An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)
PUBLISHED: 13:14 02 July 2018
Films with re-watch value, movies with a unique quality, will become the classics of the future. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies that may entertain if you are in the mood for something different.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Dir: Robert Zemeckis, starring: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy, Kathleen Turner, Charles Fleischer and Stubby Kaye: Cert: PG (1988)
On the surface Who Framed Roger Rabbit could be construed as an updating of such family-friendly fare as Mary Poppins or Anchors Aweigh which both have live action cast members interacting with cartoon co-stars.
But, if you look under the surface, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a much more sophisticated movie than either of its technological predecessors. Whereas Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke danced with penguin butlers in Mary Poppins and Gene Kelly danced and swam with Jerry the Mouse (of Tom & Jerry fame) in Anchors Aweigh, these were just colourful distractions from the main story.
In fact, it could be argued that Who Framed Roger Rabbit isn’t actually aimed at kids at all. Okay, it is full of classic cartoon characters, but the story is very dark, pure 1940s film noir, and the characters, a mix of classic Disney and Warner Brother’s Loony Tunes, are not the cartoons that kids of the 1980s would have been familiar with. This film is aimed more at their parents.
Furthermore, the images and ideas contained in the story are incredibly adult – and that’s even before we meet the curvaceous Jessica Rabbit, sexily voiced by Kathleen Turner, the villain Judge Doom is genuinely terrifying both in terms of his and what he does. For young kids it truly is the stuff of nightmares.
What hides much of the darkness is the imagination and the technology that drops cartoon characters into a live-action landscape and allows them to properly interact with real actors. Although, technology has undoubtedly moved on since then, the marriage of animation and real-life has not been carried out with such inventive audacity since – even in the Star Wars films.
At first we think we are watching a genuine cartoon until Roger makes a mistake, the director calls cut, the cigar-smoking Baby Herman throws a tantrum and the camera pulls back to reveal we are on a late ‘40s movie set being watched by cynical private eye Eddie Valiant, played with just the right degree of world-weary cynicism by Bob Hoskins.
Hoskins’ Eddie Valiant is an alcoholic, largely out-of-work private eye, coming to terms with the recent death of his brother and partner who has been killed in mysterious circumstances.
It seems that not only has there been a spate of killings but someone is blackmailing the heads of the studios. Valiant finds himself drawn into an increasingly sleazy and dark plot.
For me it is the little things that make this shared world believable – the fact that the cartoon characters have shadows, that their movement causes things to happen in our world and the camera moves to keep up with them. They interact with the camera in a 3-D world.
I also love the conceit that Toon Town, where the cartoon characters live, is a suburb of Hollywood. You get the impression that this wasn’t some computer-generated product but rather a labour of love for director Robert Zemeckis and for producer Steven Spielberg (who was probably the only person to persuade Disney and Warners to allow their rival characters to appear in the same movie).
It doesn’t take long to allow yourself to be convinced that Hollywood and Toon Town did actually exist side by side. The creation of 1940s Hollywood is very convincingly recreated, complete with that all-important brooding film noir atmosphere.
The movie steps up a gear when Roger is framed for the killing of rival studio bosses R.K. Maroon and Marvin Acme. This then leads Hoskins’ reluctant gumshoe to meet Roger’s wife, the cabaret star Jessica Rabbit, inspired by Rita Hayworth, but augmented in all sorts of gravity defying ways, Jessica is one of the most memorable characters in the film.
The sultry-voiced temptress is caught in a compromising situation and in one of the best lines in the film, she informs Valiant: “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.” Inspired and brilliant.
Along the way we get re-introduced to some of Hollywood’s greatest cartoon characters everyone from Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck to Bugs Bunny and Daffy along with Betty Boop, Dumbo and the dancing hippos from Fantasia.
Although, it’s presented as a family film, tonally it’s a movie for film fans, people who remember the classic cartoons and enjoy those private eye movies like The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man. It’s not a straight forward kids film.
The ending even has a real sense of peril to it. The script is lively and hugely inventive and Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd both relish the opportunity to lose themselves in a genuine 1940s thriller. Lloyd makes for a genuinely scary villain.
There are a number of brilliant, set-piece moments, but what makes Who Framed Roger Rabbit a really great film is that the whole thing holds together as a well-thought-out cohesive movie and one you can return to time and again.