Skip to main content

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #288: Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Wouldn’t it be cool if cartoons co-existed with human beings? Let me rephrase that: how awesome would it be if Daffy Duck and Donald Duck were to have a duel of pianos at a members-only club in 1940s Hollywood? Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), based on the book Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf, successfully imagines such a world and most importantly manages to convince the audience cartoons are actually interacting with human beings. Its director, Robert Zemeckis, has always been a master at mixing groundbreaking special effects with an engaging story, so if anyone was going to get this story right, it had to be him. Pulling the strings at the top of the production chain was none other than Steven Spielberg, who although better known for his directorial work, has produced some of the most memorable movies of the 80s, including this one.

But just how do you classify Who Framed Roger Rabbit? I first saw a French-dubbed version of the film on VHS in the early 90s while living in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. My parents thought my brother and I would enjoy the movie’s cartoons and indeed the film starts off with a cartoon skit that gives Bugs Bunny a run for his money. But then a human yells cut when Roger Rabbit (voice of Charles Fleisher) has birds floating around his head instead of candles after a refrigerator falls on his head. From then the movie delves into a plot involving an affair, a murder, and a real estate scam à la Chinatown. Roger is the film’s comedy relief, while the hero is an alcoholic private detective, the archetypal character of film noir. That is a lot to take in for an eight-year-old. I had to watch the movie dozens of times before finally understanding the plot. Nevertheless, if you are a kid you will love seeing Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse share the screen, and as an adult you get to enjoy the intricate plot and the performances of the humans.

Bob Hoskins is Eddie Valiant, a boozy private eye working in 1947 Hollywood. In the movie’s universe, cartoons are studio employees who interact with the humans who direct them. R.K Maroon (Alan Tilvern), the owner of Maroon Cartoon Studios owns Roger Rabbit’s contract and has a job for Eddie. There is a rumor around town that Roger’s wife Jessica (sexy voice of Kathleen Turner) is having an affair and Maroon wants Eddie to do follow her around and get pictures of the truth. Eddie is reluctant to be anywhere near cartoons, since one of them is responsible for his brother’s death, leading to his drinking problem. After assurance that he would never have to go to Toontown, the cartoons’ own private city, and the promise of $100, Eddie takes the job.

To his surprise Jessica is a sultry red head, whose animators were inspired by screen sirens such as Rita Hayworth and Lauren Bacall. A cartoon, yes, but a very human-looking one, who is apparently cheating on Roger with Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye), owner of the Acme Corporation and of Toontown. Eddie and Maroon show the compromising photos to Roger, who does not take it well. The following day Eddie is awoken by Lieutenant Santino (Richard LeParmentier) who informs him Marvin Acme is dead and Roger is the prime suspect.

From there Eddie is dragged into the mystery of Acme’s death and the fate of Toontown itself. Baby Sherman (voice of Lou Hirsh), Roger’s foul-mouthed co-worker with the body of an 8-month infant, tells Eddie Acme had a will that would leave Toontown to the Toons, but the will is missing. Hot on Roger’s tail is the aptly named Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd), the corrupt judge of Toontown’s superior court. With a gang of evil weasels following his orders, Doom intends to put Roger on trial and execute him by melting him in a batch of solvents or as he calls it “Dip.” To make matters worse, Roger has slipped into Eddie’s office through the mail slit and needs his help to clear his name.

With all these story strands involving missing wills, corrupt studio officials, sultry femme fatales, and murders, it is easy for a kid to get confused. But simply put, Eddie is the hero who will overcome his fears, Roger is the funny sidekick, Judge Doom is the villain, Dolores (Joanna Cassidy) is Eddie’s ex-girlfriend who of course works at a bar, and Jessica Rabbit is the femme fatale. But as she puts it, “I am not bad. I’m just drawn that way.”

The movie’s other star is of course the special effects and the roster of cartoons who were rented by Amblin Entertainment and Touchstone Pictures to be together onscreen for the first time. What other movie has Yosemite Sam, Betty Boop, Dumbo, Tweety Bird, Droopy, Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny? This was the first movie to have cartoons seamlessly interact with human characters by holding objects, opening doors, and in Roger’s case being handcuffed to Eddie. When Eddie finally faces his fears and travels to Toontown, he becomes somewhat of a cartoon himself when he enters an ultra-fast elevator driven by the sad-faced Droopy the dog. “Hold on, sir,” he says before Eddie is squished into the floor.

I may not have understood the general plot the first time, but you can’t fault Who Framed Roger Rabbit for trying to be ambitious with its story line. I revisit it frequently and I have of course updated from the VHS tape to the special edition DVD, which looks like it was designed by cartoons. If you click in the right place in the DVD menu you get a pie thrown at the screen.

As Porky Pig would say: “Th, th, th, that’s all folks.”    


  1. Thank you for the absolutely wonderful job you did on this blog.Good Job Keep it up and thank you for all of your hard work is a Telugu news portal and provides
    Telugu Movie News, Latest and Breaking News on Political News and Telugu Movie Reviews at one place


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #109: Touch of Evil

Some movies start off with a bang but with his 1958 film noir Touch of Evil cinema legend Orson Welles decided to start with three minutes and 20 seconds leading to the bang. During a tracking shot set in a U.S – Mexico border town we follow a car right after an unseen person has installed a crude bomb in the trunk. It’s a lovely evening with people having a good time and border agents diligently doing their jobs as they let the car cross over onto the American side. Then the bomb goes off, two people die violently, and suddenly it’s not such a good evening. That’s one way to hook in your audience.
Some people resolve to eat better, quit smoking or do more exercise for the New Year. As we start off 2019 one of my resolutions is to try to watch more classics films, and even though I got a lot of great films as Christmas gifts I thought I would use my day off to check one classic film I had never seen off my list. Of course I am familiar with Orson Welles, a filmmaker so prolific that in…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #64: Oldboy

One thing I have noticed from the few Korean films I have seen so far is that Korean cinema really doesn’t hold back. One of that country’s most critically acclaimed and commercially successful movie is Oldboy (2003), which has amazing performances, beautifully choreographed fight scenes and a story filled with many twists and turns. It also has plenty of scenes that will make you squirm whether because of graphic violence, very disturbing revelation, or because you prefer your calamari fried instead of alive.
This was one of the last movies I rented from a video store in the pre-Netflix days in early 2009. By then its reputation had grown in the west especially since on top of the many awards it had won it had also earned high praise from Quentin Tarantino who knows a thing or two about violent and entertaining movies. On paper Oldboy’s plot sounds like something right up his alley: a man is seemingly wronged by an adversary and that man then seeks bloody retribution. However while T…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #30: Aliens

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes a movie can change a person. For me that movie was James Cameron’s Aliens (1986), a movie that made an action icon out of Sigourney Weaver after pitting her against an army of nightmarish creatures and their giant queen. This movie came out the year I was born and while I was growing up it increased in popularity achieving classic stardom as a science fiction, action and horror film. Unfortunately while I was growing up I must admit I was scared of most movie monsters, to the point that just the trailer for an Alien movie would make me nervous. Then I saw Cameron’s film and went to the dark side of the moon.
Here’s the setting: it’s 2002 and my parents and I are living in Santiago, Chile. By then I haven’t seen any of the Alien films from beginning to end, but I have a general idea of what they do and how they tend to pop out of people’s chests. One evening I see that Aliens is about to start playing on a movie channel and I decide to take a chanc…