24. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Bob Hoskins, Charles Fleischer, Christopher Lloyd, Kathleen Turner, Joanna Cassidy, Alan Tilvern, Stubby Kaye, Lou Hirsch, David Lander

Thinking back to my early childhood, I can pinpoint the moment when my love of film officially began. The movie was “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” Up until then, movies were a neat second option apart from playing with my toys at home. I had been to the theater a few times before (most of which I don’t even recall on account of being far too young), but it was the experience of seeing “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” that I could count as the first time a trip to the cinema felt like an escape from reality.

Every kid knows who Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse are, and it was the promise of seeing them on-screen together for the first time ever that initially piqued my interest. The fact that they and dozens of other cartoon characters, both familiar and new, would be interacting with humans didn’t strike my six-year old mind as being the amazing achievement that I see it for today. At the time, I simply went along with it. Perhaps it’s just as great a compliment that a six-year old can watch this movie and never once question the believability of it all. The mixture of live action and animation wasn’t the only hurdle for the filmmakers to cross. In choosing the time period in which “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” takes place, the 1940’s (the Golden Age of animated shorts), they had to be careful in how they portrayed the era. Once again, this is done so well that I never once begin to question it.

As Eddie Valiant, the Hollywood private detective whose brother/partner was murdered by a toon, Bob Hoskins is terrific. The movie is Valiant’s journey, from a man who has grown to become prejudice against toons based on the tragedy in his past to one who can learn how to laugh again. Another toon, Roger Rabbit (voice of Charles Fleischer), is suspected of murder based on pictures he was shown depicting his wife “cheating” on him by playing pattycake with the recently deceased. It is then up to Valiant (who took the pictures for money) to protect Roger and uncover the mystery who the real killer is. Based on his performance here, I would never have suspected that Hoskins is English.

Between this movie and “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock,” it took a while for me to not be totally creeped out by actor Christopher Lloyd. His most famous characters are goofy, sweet-natured or otherwise lovable, but never underestimate the man’s ability to play a great villain. As Judge Doom, with the aid of all-black costuming and well-timed music from composer Alan Silvestri, Lloyd is able to project the appearance that all of the light in the room just evacuated the premises upon his very entrance. In his very first scene, he kills a cartoon shoe by submerging it in a vat of turpentine. Scary stuff.

I’m going to have to be a bit predictable in choosing my favorite scene from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” Of all the entrances in the movie, none are more infamous than that of Roger Rabbit’s wife, Jessica. Eddie Valiant has gone to the Ink & Paint Club where Jessica is a nightclub singer, and has just sat through an hilarious piano duet featuring Donald and Daffy Duck. Then Jessica is introduced. Eddie’s jaw hits the floor when, instead of a long-eared creature with a cottontail, a voluptuous, red-haired animated woman steps out from behind the curtain. Although Jessica’s speaking voice is provided by actress Kathleen Turner in all her subsequent scenes, it is Amy Irving’s voice we hear singing “Why Don’t You Do Right?” Yes, the first time you see Jessica Rabbit, she has the voice of Sue Snell from 1976’s “Carrie.”

Although Jessica has emerged as the most iconic character from this movie, that’s not to say Roger didn’t get his fair shot. Following the release and success of the movie, three animated shorts were produced and shown in front of other movies (“Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” “Dick Tracy,” and “A Far Off Place”). Yet “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (based on Gary K. Wolf’s 1981 novel, “Who Censored Roger Rabbit?”) never got a sequel. I wish we were still getting new Roger Rabbit material to this very day, especially now that the movie is enjoying its 25th anniversary. I’d love an opportunity to have Roger bring out the kid in me once more.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Another superb review, Charles! You did it justice!!

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