For all of my childhood, Who Framed Roger Rabbit has been one of my favorite movies. Thankfully, it's another one of those movies that still holds up really well as an adult.
1988 was quite a year for animation. Out in Japan, Grave of the Fireflies, My Neighbor Totoro, and Akira were released in theaters and were all superbly animated films that in scales from good to masterful, delivered storylines and themes unheard of at the time. Over in America, we were treated to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which gave audiences a hybrid of live-action film and animation that to this day, is unmatched in how sublime it is, which is also helped by its other strong qualities (more on that later).
It's 1947 in Los Angeles, and cartoons (known as “Toons” in this movie) aren't mere pictures on celluloid, but rather like real actors. Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) is an alcoholic private detective in LA, and after being paid by cartoonist R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern) to take pictures of Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye) playing patty cake with Jessica Rabbit (voiced by Kathleen Turner), causing Jessica's husband, Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer) to lose his mind. Eddie soon gets tangled in a murder mystery after Marvin Acme was murdered, and must uncover the truth as to who really killed Acme.
For the most part, the characters in this movie are done really well. As an adult, I really appreciate the fact that Eddie is a troubled man struggling with booze because given the tragedy he had in the past (I won't spoil it for you), gives him a layer of realism. Also, Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) is one of the creepiest villains from movies in my childhood, as he maintains a consistently menacing persona and does really cold-blooded things that can put Doom in the same league as the best horror icons. Roger and Jessica Rabbit are great at providing solid humor, along with Doom's gang of cartoon weasels. However, I wish characters like the bartender Dolores (Joanna Cassidy) had more time to develop.
The humor in this movie is really solid. The humor is a perfect homage to the masterful slapstick and exaggerated bodily distortion of the classic Tex Avery and Looney Tunes cartoons. One of the funniest things in this movie was when Eddie goes to the nightclub the night Acme gets killed, and the opening act is Daffy and Donald Duck in a piano battle. Seeing these two iconic cartoon ducks engage in slapstick antics against each other was hilarious (especially when Donald fired a cannon at Daffy). Another was when Eddie faces his fears about driving into Toontown, he dumps his glass flask of whiskey and using a cartoon gun that Yosemite Sam gave him some years back, fires a cartoon bullet that's a caricature of an American Indian, and the bullet uses a giant tomahawk to smash the flask. Another is when Dolores catches Eddie in his office with Jessica with his pants down (literally), and she says to him “Are you dabbling in water colors, Eddie?” There's plenty of other funny parts in this movie, but I think you get the picture.
The cinematography for this movie is marvelous. The set designs perfectly capture that 1940's noir feeling, and the designs of the cartoons perfectly fit the setting it takes place in. The animation of the characters is totally fluid, and is even more impressive considering that the “interactions” with the cartoons and real people was seamless. With this being made before the age of CGI, it's even more impressive to see all this and see the cartoon characters believably carry around real props like guns. I think along with John Carpenter's The Thing, Who Framed Roger Rabbit has some of the most remarkable special effects and visuals ever done in cinema.
On a sidenote, the interior of the Acme gag factory looks a bit like something out of Tim Burton's imagination.
Alan Silvestri's score for this movie is near perfect. Like the visuals, the music fits the setting of this movie like a glove, and one of my favorite pieces of music is near the end, when Eddie has a showdown with Judge Doom and his weasel minions, since it's so heart-pumping and memorable. The original song “Why Don't You Do Right” is pretty catchy and is a great fit for the style of the movie.
Even though this is a PG movie, there's some scenes that kids might not get or could scare them. Some of the adult innuendo provided by Jessica Rabbit and even the weasels at times will probably fly over some kids' heads. However, there's a really creepy scene near the beginning where Judge Doom demonstrates his brand of justice by grabbing a squeaking cartoon shoe and slowly kills it in a barrel full of a chemical cocktail made specifically to “kill” cartoons called “the dip.” This scene scared me a lot when I was a little kid and even as an adult, still get creeped out by this scene. Similarly, there's some parts near the end during Eddie's showdown with Doom that were creepy, but I won't mention these because I don't want to spoil anything big in relation to the movie's story.
On another sidenote, it's funny to think that there's plenty of bad anime titles like Elfen Lied and Gantz that abuse bloody gore and dismemberment scenes ad nauseam to seem “creepy” yet the dark scenes in WFRR actually feel intimidating without using bloodshed.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is certainly a classic, and a really good homage to 1940's noir and of the Golden Age of Cartoons. If you love the aforementioned things, you owe it to yourself to reserve a movie night for this live-action/cartoon hybrid gem.
What did you think of this review?