Saturday, June 22, 2013

Review: "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" Retains its Magic (Happy Anniversary)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 67 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Running time: 104 minutes (1 hour, 44 minutes)
DIRECTOR: Robert Zemeckis with Richard Williams
WRITERS: Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman (based upon the novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf)
PRODUCERS: Robert Watts and Frank Marshall
EDITOR: Arthur Schmidt
COMPOSER: Alan Silvestri
Academy Award winner


Starring: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy, (voice) Charles Fleischer, Stubby Kaye, Alan Tilvern, Richard Le Parmentier, (voice) Lou Hirsch, Joel Silver, Paul Springer, Richard Ridings, Edwin Craig, and Lindsay Holiday with the voices of Mel Blanc, Mae Questel and Tony Anselmo, with Kathleen Turner

The subject of this movie review is Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a 1988 fantasy and crime comedy from directors Robert Zemeckis and Richard Williams. The film is a mixture of live action (directed by Robert Zemeckis) and animation (directed by Richard Williams). The film is based on the 1981 mystery novel, Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, by author Gary K. Wolf. The film’s initial release renewed interest in the “Golden Age of American animation” (late 1920s to the early 1960s). It also led the modern era of American animation, in particularly the “Disney Renaissance” (which began with Little Mermaid in 1989).

Who Framed Roger Rabbit focuses on a detective who hates “toons” (animated cartoon characters), but who ends up being a cartoon rabbit's only hope to prove his innocence when the rabbit is accused of murder. I have seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit countless times, and it remains one of my all-time favorite films. I also still think that it is a great film, and is arguably the best film of 1988.

Seventeen years ago, Who Framed Roger Rabbit was considered a revolutionary film with its landmark mixture of live-action film and animated characters. Who FramedRoger Rabbit wasn’t the first time that human actors and cartoon characters had mingled, but Who Framed Roger Rabbit was, at the time, the best achievement in live-action/animated film. However, by the time Jurassic Park, which featured the seamless blend of live-action sets and real characters with computer-generated images (or computer rendered characters), appeared, Who Framed Roger Rabbit seemed like an afterthought. After seeing this film for the first time in about 15 years, I’m still impressed by how well this movie’s conceit, that famous animated cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Droopy, and others, are real and live side-by-side with us in the real world, still rings true.

The story: ‘Toons (what cartoon characters are called in this film) are real, and their job is to make animated cartoon films for human entertainment. ‘Toon star Roger Rabbit (voice of Charles Fleischer) is worried that his wife, Jessica Rabbit (voice Kathleen Turner), is cheating on him, and it’s affecting his work on the set of his films with his co-star Baby Herman (voice of Lou Hirsch). R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern) hires detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) to learn the identity of Jessica’s sugar daddy, who turns out to me Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye), the owner of ‘Toontown, the Los Angeles cartoon suburb where ‘Toons live.

Things get complicated when Acme is found dead, and Roger Rabbit is suspect number one. Roger goes to Valiant for help to clear his name and save him from a date with annihilation at the hands of the menacing Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd), the dispenser of justice in ‘Toontown, but Valiant is reluctant. He actually took the job snooping on Jessica for money, but he’s hated taking ‘Toon cases since a mysterious ‘Toon killed his brother. However, Roger’s plight strikes a cord of sympathy with Valiant, and he takes Roger’s case. The more Valiant learns, the more intrigued he becomes, especially he learns of a larger and darker conspiracy that threatens not only Roger Rabbit’s life, but the very existence of ‘Toontown.

Beyond featuring the groundbreaking interaction of live and animated characters, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is simply a fine film and both a great technical and artistic achievement; it simply works. The script bears more than a passing resemblance to the municipal conspiracy in Chinatown, and the screenplay’s central mystery plotline develops in a way that keeps the viewer interested in whodunit.

The acting is excellent; from top to bottom the casts sells the idea that they’re interacting with animated characters. This is an especially impressive achievement because the live action was filmed before the animated characters and backgrounds were added. Talk about make-believe, pretend, and plain old acting talent. Christopher Lloyd is a treat to watch as the dark heavy, Judge Dredd-like justice giver – proof positive that he’s a great character actor, especially playing offbeat and wacky characters. Bob Hoskins, who more than anyone in the film, acted with non-existent co-stars, did yeoman’s work, and his performance is an underrated achievement among great comic performances.

The most credit goes to the films directors, and yes, there are two, although Who Framed Roger Rabbit may be listed as “A Robert Zemeckis Film.” True, Zemeckis does an incredible job filming sequences when many of his main actors and some of his sets would have to be added later by the animators. Still, he manages to get the most out of his actors and make the film’s comedy funny and mystery captivating – the best directorial effort of 1988. However, Richard Williams directed the animated sequences, and there aren’t many directors in the history of animated film who outdid his work here. Together Zemeckis and Williams made a classic of live-action and animation that is entertaining, technically brilliant, and a beautiful movie.

10 of 10

1989 Academy Awards, USA: 4 wins: “Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing” (Charles L. Campbell and Louis L. Edemann), “Best Effects, Visual Effects” (Ken Ralston, Richard Williams, Ed Jones, and George Gibbs), “Best Film Editing” (Arthur Schmidt), and “Special Achievement Award” (Richard Williams “for animation direction and creation of the cartoon characters”); 3 nominations: “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration” (Elliot Scott and Peter Howitt), “Best Cinematography” (Dean Cundey), “Best Sound” (Robert Knudson, John Boyd, Don Digirolamo, and Tony Dawe)

1989 BAFTA Awards: 1 win: “Best Special Effects” (George Gibbs, Richard Williams, Ken Ralston, and Ed Jones); 4 nominations: “Best Cinematography” (Dean Cundey), “Best Editing” (Arthur Schmidt), “Best Production Design” (Elliot Scott), and “Best Screenplay – Adapted” (Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman)

1989 Golden Globes, USA: 2 nominations: “Best Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical” and “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical” (Bob Hoskins)

Updated: Saturday, June 22, 2013

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