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Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
1988 - PG - 103 Mins.
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Producer: Steven Spielberg
Written By: Gary K. Wolf , Jeffrey Price
Starring: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy, Charles Fleischer, Kathleen Turner
Review by: John Ulmer
The hints at Bogart and the winks towards classic film noirs are routinely expected - but "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" rises above this all, and becomes something more than just another "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" (a funny paraody but not exactly memorable), by employing something never seen before in film noirs: What appear to be living, breathing cartoons. That's right, cartoons. Seamlessly inserted frame-by-frame into the film are actual cartoon characters who interact with humans like nothing you have ever seen before - the quality of animation and interaction far surpasses such role models as "Mary Poppins" or "Songs of the South" - this is some of the best quality in both cartoon, film noir, and family entertainment in years - and maybe even decades.

Though modern CGI presents wonderous images on-screen, it can also prevent quality from reaching through the celluloid - the feeling that what you are seeing has not just been splashed together messily, but has been shown unmistakable, painstakingly tiresome attention, detail and respect. Something like "The Matrix," though visually dazzling, could never be done as well in cartoon format (can you just imagine Keanu Reeves soaring through the air fully animated?), and something like the animation in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," though visually dazzling, could never be used in a film like "The Matrix."

Sometimes CGI can make one feel as if the process of getting what you are witnessing on the screen onto the screen was too easy for the filmmakers. How often did you step back from something like "Bulletproof Monk" and admire its beauty and magnificence? Something like the animation in "Roger Rabbit" has quality, you can feel it, it almost invigorates you. Every single frame of this film had to be edited, and cartoonists had to draw in cartoon characters by hand. 82,000 frames of video in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" were shown adamant attention - can you say the same thing about "The Lord of the Rings"?

What I'm getting at is though CGI is a great step forward for animators, not nearly as much love or devotion are given to CGI creations - in "LotR: The Two Towers," Peter Jackson actually used a computer program that allowed CGI characters to battle freely, like a computer game. Every single frame of animation in "Roger Rabbit" was hand-crafted, correct shadowing applied - on average the animation went through three processes just to make it look real. With CGI, animators simply press a button to apply shadowing. It's still hard, but not as hard.

"Who Framed Roger Rabbit" went through about forty different script drafts, its villain once had a pet parrot named Vultar, and the five weasels seen at various points in the film used to be seven, named Greasy, Sleazy, Weazy, Smartguy (originally Smarta$$), Slimy, and so on. But it doesn't really show - there don't seem to be many flaws. Technically there are little, and plotwise there are little. It is a well-rounded film.

The plot may be pointless to indulge in, but here we go. After an amusing setup involving a cartoon, the audience is suddenly thrown into a new reality so suddenly you almost have to do a double take. We are left aghast, shown an alternate Hollywood in 1947 - one alive with cartoons, or "toons," as everyone in the film calls them. (After all, don't we make nicknames for races? Whites, blacks? Wouldn't the same be appropriate for cartoon characters if you had to repeat their species or race over and over as part of a daily routine?)

In this alternate Hollywood, the cartoons have their own little place to live appropriately titled Toontown. It is the type of place where Walt Disney would have felt at home, as this alternate world leaps off the screen with comic liveliness and joy. But some of these toon inhabitants of Toontown have broadened out, leaving and going to work for Hollywood (one character in the film says, "That Goofy is a genius!").

Maroon Cartoons is a big business in this alternate Hollywood, producing Baby Herman cartoons that co-star the jittery Roger Rabbit, perfectly and comically voiced by Charles Fleischer. Roger is a 100% toon. After being handcuffed to a gruff detective named Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) and after Roger is then dragged to an area where Valiant can remove the cuffs with a saw, Valiant tells Roger to sit still, and so Roger squeezes out of the coughs. "You mean you could have done that all along?" asks Eddie. "No!" says Roger. "Only when it's funny!"

After Detective Eddie Valiant is hired by R.K. Maroon to take some sleazy pictures of Roger Rabbit's wife Jessica Rabbit (voice of Kathleen Turner) with Marvin Acme, the owner of Toontown and a popular goofball, Eddie reluctantly does so. Maroon shows the pictures to Roger, who freaks out and crashes through a glass window, leaving behind his impression in the blinds (just like those old cartoons).

The next day Acme is found dead, and soon Eddie suspects there may be more to the story. Who has framed Roger Rabbit for the murder of Marvin Acme, and why? The ending isn't a huge surprise but it is handled with perfect execution. I cannot think of a better ending to this film. In the original script, Baby Herman was the baddie, then it was changed to Jessica. The real baddie may or may not be one of them - I won't tell - but for those who already know the ending, those two facts may come as a surprise.

Parts of what make "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" tick so in-tune, with perfect harmony, is that it is never obnoxious - Roger is not a stupid comic sidekick. He's a lovable cartoon character that could - and almost did - spin off an entire franchise based upon him. British Bob Hoskins fakes a great American accent. Director Robert Zemeckis ("Back to the Future") gives a great film noir approach to the film. The animation is perfectly seamless.
And the movie is funny.

One of the things that struck me with wonder upon watching "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" (along with the splendid animation and acting and direction and film noir), was that various competing cartoon characters were used in the film. In a shadowy bar Daffy Duck and Donald Duck perform a violent piano duel; soaring through the air with parashoots are Disney and Warner Bros.' most famous characters, Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny. And get this - not only are they in the same film, or even in the same frame together, but they talk to each other. How amazing is that? We will probably never witness competing cartoon characters, from a broad range of years, in the same film with each other ever again. I've never quite seen anything like "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," and we probably never will again.
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

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