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Monday, 2 April 2018

Retro Review: Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Cast: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Charles Fleischer, Joanna Cassidy, Kathleen Turner
Genre: Live-Action/Animated Fantasy Neo-Noir
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $329 million

Plot: A toon-hating detective is a cartoon rabbit's only hope to prove his innocence when he is framed for murder

'Run Rabbit, Run Rabbit, Run! Run! Run!'

Released in 1988 with direction by Robert Zemeckis of Back To The Future fame, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is a film of many elements, surprises and movie styles, all blended and wrapped up into one tight-knit package. Animation, crime noir and a buddy comedy. Combine all that with a great story, and you have yourself a joint live-action animated film that is truly one of a kind. 

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is one of those ''they don't make them like they used to'' animated films of three decades ago, but it is also a live-action animated motion picture that could not be made in today's Hollywood climate, whereby the mainstream market and movie makers are infatuated with high-end CGI visuals, in place of good storytelling and appeal that lasts the test of time. When one mourns and looks at the state of animated films today, with many of them so watered down, whilst relying on A-list actors voicing characters to sell a movie, more than ever before, the thing is very, very few of them can match or live up to Who Framed Roger Rabbit. 

It's also a send-up to the noir whodunit crime detective flick that is given a twist and innovative and creative flair with effects that are outstanding. Costing at $45 million to make, which by today's standards is peanuts compared to the amount of money Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks and other animated production companies shell out for their animated flicks, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, at least has bucketloads of charm, nostalgia, characters and a well- told story - something that couldn't really be said for today's CGI offerings. The comparisons with Chinatown can be seen here, but they will go over many people's heads.

A mystery story set in 1940s Los Angeles, in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? a private detective by Eddie Valiant still has trouble getting over the death of his brother who was killed by a toon, who dropped a piano on his head. Because of that, Eddie vows never to work for another toon, again. When the ditzy - yet kind-hearted Roger Rabbit of Toon Town becomes the prime suspect for the killing of his wife's secret lover, Marvin whilst also harbouring a suspicion that Jessica might be cheating on him, he pleads for Eddie's help. Eddie reluctantly gets in on the case and help try and clear Roger's name. Despite that, he doesn't get along with him. Eddie also has to keep tabs on the sultry Jessica by spying on her and seeing if she is up to no good. Meanwhile, Dr/Judge Doom sends out his cohorts to find Roger and to punish him for the attempted murder of Marvin.  

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? not only has aged well today, but the story remains just as strong and entertaining. It's also engrossing and Zemeckis had managed to achieve in doing something fewer directors of his ilk have pulled off: and that is in making sure all the human and animated characters are equally balanced. Nothing and no one feels out of place, the animated characters do not overwhelm the human ones, and with that, there is not one dull moment. If only Looney Tunes Back In Action and Space Jam had as much effort put into the stories, as Warner Bros did with the animated visuals, and not just putting Bugs Bunny and co to attract enormous fanfare. 

Steven Spielberg's involvement was very much down to negotiating with Warner Bros and Disney's copyright holders to gain access to the likes of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. The result has paid dividends and with that, seeing all these characters interact with one another is like a dream that came true. I also like how self-aware this film is and that it plays around with the tropes associated with animated cartoons, such as birds flying around Roger's head after colliding with a fridge. It makes the film even more fun and entertaining and shows by embracing cartoons roots, they are also paying homage to them and not relying on pop culture references to sell a film. 

Bob Hoskins is at his absolute best as detective Eddie, who has a sheer loathing to Toon Town; he was so believable and convincing in his performance and thinking about it, I really don't think anyone else could pull it off as Hoskins did. It was sublime. Eventually, Eddie comes around and gets the joke. All the performances, right from the character voice-overs courtesy of an uncredited Kathleen Turner as voluptuous red-head, Jessica Rabbit & Charles Fleischer as her hubby, Roger, all down to the live-action actors in Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd in his second major role after Doc Emerett Brown in Back To The Future, were absolutely first rate. Lloyd revels as the menacing Judge Doom and is a world away from the charismatic inventor and the hand-drawn Tex Avery - art style still looks as beautiful and ingenious as ever. 

This is a wild and wacky frolic that amazed audiences 30 years ago, which is understandable as they haven't seen anything like it before. It was revolutionary and thinking about it, I could see why and how that has been the case. & there just wasn't a movie that came before 'Roger Rabbit' that simultaneously had both real actors and fictional cartoon characters functioning and interacting with one another. 

A love letter to the golden age & old school of animation and 1940s Hollywood, this combination of both real world and cartoon world co-existing, is executed right and executed so consummately. 

Final Verdict:

Amusing, daring, wacky, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is an assortment of everything that I love about cartoons and movies and in encapsulating that fun and essence of what makes them tick. Vastly entertaining in all aspects - from the story, characterisations, the cartoony effects - & with not one single lull scene in sight, for me this is probably the ultimate animated movie for me, and one that tends to be not only overlooked but isn't as highly regarded as it was, back 30 years ago. Because it should be and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is a film of true dedication and watching it, I truly marvel and appreciate the amount of effort that was put in to create this mega movie. 

A groundbreaking revelation, it has to be seen by everyone. 


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