Original Release: June 22, 1988
Directed By: Robert Zemeckis
Before we get into things and start talking about this little movie, I first want to say a big Welcome Back. I disappeared for a couple weeks into the belly of the book editing monster, but at long last, I’ve managed to find my way out! Thank you for being patient with me and I do hope you’re having a lovely Holiday Season. That being said, today’s film is what we’d call special. There isn’t really anything like it. These days there’s a huge battle just to get Spider-Man in the same film as other Marvel characters, but in this film, we have both Disney characters AND Looney Tunes. The humor is dark and often uncouth. The world is fully realized and zany as they come. So join me as we explore the story of a rabbit, framed for a crime he didn’t commit, on the run from a man who desires the destruction of cartoons as we know them. Ask yourself, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
When Gary K. Wolf published Who Censored Roger Rabbit, a story about comic strip cartoons, in 1981, Walt Disney Productions wasted very little time in acquiring the rights, wanting to turn the book into an animated film. Even early on, Robert Zemeckis wanted to direct the film, but having just had two major flops, he was turned down by Disney. For the next couple of years, test footage would be shot and scripts would be written and re-written, with nothing really sticking. In 1985, though, new Disney CEO, Michael Eisner revamped the project, bringing in Steven Spielberg’s Amblim Entertainment to help produce the film.
While the original budget of the film was a massive (for the time) 50 million dollars, Disney refused to green light the project until the budget was cut to 30 million. Jeffrey Katzenberg believed that mixing live action with animation would actually help to save money. Oh, how wrong you were, Jeffey-poo. During production, the film’s budget was raised to 40 million, causing Eisner to want to shut down the project. Katzenberg talked him down, of course. In the end, thought, the film did hit the 50 million mark, making it by far the highest budgeted animated film ever to be made at the time.
As you can imagine, the rights negotiations for this film were a bit insane, involving not just the characters to be used but also HOW they were used. Donald and Daffy had to appear as equals. Same with Mickey and Bugs Bunny. Everything had to be carefully agreed upon by all parties involved and because of this, many characters that were potential candidates for the film, never made it in. Eventually, Robert Zemeckis was hired to direct the film in 1985 after directing two box office hits, proving his worth to the film.
While many elements were used to create the illusion of animated characters and also to give the actors a reference point, my favorite of these has to be Charles Fleisher who demanded he be able to wear a Roger Rabbit costume on set in order to get into character. Other characters involved the use of puppets and other forms of reference but I do love the idea of Bob Hoskins interacting with an actual man dressed as a rabbit.
There is a lot of history to this film to be sure, but as we are easing back into this Vault Disney project like someone who is recovering from being run over by a bus, and surviving, I think we’ll jump to talking about the film. However, if you do love this film, be sure to look deeper as there are so many fun tidbits to be discovered.
It occurred to me about halfway into the film that I couldn’t remember ever watching it in its entirety. You have to understand that the film came out the year I was born, and so by the time I was old enough to watch it, I probably saw it as ‘old’ and by the time I was old enough to appreciate it, it was the last thing on my mind. I’d seen pieces of it for sure, but very little of it had stuck. As such, we can think of this as my first viewing, and oh what a viewing it was.
Eddie Valiant is fantastic in this film. He plays the role, which could easily be silly or cheesy, and really brings the character to life. The idea that his brother was killed by a toon has the potential to seem so dumb and hard to sympathize with, but he makes it possible through skillful acting and interacting well with characters who aren’t really there. He himself brings this world to life almost more than the animators. It’s great to watch his character arc and to see him struggle with alcoholism and a fall from glory. He’s a guy that we immediately root for, despite his shortcomings.
Roger and Jessica are also wonderful. I’ll admit that Roger took me a while to warm up to. He’s a bit obnoxious at first, but in a way, that’s sort of the point. There’s a moment though, where we talks about the importance of laughter. It was in this moment that it all came together and I realized how special this character truly was. Jessica is unlike anything else out there. She’s sexy, but also has a strength to her. She’s a character who we want to hate and think that she’s the villain, but in the end, she’s not bad, she’s just drawn that way. The two of them make an odd pairing but I absolutely love that Jessica loves him for his personality. It’s a pretty powerful message to come out of a character that would stereotypically make us rageful of her portrayal of how women in Hollywood should be.
Then there’s this world. Don’t you just want to get lost in it? It’s so rich and interesting. I want to peak behind every corner and explore every house just to find out which toons live there and how they live there. Seeing Hollywood in the film is great and that moment when we finally go to Toon Town lives up to our expectations of just how ridiculous it is. From slapstick humor to singing sunshines, it’s all a feast for the eyes and I would gladly watch another film, or even a TV series set here, just to learn a little bit more. This is all aided by the fact that the film is sort of like one big game of I Spy. You are always searching for a character in the background. Sure, cameos by Dumbo and Betty Boop are great, but it’s those rare characters like Peter, from Peter and the Wolf, that you find yourself hunting for, not wanting to miss a single one.
Christopher Lloyd makes a fine villain. He’s creepy and totally crazy and his weasels, who are meant to be the dark version of Snow White’s Dwarfs, are also hilarious. As a side note, I love that the animated weasels use real life guns. The technicality of it looks very cool and I like that they chose to put in the extra work to give it that much more detail.
Therein lies the true reason that Who Framed Roger Rabbit is such a great film. It’s all about the details. Every shot and frame seems so thought out and there is so much love and care poured into every moment, line and character. You can tell the filmmakers wanted to make this film and that they had fun doing it. It’s crass and uncouth at times but that makes it even better. We all want to see cartoon characters swear. Isn’t that the reason that shows like South Park and The Simpsons are so popular? It’s funny to see this kiddy world grow up and this film takes that idea and runs proudly with it. From babies who smoke to weasels with guns, this film knows how to constantly surprise and shock us. There isn’t a wasted moment in the film and I found myself focusing intently, trying to see what new surprise awaited me each minute.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is an excellent film and a great way to start us back up on the Vault Disney adventure. I may not have mentioned this but I am taking my mother to Disney for the first time in her life this coming February, so leading up to then, I hope to start blogging about the preparations for our trip and the trip itself. We also have a lot of great movies ahead of us and a new year, sure to be full of a new book release and awesome things to come. Thank you for coming this far with me, and for continuing to make this blog such a fun place for me to call my internet home.
Next Up: Aladdin
* * *
NOTE: Obviously all the photos are courtesy of Disney Entertainment and I would never in a million years claim them as my own. That being said, all are actually taken with my phone during our viewing in order to capture the moment in a slightly different way than originally intended.
ALSO: My Fiancee has a blog too and he is talking about all the classics we are currently watching, which involves more than just Disney. Head over HERE and check it out!