When Who Framed Roger Rabbit first came to theaters in 1988, I was three years old. As far back as I can remember, my family had a copy of the movie on VHS, and it was regularly in the VCR. There are many scenes I can play back in my memory like a favorite song, complete with cartoon sound effects. I’ve always loved this movie, but never realized what a technical achievement it was, or that it was my introduction to film noir, for nearly twenty years.
In 1940s Los Angeles, Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) is a private detective who used to take cases for toons. You know, cartoon characters, most of them live in Toon Town, like most Hollywood stars might live in Beverly Hills. After Eddie does a job taking some incriminating photos of Roger Rabbit’s wife with Marvin Acme the same night that Acme is murdered, Roger becomes the prime suspect. Ready to sentence him to a dip (which kills toons), is Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd), a dark and menacing gargoyle of a villain. Working with him is a bumbling bunch of toon gangster-like weasels who often lose focus when something funny happens. When Roger turns to Eddie for help, complete with an alibi for his innocence, the two uncover a plot that could destroy Toon Town and turn LA into the traffic-filled city that it is today.
Roger Rabbit is a unique cartoon character. Physically, he looks like an odd combination of Mickey Mouse (similar red pants and gloves) and Bugs Bunny (same species). However, he is a whole different kind of character. He’s goofy, much more clown like, not very intelligent, makes his living off physical comedy (when he can get his cues right) and surprisingly, his wife is the hottest babe in LA.
Though Jessica Rabbit is a toon in this live action world, she attracts the attention of countless men, not the animated kind. Her opening scene shows throngs of men anxiously awaiting her next stage performance, the way they’re drooling you wouldn’t expect a toon’s shapely leg to slip through the curtain. Throughout the film, she is the main source of sex appeal, with all her drawn curves and boob-bouncing timpani sound effects. Happily, she’s also a strong supporting character and a woman who can take care of herself. She’s not bad, she’s just drawn that way.
At the Oscars, Who Framed Roger Rabbit was nominated for six awards total and ended up winning four, including a special achievement award. The film was nominated for best cinematography, sound and art direction. It won awards for sound effects, visual effects and film editing. The extra award was for the animation director, Richard Williams, in his achievement in creating and directing the animated characters within the film.
Some amazing bits of movie magic in the film happen when the toons interact with the objects around them. As a kid, I never questioned if the toons were really there or not, it was all so fluid and natural. I was about twelve before I started trying to figure out how the toons could pick up real life objects. We see a Donald and Daffy playing pianos, baby Herman smoking a cigar, Roger breaking plates over his head and much more. To show the toons interact with the things around them, puppets and robots were used in some scenes, and the animation was carefully put over whichever device caused the movement. In the late 80s, quite a lot of creative ingenuity went into the effects, that could easily be done with computers today.
The greatest moments of the film are when real life characters and toons interact so well. A saxophonist playing outside the film studio and the booms from Fantasia sweeping around him is flawless and natural. Baby Herman harasses the woman pushing his buggy, even slapping her butt as she leaves. It is Eddie’s interactions between Roger and Jessica that really bring the film together. One of my favorite scenes is when Eddie has to hide Roger after he handcuffed them together.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a wonderfully fun and hilarious film that kids and adults can enjoy together. This is one of the films that I have only grown to love more since I was a child. Everyone will get a kick out of all their favorite classic cartoons walking around their real world. Gags that may have been too childish for adults are much more accessible with Eddie and other adults reacting to them. Adults have plenty of jokes sprinkled around just for them that are so fluid and flawless the kids won’t feel left out even when the punchline flies right over their head.
“Is that a rabbit in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”