May 2, 2014

[Movies] Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

This week, the sad news broke that the actor Bob Hoskins had died at the age of 71. We all remember him for different roles, but I think a good number of us - especially my generation - remember him best for Who Framed Roger Rabbit. And thus to pay homage to his memory, here's my review of this now classic movie.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit was not the first live-action movie to incorporate animation as part of the production. In hindsight, it's such a crazy story that's actually a wee bit more complicated than what you would expect to create for children. But somehow the whole thing came out as a pretty impressive story that worked on so many different levels.

And while it's not exactly the greatest movie ever made or anything like that, but it's certainly highly memorable. And we'll try to capture a little of the zaniness of that movie in this review.

Synopsis: Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a 1988 family comedy movie directed by Robert Zemeckis. It was adapted from the Gary K. Wolf novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit with a screenplay by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman. The movie also won four Academy Awards.

In an alternate 1947, humans and cartoon characters - called Toons - live together and interact with one another. Thus the animated features that show in theaters are the product of Toons actually acting out their respective roles like human actors do in films. One of the major characters at the time is Roger Rabbit (Charles Fleischer), a fun-loving animated rabbit with a cheery personality. He's married to Jessica Rabbit (Kathleen Turner), who is animated as a rather voluptuous woman. And Roger's frequent co-star is Baby Herman (Lou Hirsch), a 50 year old toon who still looks like a baby.

The story begins in earnest when private detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) is hired by R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern), the owner of Maroon Cartoon Studios to investigate the rumors of Jessica Rabbit being involved in an affair. Eddie has a rather complex history when it comes to toons since his brother was killed by a toon. So when he takes on the case, he's already a little distrustful of the whole matter. The affair is supposedly with Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye), who later turns up dead. But given he is the owner of Toontown, where all the toons live, then naturally a lot more questions come up.

The movie plays up two genres - classic animation reminiscent of the Golden Age of American animation and the classic gumshoe mystery. As zany as the different characters are, at the end of the day we had Eddie investigating a mystery. From a simple task of catching Jessica Rabbit in an act of patty-cake infidelity, things spin out of control with murder and far greater goals.

And this was no simple mystery - hence my statements about this not feeling entirely targeted for kids. I certainly didn't fully appreciate what was going on when I first watched the movie - I was too busy being scared of Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) and the threat of our heroes being dipped in, well, Dip. As a kid, this was a very prospect indeed.

The movie certainly pushed the limits of what could be accomplished with the mixed medium. Thus they came up with a lot of creative ways to get the toons to interact with the actors. And with zany scenes like toons bouncing around the room or Roger spitting into Eddie's face all required complex set and other rigs to get the toons actions to take effect in the real world. And this is why the movie won the Oscar for Visual Effects.

Despite the focus on relatively unknown characters created for the movie like Roger Rabbit and Benny the Cab. And Roger went on to becoming a popular enough character to merit a Disneyland attraction and even a dance step. And oh man, where to begin with Jessica Rabbit. She's still quite the pinup doll image for many people and a girl with some really sassy lines like "I'm not bad. I'm just drawn that way."

Despite stories that have circulated about Hoskins not entirely enjoying his time making the movie, one cannot deny who seriously he still took his role. The movie would have been nothing without the character of Eddie to keep things grounded. And he was a complex hero - one with a grudge against toons but a desire to pursue the truth. And for a toon like Roger to put his life in the hands of a guy who hated toons was quite the act of desperation. In the end it all worked out and they managed to tie up all the loose ends for the most part.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit may seem dated to some, but I'd like to think it's a period piece that is firmly based in its selected timeline. The result is a movie that appeals to all ages and one that will always make me smile a little. Thus this madcap caper gets 4 interesting applications of "cartoon physics" to solve problems out of a possible 5.

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