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  • Writer's pictureEllen Cheshire

Disney's Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)

Updated: May 5, 2023

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is an innovative and hugely entertaining film. You can easily forgive the holes in the plot and one-dimensional characters of the humans, when you consider the mind blowing concept of the film - complete interaction of live action, animation and special effects. This was mind-blowing in 1988, and remains to today.

Hollywood 1947, and the cartoon characters (Toons) and humans co-exist side by side. Maroon Cartoons have hired detective Eddie Valiant to follow Jessica, the wife of Top Toon Star, Roger Rabbit. The studio want evidence of her relationship with Marvin Acme, the owner of Toon Town. But when Acme is found murdered, Roger is murder suspect number one and he in turn seeks Valiant’s services to help him out.

The film was a collaboration between Disney and Steven Speilberg’s Amblin Entertainment. From the opening few moments of Baby Herman’s and Roger Rabbit’s animated sequence through to the film’s closing moments when the sun rises over Toon Town the film overflows with passion and enthusiasm. The opening cartoon alone is a priceless example of a madcap off-kilter world that can be created through animation. This cartoon is one of the funniest animated shorts around, and when Roger’s stunt goes wrong, and human director Raoul J Raoul (played by Joel Silver) storms on set, you know you are in for a treat.

The combination of animation and live action is so seemlessly blended that it is easy to forget that the Toons aren’t real. With their human co-stars, they shake hands, kiss and even make their teeth chatter. They change size and are completely three-dimensional when the occupy the human world, and two-dimensional when back in their own cartoon backdrops.

Baby Herman, cute and adorable in the cartoon, is really a lewd cigar smoking old man. One of the most controversial sequences in any movie is when Baby Herman storms off set and walks under the skirt of a passing woman. Roger Rabbit is a consummate performer when he is in front of camera, but behind the scenes in the human world he is an insecure bundle of nerves, completely besotted by his wife Jessica, voiced by Kathleen Turner, who in many way repeats her role from Body Heat complete with tight-fitting red dress, but this time she has a wonderful excuse: ‘I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way’.

It would have been so easy for the human actors to overplay their roles, but they maintain a flat matter-of-fact style of acting, so suitable for the ‘B’ movie plot they are acting out. Bob Hoskins, looks like your perfect 40s hard-boiled private eye, complete with shabby mac and battered fedora and disillusioned view of life. Ever since a Toon killed his brother (and partner) by dropping a piano on his head, he has refused to work with Toons, but his lack of funds forces him to take on the assignment to follow Jessica Rabbit and from there, life descends into chaos and confusion as he and Roger become involved in finding Acme’s killer and missing will. As he slowly gets to the bottom of the case, his drinking becomes less and his relationship with his girlfriend becomes warmer. In the film’s finale Hoskins carries out a live actin cartoon sequence complete with electric shocks and pratt falls - it is a scene of pure slapstick.

This is a film which requires more than one viewing in order to fully appreciate it: when you first watch it the technical feats will wash over you as you sit back and enjoy the film. The second time you’ll appreciate the film. It is only on the third, fourth and subsequent viewings that you begin to start spotting the in-jokes. Including: the Hollywood cattle call, with animated cattle; the penguin waiters from Mary Poppins serving in the bar; a Maltese Falcon in Valiant’s office and Betty Boop a black and white cartoon reduced to selling cigarettes since cartoons went colour.

The film is great for all ages. Kids will love for the pure exhilaration and entertainment. Adults will not only appreciate those attributes but also have an understanding of how difficult the film as to make.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Prd. Robert Watts, Frank Marshall, Dir. Robert Zemeckis. Based on the book Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf, Composer Alan Silvestri

St. Bob Hoskins (Eddie Valiant), Christopher Lloyd (Judge Doom), Joanna Cassidy (Dolores), Stubby Kaye (Marvin Acme) Joel Silver (Raoul J Raoul)

Charles Fleischer (Roger Rabbit/Greasy Psycho/Benny the Cab), Lou Hirsch (Baby Herman), Kathleen Turner (Jessica Rabbit), Amy Irving (Jessica Rabbit's Singing Voice)

Rel. 1988. Run. 103m.


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