I’ve maintained throughout my lifetime of watching film, that there really are people who are born to make movies. It is a strange proposition given how young the art form is at just over 120 years. It’s more believable to say that one is born to be a composer of music, or a painter, but a filmmaker? I actually believe that yes there are people who naturally have this talent. Robert Zemeckis is one of those people, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit
serves as further proof of that. It is the type of signature, once-in-a-lifetime movie that only Zemeckis could have pulled-off. While the film isn’t perfect, the fact that it works as well as it does, is a testament to Zemeckis’s ambition, talent and uncompromising vision as a filmmaker.
The film opens with what appears to be an animated short about a rabbit Roger (voice of Charles Fleischer) babysitting a toddler (voice of Lou Hirsch) from meeting a terrible fate while trying to get to the cookie jar on top of a refrigerator. Near the climax of the scene Roger messes up and then someone off screen yells cut, and we soon realize that the animated short is being directed by real human beings. It is then revealed that Roger is not performing up to his usual standards due to his wife Jessica Rabbit (voice of Kathleen Turner and Amy Irving, performance model – Betsy Brantley) allegedly being unfaithful to him with Toontown proprietor Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye). Soon, down-on-his-luck private detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) is tasked with finding the truth behind this alleged and unseemly infidelity.
Since the combination of live-action and 2D animation is the ‘hook’ of the film, I was weary that it wouldn’t have much of a story, so I was delighted by the fully-formed noir-light detective yarn that forms the main premise of the film. Hoskins is very good on selling us the whole idea of toons and people living together in the same world through his reactions, and Zemeckis works overtime to make the combination believable.
From the very beginning of the film – that fully animated opening that is meant to be a “Loony Tunes”-style cartoon short we know we’re in Zemeckis’s safe, though cynical hands. Once one considers his whole filmography, we begin to understand that he is very good at masking very deep, often dark themes about society and humanity underneath a pleasant-looking facade. The opening cartoon is designed to not sit right with the audience as it’s violence (and menace threatening the baby) is an unsettling introduction to Zemeckis’s anti-capitalist pararable. Zemeckis as always, subtly pushes that idea along, instead inviting the audience to marvel at the technological feats and larger-than-life characters in the movie.
Overall, I’d say that this may not be the best of Zemeckis, but the fact that it’s still essential speaks to how important of a mainstream filmmaker he has become. He cares about effects and camera angles yes, but he never short-changes his actors and the performances are simply wonderful. B+
Winner of three Academy Awards (including Best Editing), the film has gone on to become something of a touchstone for visual effects artists in the industry. The combination between animation and live action through the use of optical printers and still photographs was way ahead of its time and it still wows audiences to this day. This is the first and only movie that was allowed to use both the Disney and Warner Bros cartoon characters. It’s impossible to see something like this happening today. So if you want to watch Bugs Bunny and Donald Duck on screen together, this may be your only chance.
Next I’ll be watching the Japanese anime classic Akira!
See you then!
1988 #15: The Great Outdoors
1988 #14: Time of the Gypsies
1988 #13: Bull Durham
1988 #12: A Short Film About Love
1988 #11: Heathers
1988 #10: Coming to America
1988 #9: Beetlejuice
1988 #8: Cinema Paradiso
1988 #7: Big