a cartoon, but definitely not of the cottontail variety), whose rumored promiscuity is affecting Roger’s ability to stick to his lines at work. As it turns out, she’s indeed fooling around – by playing patty-cake (literally) with her boss Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye), the owner of Toontown, where all the toons reside. The next day, Eddie is informed that Acme has been whacked and that Roger is the prime suspect. As the sleuth begins to consider a blackmail conspiracy is afoot, the runaway rabbit shows up at his office, begging for a chance at justice.
Hot on his trail is the broad-shouldered, black-cloaked, darkly-spectacled, hat-wearing, ghoulish Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd, donning a few gimmicks not too far removed from a more twisted Dr. Strangelove) and his army of gun-toting, zoot-suited weasels, intent on capturing the fugitive to toss him in the “dip,” a newly devised method for killing a toon. Doom’s character is particularly devilish, seemingly misplaced in a family film. But “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” is wisely targeting a more mature audience, with its dark plot, cursing, violence, gunplay, sexual innuendo, smoking, drinking, death, and genuinely frightening villain.
Although the entire movie is incredibly creative and highly unique, it’s the attention to details, both visually and through scripting, that truly sets it apart. Backstory and character development is carefully planned, such as Eddie’s partner and brother Theodore having been killed by a toon (a piano was dropped on his head), the mild romance with Dolores (Joanna Cassidy), and the brilliant inclusion of dozens of Looney Tunes and Walt Disney characters – as well as Tex Avery/MGM’s Droopy, Walter Lantz’ Woody Woodpecker, and even a Fleischer Talkartoon (Betty Boop). Bob Hoskins does a surprising job keeping a straight face as he acts out his dialogue to nothingness, with zany one-liners and gut-busting zingers spouted around him (namely by voice actor Charles Fleischer). The humor is actually quite clever. Even though a few gags are stale by today’s standards, the film is still original, influential, supremely entertaining, and one of the most noteworthy of the ‘80s (it opened to critical and financial success and ranked as the second highest-grossing movie of the year).
– Mike Massie