'Toon star Roger is worried that his wife Jessica is playing pattycake with someone else, so the studio hires detective Eddie Valiant to snoop on her. But the stakes are quickly raised when Marvin Acme is found dead and Roger is the prime suspect. Groundbreaking interaction between the live and animated characters, and lots of references to classic animation. (MovieWeb.com)
In 1988, Disney released what was probably at that time the most unique and innovative marriage of animation and live action. The film was a quirky take on film noir that revolved around a murder mystery in a world where cartoons really existed with humans (Actually, it was also inspired by the 1981 book Who Censored Roger Rabbit?--something I never knew until I wrote this up!). Back To The Future director Robert Zemeckis helmed Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and the characters and studio name gave moviegoers the impression that this was, in fact, a family film. Unfortunately, that's not quite the case.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? definitely broke new ground. In today's cinema, actors frequently are working with imaginary characters that would later be filled in with CGI, but in '88, this was a pretty new thing (Actually, a lot of the filming was done in '86 but it took an extra year or so after filming was done to complete the animated portions!). British actor Bob Hoskins starred as a down-on-his-luck private eye named Eddie Valiant who had become known more for being a drunk than anything after his brother had been murdered years earlier. He and his brother were celebrated sleuths who helped out the residents of Toon Town, but once a toon had killed his brother, Eddie became a bitter recluse. It's not until popular toon comedian Roger Rabbit shows up at his door that he's forced back into the game.
The story goes that Roger's wife, a voluptuous showgirl named Jessica Rabbit (yet, she's a human toon, not a rabbit), was caught in a questionable act with the head of the Acme company, Marvin Acme, and after Roger was shown proof of this, Mr. Acme was found dead with all of the evidence pointing to Roger. Obviously, Roger was innocent, but the town's merciless Judge Doom was ready to execute Roger without investigating further. Once Roger ropes Eddie into the mess, Eddie realizes that Roger may really indeed be innocent. Hoskins plays Eddie as the straight man to Roger's hijinks beautifully. He captures that edgy P.I. persona perfectly and it gives the old time feel of this period film a timelessness, despite it having been made and released in the late 80s. And it doesn't hurt either that Disney clearly had a partnership with Warner Bros. for this film. You'll see unforgettable moments like Daffy Duck and Donald Duck duke it out in a comically violent dueling pianos bit at a nightclub, while Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny appear in Eddie's moment of need only to offer no real valuable assitance (but instead, a laugh for the audience). There are also other key cameos from Tweety, Yosemite Sam ("My biscuits are burnin'!"), Betty Boop, Porky Pig and still others. But it's this kind of material that will make parents think it's all kid-friendly. However, it's more geared to them than the kiddies.
The movie is littered with more adult-themed content than you'd expect. Obviously, it's a murder mystery, but there's also the fact that Jessica was caught "playing patty-cake" with Marvin Acme. The photos we see are literally the two playing patty-cake together, but the sounds Eddie hears when he witnesses this (as well as the extreme reaction from Roger upon seeing the photos) suggest otherwise. It's kind of an attempt at making as innocent an implication of infidelity as possible, but parents will still be surprised by it. Also, there's a surprising amount of profanity in it for a "Disney" film. There's 1 "S.O.B." spoken by Eddie, and various characters using "h*ll" and "d*mn." One of Doom's weasels says "bullschtick" (literally-- I double-checked the subtitles), and there's one use each of "Oh my G-d" and "My G-d." Along with the senusality factor is just the presentation of Jessica herself. She's a large-chested woman in a revealing red dress who is just brimming with sensuality. There's one scene where she visits Eddie at his place to beg him to help Roger and he comes out of the bathroom shirtless and holding his pants up (we hear a toilet flush, but this follows a scene that was deleted that involved Eddie taking a shower to wash off a toon head that the weasels put on him). He gets a shirt on, but then she puts her arm around him and says she's willing to do "anything" to help her husband. He lets go of his pants and they drop, just as Eddie's girlfriend walks in on them. Nothing else happens (and he insists nothing was going to), but it doesn't look good for him. Finally, the violence is a bit edgy at times too. Doom has created a liquid mixture that can melt a toon to death, and we see an example of this. We also see a human character get shot in the back twice (with their shirt ripping on impact of the bullet, but there's no blood), and the finale reveals the film's villain to be a terrifying, buldging-eyed monster of a person. In other words, it's kind of scary for kids; I remember being pretty terrified of the character myself.
