Be vewy vewy qwiet. I'm hunting wabbits.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is directed by Robert Zemeckis and is based on the 1981 novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf. The film stars Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Charles Fleischer, Stubby Kaye, and Joanna Cassidy.
No introduction is needed for the massive collection of animated characters from the Golden Age of American animation. The likes of Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, and Tom and Jerry were all, in one way or another, a memorable part of all our childhoods or at least characters we fondly remember watching at least a little bit during some point in our childhoods. We all have our personal favorites of certain Looney Tunes and Disney animated characters, but if any of us we're alive and well during the Golden Age of American animation, probably not a single one of us could have envisioned that we would one day get the chance to see all of these goofy, fun-loving animated characters on screen together. Here's one such example of that:
Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny together on the same frame? Inconceivable!
The opportunity to see moments like Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny together on the same screen is given to us in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the film that did so much more for American animation than people may first realize: renewing interest in the Golden Age animated characters and paving the way for the Disney Renaissance. While I can't say that the likes of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King would have never happened had Who Framed Roger Rabbit flopped, I find it hard to argue that all of those beloved Disney animated films still would have happened had things not turned out so well for Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
The Disney animation department was in deep deep trouble following the box office failure that was 1985's The Black Cauldron. While the animation department saw a bit of a turn around following the box office success of The Great Mouse Detective and Oliver and Company, there was no guarantee that Disney had gotten themselves completely out of the mud. Then in 1988, Disney agreed to have long-time animation fan Steven Spielberg come on as executive producer for Who Framed Roger Rabbit, with then Walt Disney Studios chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg firmly believing that a live-action/animation hybrid would rescue the animation department from an untimely death. Spielberg was able to convince the likes of Warner Bros., Turner Entertainment, and Universal Pictures/Walter Lantz Productions to "lend" their characters to appear in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, though he was unable to get permission for certain characters like Popeye and (*sigh*) Tom and Jerry. Robert Zemeckis got hired as director in 1985 after initially being turned down, as Disney saw how Zemeckis was able to change his fortunes with the success of Back to the Future and Romancing the Stone.
Now that all that backstory is under our belt, let's get to it with Roger Rabbit and his gang of trouble-making toons. Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a little bit of everything: action, adventure, comedy, drama, and, oh yeah, mystery. The movie takes place in 1947 Los Angeles, in a world where "toons" act in cartoon shorts while interacting with real-life people and living in the nearby Toontown. R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern), the head of Maroon Cartoon Studios, is worried about the recent string of poor performances by one of his most famous stars, Roger Rabbit (Charles Fleischer), so he decides to hire private investigator Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) to look into rumors about Roger's buxom toon wife Jessica (Kathleen Turner). Eddie despises toons, refusing to ever work for them again after his brother, Teddy, was killed when a toon dropped a piano on Teddy's head. Eddie is informed that Jessica may be romantically involved with Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye), the owner of both Acme Corporation and Toontown.
Eddie goes to a club, where he is able to secretly photograph Acme and Jessica playing patty-cake together. Eddie shows the pictures to Roger, who gets himself drunk and flees. The next morning, Marvin Acme is found dead at the Acme factory, a safe dropped on his head. Evidence gathered at the scene points to Roger being the culprit, and Toontown's superior judge, Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd), vows to find Roger and kill him with a toxic, toon-killing substance called the dip. Eddie learns from another toon that Roger may be innocent, and that Acme's missing will may be the key to his murder. The will is believed to give the toons ownership of Toontown. Eddie eventually comes across the wanted Roger, and in order to prove that the rabbit is indeed innocent, he will have no choice but to put aside his hatred for toons.
- Not surprisingly, there is a lot of silliness to be had throughout Who Framed Roger Rabbit, with toons getting whacked around the way you'd see Wile E. Coyote get smashed by the Acme products he uses to try and catch Road Runner or the way Tom gets all crumpled up while trying to catch Jerry. Every time a toon gets kicked, punched, or squished by a falling object, it's accompanied with all kinds of goofy sounds effects you'd remember hearing anytime someone got hurt during a Looney Tunes or Tom and Jerry short.
But what makes the film's goofy nature even better is how it's so nicely balanced with the film's more dramatic side. We see Eddie Valiant struggle with the antics of Roger and the other toons, but as we come to learn early on, Eddie isn't the one grouch in the world of toons simply because he was born that way. Eddie is shown to have been enjoying a wonderful career working alongside his brother, but the actions of one bad toon take away both Eddie's brother and Eddie's joy. The film never lets itself develop a depressing mood because of Eddie's grief. How could it when there are so many zany toon characters constantly around him? And at the same time, the movie never becomes a goofy, extended Looney Tunes bit where nothing is taken seriously, because the movie understands that it is still a noir-style mystery, even if it is an unconventional one, since it happens to star cartoon characters. All in all, Who Framed Roger Rabbit has terrific balance, dishing out a nice helping of everything that I said before: action, adventure, comedy, mystery, etc.
- There's nothing about the film's technical achievements that hasn't been said already, the way the film is so able to make its toon characters look like they're an actual part of our world and not at all like someone's first attempt at doing computer animation. Interactions between real-life characters and toon characters are never the least bit awkward in movement, as if it was an actual toon sharing the same space as the real-life person, as opposed to the real-life person looking like they're pretending to play with some kind of stage prop/set piece and having a hard time doing so. Yep. I think that's all that needs to be said on that one.
- The only disappointing thing about Who Framed Roger Rabbit was that it couldn't get more cartoon characters to be signed on, even if those additional characters would get little more than a small cameo. Don't get me wrong. It's great that all of the Disney and Warner Bros. cartoons are on display here. It's just that seeing so many famous cartoons together at once might leave you hungry for a little bit more, because when else are we going to see all of these toons together again in another movie? And that's not a knock on the film's plot or characters. You just have to wonder: this was the one and only time that all of the big-name animation studious would put aside their creative differences and come together to have some fun, so why couldn't all of them buy into this great idea?
Believe it or not, but Who Framed Roger Rabbit also suggested an idea that the likes of Disney would gasp at: animation for adults. Sure, you had adult animated features like Fritz the Cat in the 70's, but adult animation was an idea nobody ever took and ran with back in the day. Who Framed Roger Rabbit is not a pure kiddie flick by any means: it has drinking, swearing, sex jokes that are not at all subtle, and death, honest to God death! How many times would we worry about someone actually dying in a Looney Tunes or Disney cartoon? But despite these more mature elements, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is still a wacky, jolly good ol' time that hasn't lost an ounce of its greatness over the past thirty years. If there is possibly anything new that I can add, it would be this: Who Framed Roger Rabbit introduced to the world the possibility of attaching more mature, adult matters to animation, all the while showing that you can still maintain a fun and bouncy demeanor. A lot of animation that we know today I think can relate back to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which also took us back to the past and see more of the classic Golden Age cartoon characters. The movie is the bridge that connects the past and the future, and a triumph that the likes of the animation genre may never experience again.
Recommend? Watch it right away if by some miracle you have not seen it yet.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: