Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Combining live action and animation has always been successful for Walt Disney Pictures. From “The Song of the South” to “Mary Poppins,” the studio has created some of film’s most memorable moments. They continued the tradition in 1989 with the release of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” a delirious concoction that marries a smart, funny script with wild animation to create a real crowd pleaser.
Based on Gary K. Wolf’s book, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” was at the time (and still is in my opinion) a technological breakthrough.
Director Robert Zemeckis, working from a script by Jeffrey Price and Peter Seaman, manages the impossible. He creates a believable, fictional world where live actors inhabit the same frame as recognizable animated characters. You instantly buy into the premise because the filmmaker’s make it impossible not to.
“Who Framed Roger Rabbit” begins with an animated cartoon, another in a series of “Baby Herman” and “Roger Rabbit” escapades. When a refrigerator gag goes South, the camera pulls back and we realize that this isn’t an animated cartoon at all, but a movie set. We’re on the sound stages of Maroon Pictures, a high profile studio that employs real animated actors.
The film’s co-star, Roger Rabbit, has blown the scene because his mind is on other things. The studio boss suspects that Roger’s wife, Jessica Rabbit, is fooling around. He knows that Roger is suspicious, and to clear the air, hires private detective Eddie Valiant to get the goods on Jessica. Eddie takes the assignment, even though he can’t stand Toons. It seems one dropped a piano on his brother, killing him. Now Eddie wallows in self-pity and at the bottom of a bottle. All of that changes when he becomes embroiled in a plot to frame Roger Rabbit for murder. His investigation leads him to Toon Town, where Eddie discovers a nefarious plot.
The plot is pedestrian, yet the writers, director and animators never walk a straight line. They transform the material into a wild roller coaster ride of innovation and laughs. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on the material, it darts in a different direction. There’s plenty of diversion, including a plethora of familiar animated characters doing some of the funniest stuff imaginable. While visiting the offices of the studio boss, Eddie takes a gander out the window and encounters Dumbo.
The studio boss says that he got Dumbo and half the cast of “Fantasia” from Disney. What’s better than a star who works for peanuts? On his way out of the building, Eddie encounters a dancing hippo and the magical brooms from “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” is filled with wonderful references, some simple and obvious, others more complicated yet still as funny.
Christopher Lloyd adds menace as an evil judge who resides over Toon Town and desperately wants to capture Roger Rabbit and dissolve him in his devious dip. I adore Joanna Cassidy, and she’s delightful here as the working girl with a big crush on Eddie. She’s smart and sassy. Bob Hoskins does the impossible by upstaging the clever animation. Hoskins delivers a masterful performance that makes it easy for us to believe his presence in this situation. His reaction shots (mostly against blue screens) are priceless, and his delivery is perfect.
Zemeckis has proven time and again his ability to mix reality and fantasy, and with “Roger Rabbit” he creates an experience that easily blurs those lines. Set in a nostalgic Los Angeles where the Red Line still runs and Freeways are just a dream, the film looks sensational. Attention to detail is amazing, and not once do you feel that a modern city is just a camera tilt away. Alan Silvestri’s musical score is just as animated as the proceedings on the screen. I must have seen “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” over a dozen times, and yet I’m still finding new things in the film.
For instance, the name of the oven in the opening cartoon is “Hotternell.” Say it fast and you get the joke. There are enough jokes in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” to fill several films, which allows for numerous views without becoming bored. That is the sign of a great motion picture.
VISION: [ ] 20/20 [ X ] Good [ ] Cataracts [ ] Blind
Aside from some notable flecking throughout (an age issue?), the digital transfer looks marvelous. Delivered in the film’s original 1.85:1 widescreen ratio, the images are generally sharp and vivid, with exceptional attention to detail. Colors are bright and cheery, while flesh tones are excellent. Blacks are strong, while the usually clean negative provides pure whites and unobtrusive shadows. Depth of field is equally strong. No noticeable compression artifacts or noise.
HEARING: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Minor Hearing Loss [ ] Needs Hearing Aid [ ] Deaf
Vibrant, exciting 5.1 Dolby Digital surround soundtrack is like living inside a cartoon world. Ambient noise is the best, a wild, wacky combination of cartoon exaggerations and musical cues that constantly surprise you. Stereo effects are sensational, from the left to right front fields, to a stunning front to rear spatial split that sounds definitive. Rear speakers are always active, pumping out Alan Silvestri’s catchy score and enough stereo effects to choke a high end system. Clarity is always high grade, with booming basses and exceptional middle and high ends. No noticeable hiss or distortion.
ORAL: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Poor
Closed captions in English for the hard of hearing.
COORDINATION: [ ] Excellent [ ] Good [ X ] Clumsy [ ] Weak
Main and scene access menus, plus a handful of Reel Recommendations.
PROGNOSIS: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Fit [ ] Will Live [ ] Resuscitate [ ] Terminal
Touchstone Home Video pulls a rabbit out of their hat with this DVD.
VITALS: $29.98/Rated PG/104 Minutes/Color/19 Chapter Stops/Keepcase/#18140
ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen
PATIENT: WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT
BIRTH DATE: 1988
HMO: Touchstone Home Video