For anyone who grew up in the 80s, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is something of a modern classic. It's wonderfully written and acted, and it's a truly creative story and film. It's more of a film for more mature viewers than you might think, which is unfortunate given the beloved characters that cameo in the movie and are introduced by the film (like Roger and his friends). On Blu-Ray, it's certainly the best picture quality I've ever seen for the movie, but I was a little surprised that it wasn't clearer. For example, Zemeckis's 1985 movie Back To The Future is amazing on Blu-Ray, especially for its day, and I would say Who Framed Roger Rabbit isn't nearly as good as that one. Still, fans of the film should grab this updated HD transfer if they want the best presentation of the movie available.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 3/29/13)
The Roger Rabbit Shorts - These are the Roger Rabbit animated shorts that would appear at the beginning of several Disney movies following the release of Who Framed Roger Rabbit: "Tummy Trouble" (8:08), "Roller Coaster Rabbit" (8:11) and "Trail Mix-Up" (9:09). They've all been remastered for this set (so these are in wide screen format) and they're a fun addition. They all feature variations of Roger chasing after and protecting Baby Herman, complete with cameos by Jessica, in the same vein as the opening cartoon in the movie. And just like the movie, they're edgier than most kids cartoon, being especially violent with some slightly off-color humor.
Who Made Roger Rabbit (10:55) is a making-of featurette that is hosted by the voice of Roger, Charles Fleischer. In it, he reveals how they filmed the action that the animated characters would be interacting with, and all of the work that went into inserting the animation in post-production. The film also apparently took over two years to make!
Deleted Scene: The Pig Head Sequence (5:30) - Zemeckis gives an intro for this scene which was completely cut from the movie. It shows Eddie breaking into Jessica's dressing room, but he's jumped by Doom and the club bouncer and taken to Toontown, where they paint a toon head on him. The scene ends where we see Eddie in the shower washing off the pig head. This scene also explains why Eddie walks out of his bathroom with no shirt and just a tie around his neck when he finds Jessica in his place. Unfortunately, this is only available in full screen, not wide screen. (1 "d*mn," 1 "G-d")
Before and After (3:07) - This is a really cool picture-on-top-of-picture comparison of Eddie in Toontown. It shows Bob Hoskins in the studio acting against a blue screen in the bottom window and then the finished film in a window on top. It's pretty amazing to see how it was done (and how great Hoskins' acting is).
Toon Stand-Ins (3:14) shows on-set footage of the actors acting with rubber puppet stand-ins for the scenes. So here, we see the actors doing a run-through of the bar scene where Doom finds Roger, with the characters acting with the rubber dolls of the cartoon characters before they re-filmed it without them. This footage also served as reference for the animators so they could get the perspective and placements right.
Behind The Ears: The True Story of Roger Rabbit (36:37) - This is a half-hour behind-the-scenes documentary about how the movie came together and how they tried to integrate the animation with the live action as seamlessly as possible. Every piece of animation had to be drawn by hand (not a bit of it was computer animated), so it took extra long to finish. It's a super interesting making-of featurette, and they go into great detail to show you how they made it all possible. It's a must-see featurette!
On Set! (4:50) - This is a segment of on-set footage from a couple days in December, 1986, when they filmed Bob Hoskins riding a buggy that would later be drawn in as Benny the cab.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 3/29/13)
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