#403) Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

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#403) Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

OR “Name That Toon”

Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Animation directed by Richard Williams.

Written by Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman. Based on the novel “Who Censored Roger Rabbit?” by Gary K. Wolf.

Class of 2016

The Plot: In a version of 1947 Hollywood where people and cartoon characters co-exist, detective Eddie Valliant (Bob Hoskins) is hired by cartoon mogul R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern) to spy on Jessica Rabbit (voiced by Kathleen Turner), the wife of cartoon star Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer). Valliant takes pictures of Jessica with Toontown owner Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye), much to Roger’s dismay. The following morning, Acme is found dead, and Roger’s the number one suspect. With Toontown’s new superior court Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) hot on their trail, Valliant investigates both Hollywood and Toontown to discover who framed…his client.

Why It Matters: The NFR praises the film for introducing “a new sense of realism into the interactions between cartoons and live-action characters on screen.” There’s also an essay by Library of Congress employee/Bob Hoskins fan Alexis Ainsworth.

But Does It Really?: “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” is a truly unique movie, from its melding of screwball cartoon and film noir, to its breathtaking special effects and once-in-a-lifetime meeting of Golden Age animation characters. Kudos to Zemeckis and Williams for pulling it off, as well as executive producer Steven Spielberg for getting everyone together. “Rabbit” is still a joy to watch 30 years later, and a no-brainer for NFR inclusion.

Shout Outs: Toontown is populated with characters from such Disney NFR titles as “Three Little Pigs”, “Snow White”, “Pinocchio”, “Fantasia”, “Dumbo”, “Bambi”, “Sleeping Beauty” and “Mary Poppins”. References are also made to “Wizard of Oz”, “Maltese Falcon”, “Gilda”, and “Chinatown”.

Everybody Gets One: Actors Bob Hoskins and Charles Fleischer, voice over legends Wayne Allwine, Russi Taylor, and Nancy Cartwright, animation director Richard Williams, and most surprisingly, Kathleen Turner. And Shoutout to veteran Broadway performer Stubby Kaye as Marvin Acme, aka “the vic”.

Everybody Gets One – Toon Edition: “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” is currently the only NFR appearance for such notable cartoon characters as Donald Duck, Goofy, Minnie Mouse, Sylvester & Tweety, Woody Woodpecker, Droopy, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Road Runner, and Br’er Bear, which is presumably the closest “Song of the South” will ever get to this list.

Seriously, Oscars?: Second only to “Rain Man” at the box office, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” received six Oscar nominations, and walked away with three: Editing, Sound Editing, and Visual Effects. In addition, the Academy bestowed a Special Achievement Oscar to Richard Williams for his animation direction.

Other notes

  • The biggest similarities between the film and the novel are three quarters of the title. In the novel, the toons were from comic strips, not movies, and the murder plotline involved dopplegangers and a genie. The film’s plotline is an original story taken directly from the real-life business plot to eliminate L.A.’s public transport to increase car sales.
  • Oh Bob Hoskins, you are missed. Who would have guessed that a guy from West Suffolk would be such a great American private eye?
  • This post could just be me praising the animation and special effects team. The animation grounds itself into the reality of its live-action surroundings so effectively you buy into this world instantly. There’s a point where you stop trying to guess how the effects were done, and just sit back in awe of what you are witnessing. That’s real movie magic.
  • “Who needs a car in L.A.? We have the best public transportation system in the world.” I bet that line always gets a laugh at L.A. screenings.
  • Donald and Daffy playing “Hungarian Rhapsody” is a highlight, storyboarded by Richard Williams and the legendary Chuck Jones (who renounced his participation after seeing the final film). Side note: Donald says, “You doggone stubborn little…” Nothing else. Moving on.
  • Shoutout to Mae Questel, reprising her role as Betty Boop for the first time in almost 50 years. She’s still got it, Eddie!
  • Speaking of, this film is notable for being Mel Blanc’s last performance as many of his iconic Looney Tunes characters.
  • If anyone tells you that they find Jessica Rabbit sexually attractive, do not let them into your home.
  • It’s a shame Christopher Lloyd doesn’t get to play the bad guy more often, because he’s perfect as Judge Doom. I’m always amazed when someone who conveys as much warmth as Lloyd does on screen can be equally chilling when the role requires it.
  • The line “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way” is one of a handful of lines that comes directly from the novel.
  • Kudos to both Bob Hoskins and Joanna Cassidy. Despite being surrounded by wacky cartoons and special effects, these two always play it straight. Both actors take Eddie’s tragic (and ridiculous) backstory and make it sound plausible and heartbreaking. Not an easy task.
  • My favorite sequence is Eddie’s trip to Toontown, where he must adhere to the logic of the toon world. You get a great cameo by Droopy, fun voice work from the celebrated June Foray, and all the recycled Disney animation you can handle.
  • Yes yes, there’s a bit of crude animation drawn on Jessica Rabbit for a few frames. Move along, you pervs.
  • [Spoilers] The movie tries to give a few red herrings, but of course Judge Doom is the bad guy. Sadly, Doom suffers from the standard bad guy defect of holding off on killing the hero for obligatory reasons, allowing the hero extra time to defeat the villain.
  • The story goes that Tinker Bell flies in at the very end because studio execs refused to release a Disney film where the last line is Porky Pig’s “That’s all, folks!”

Legacy

  • “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” was a blockbuster hit, and helped revive public interest in animation, inadvertently paving the way for the Disney Renaissance of the 1990s. It’s also directly responsible for [shudders] “Cool World”.
  • A sequel was in development at Disney for years, but budget concerns, as well as Disney’s intention to replace the hand drawn animation with computer graphics, led to the film’s cancellation. As of 2018, Robert Zemeckis says that there is a script for a sequel, but highly doubts that Disney would ever greenlight the project.
  • Following the film, Disney really tried to make Roger Rabbit a major character; from the follow-up theatrical shorts to his very own dark ride in the theme parks.
  • Does anyone remember the Roger Rabbit dance move? How many NFR movies have a dance move named after them?

Further Viewing: Despite his dislike of animation/live-action hybrids, Richard Williams agreed to direct the animation for “Roger Rabbit” on the condition that Disney help distribute his long-gestating animated film “The Thief and the Cobbler”. Disney fell through, and the film was sold to Warner Bros., re-edited without Williams’ involvement, and released as “The Princess and the Cobbler”. Williams disowned the released cut, but a bootleg of his original version is a favorite amongst die-hard animation fans.

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