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Non-Review Review: Who Framed Roger Rabbit

I think you could argue that Who Framed Roger Rabbit (which doesn’t have a question mark at the end, because apparently marketing demonstrated audiences don’t respond to question marks) sits at the perfect midpoint on the Zemickis spectrum, balancing the fine and fun storytelling of the Back to the Future series with the early forefathers of the technical wizardry which would so fascinate the director in the years to come. However, Who Framed Roger Rabbit finds a way to match its technical wizardry with a genuinely fun and entertaining story.

Saw VII: Would Bob Hoskins rather saw his own arm off or spend the rest of the movie as the straight guy to Roger's plucky comic relief? Jigsaw, you fiend!

Postulating a world in which toons actually exist and serve as actors in Hollywood alongside the flesh and blood icons, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is half Looney Tunes and half Chinatown. It’s a hardboiled story of private detectives, adultery and murder in sun-dripped LA, but it stars a whole host of iconic Disney and Warner characters. The plot sees the eponymous toon framed for the murder of Acme, the founder of toontown and the man playing patty cake with Roger’s wife. And no, that isn’t a euphemism. Hardboiled private detective Teddy Valiant finds himself partnered with the rabbit in a quest to prove his innocence, before the not-inappropriately-named Judge Doom can wrest control of toontown from Acme’s cold dead hands.

The movie is a lot of things, most obviously social commentary. It’s not hard to see the toons, who have given so much to culture and yet remain second class citizens (with “human only” bars), as a metaphor for other minorities that founded America and particularly those who contributed to the entertainment industry during the Golden Age of Hollywood. “They’ll work for peanuts,” a studio executive puns before Dumbo cameos, but the clear indication is that the toons aren’t getting a fair deal. Aside from Roger’s own personal troubles, the movie centres on the notion that these toons may be granted some form of recognition for their service – Acme’s missing will would have granted them autonomy of toontown. Still, the commentary is relatively subtle and, for the most part, welcome.

There’s also a wonderful hint of nostalgia that seeps through the film, from the shots of hard-nosed private dick Teddy Valiant riding on the back of a tramcar through downtown LA (he is, of course, too broke to pay the fare – or pay back is loan from his barmaid) to the grand evil plan to run a freeway through toontown, effectively killing the last bit of magic left in the world (while also calling to mind the way that major roads have killed small communities all over America). It is very hard to watch the film without feeling a pang or two of nostalgia, even for an age which never really existed. Though, in fairness, the movie actually borrows elements from the planned third part in the Chinatown trilogy (of which only Chinatown and The Two Jakes emerged), particularly the plan to dismantle public transport in Los Angeles and build the freeways.

Bob Hoskins is the actor tasked with playing against the animated Roger. Even these days actors talk about how difficult it is to interact with objects that aren’t really there, so I can only imagine how difficult it was before such acting had become common place. I say I can only imagine because Hoskins makes it look easy. It’s a damn shame that Hoskins never really become a leading man, as he handles his material here fantastically. He’s tasked with being the straight man to an entire movie packed with absurd cartoons. He’s every hardboiled private detective trope you could possibly imagine, and clearly heavily influenced by Jake from Chinatown, but Hoskins integrates him perfectly with the bright and colourful and zany world crafted here. Okay, the “big song and dance” number doesn’t quite work, but it almost works – particularly the one-liners, “Nose? That don’t rhyme with ‘walls’.” “No, but this does!” (kick!). Now, look at the picture of Hoskins at the top of this article and tell us you even though a big musical number with him could even almost work. Yeah, he’s that good.

Of course, the other star of the show here is the special effects. They were, by all accounts, cutting edge for their time (as Zemickis likes to be). And they’ve held up well. Sure, you’ll notice a toon bending strangely around a physical prop from time to time, but hey – they are toons after all, they can bend like that. These moments are few and far between and for the most part it works seamlessly (they even draw shadows!). There’s a lot of love that went into the film, and just try to spot all the cameos (my personal favourite is the use of the holes from the Looney Tunes short Holes as a plot device).

And it would seem to be remiss to close the review without mentioning Jessica. In many ways a rite of passage for many young boys of a certain age (or at least to me), I think Kathleen Turner’s sexily-voiced (and sexily-animated) minx made a huge pop culture impression. If you doubt that, do a google image search. If you dare. She’s tended to overshadow the film itself in popular memory, and perhaps unfairly so – but she certainly deserves a mention in any review of it. Perhaps more so than Roger himself, oddly enough.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is not without its flaws. The storyline is straightforward and predictable. There’s never really a mystery as to who framed Roger, or even why – perhaps that’s why the title is a statement rather than a question. At certain points the movie seems more like a collection of scenes than a movie – they are damned entertaining scenes, though. But if you’re watching for the plot, you’re missing the point. The jokes land a lot more frequently than than they crash and the film is a charming love letter to an age long gone.

This may just be the best movie that Zemickis has ever directed.

One Response

  1. Great Movie by Mr Still I wish he would produce more often.

    Check out…

    OZ vs ToonTown – Genius All Around

    Who Framed Roger Rabbit…Is this really a story about the framing an innocent corporation?


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