Sunday, 1 August 2010

WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (1988) - 4 STARS

"It's the story of a man, a woman, and a rabbit in a triangle of trouble"

 
Who would have thought of a situation where Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny, two of animation's most quirky characters, would be helping each other on the same screen together? That was exactly what happened in Robert Zemekis' wacky live-action family adventure WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (1988) which made a crucial breakthrough in film with the idea of combining live acclaimed actors with lovable cartoon characters and changed the motive of combining these two different species together. It blends comedy, film noir, romance, drama, horror, and any other style you can think of into one, leaving you gripped. The plot is very reminiscent of the classic 1940s/50s film noirs of suspicious detectives and seductive femme-fatales that was most superbly done in Roman Polanski's acclaimed if slightly overrated masterpiece CHINATOWN (1974). However when this film opens, we are introduced to a simple and over-the-top cartoon involving the main character, a rabbit named Roger (voiced by Charles Fleischer) and an adult-talking baby named Herman (voiced by Lou Hirsch) participating in the cartoon which is being filmed by a crew similarly to any other film set-up. We then find ourselves in the year 1947, where the humans occupy the brass and colourful world of Los Angeles. However the only difference here is that Toons (combined of Disney and Warner Bros characters are living, breathing creations, that interact with the humans. The Toons live in Toon Town (obviously) but also come out to play in our world, and also to make a living in the glitzy world of showbiz. Roger Rabbit though is the focus, being the main star of Maroon Cartoons but things aren't going well for him as he is suspicious about his sexy and large-breasted wife Jessica (voiced by Kathleen Turner) getting involved with singing and dancing at a nightclub with owner Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye). Hard nosed private detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) is hired by Maroon Cartoons owner R.K Maroon (Alan Tilvern) to try and take pictures of Jessica and Marvin's infidelity (or patty caking as Roger would put it) and reveal them to Roger. Valiant is an alcoholic who since the murder of his detective partner/brother has become bitter towards the Toons as one of them was responsible for the death. Valiant's approach to the situation takes shape when he is stunned by Jessica's seductive beauty but he still decided to do his job in taking the pictures. After they are revealed to him, Roger is devastated and in typically hysterical fashion runs off determined to be 'happy' again with Jessica.


 Valiant's belief that his job is complete doesn't work out as hoped for as he is called to Acme Warehouse the next morning to investigate Acme's death by piano (similarly to Eddie's brother), with all the fingers being pointed to Roger. However Valiant finds himself competing with the mysterious but cynical Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd), who along with his dastardly weasels wants to prove a point to the Toons who commit crimes what the consequences could be for them with the use of a deadly source. Valiant however is forced into the case properly when Roger hides out in his office and the detective relucantly is forced to help Roger with discovering what could have happened to Acme. More suspicions are made from Valiant when it emerges that Acme left a will leaving Toon Town to the Toons themselves, but it has gone missing. With the help of Valiant's former lover Dolores (Joanna Cassidy), she keeps Roger safe but only briefly when Doom almost gets his man (or Toon) which eventually leads to both Valiant and the cartoon rabbit going on the run together. As Valiant and Roger try to unravel the case, they realise that Jessica was set up, and Doom has some diabolical plans up his sleeve. The pair attempt to work quickly together (when Roger isn't getting himself into trouble, that is) to try and save Toon Town before Doom's shocking plans become reality.


 The succession of Roger Rabbit as a film is not just the cleverness of combining live-action with animation but with a slapstick script that mixed comedy and action with drama together brilliantly. Zemeckis who also made the BACK TO THE FUTURE trilogy (1985-90) and the Oscar winning FORREST GUMP (1994) proves his credentials as an all round director well again here in a film that adds originality to its adaptation of a typical detective story which adds satire and farcical humour very well. Its blend of characters provide the catalyst for the plot and is driven well by its impressive cast. Bob Hoskins, pulls off his booming American accent sublimely and provides a sour man struggling to overcome his personal tragedy and attempt to work with the Toons in solving the case, even leading to cartoonish antics from himself. Christopher Lloyd, best known as wacky but supportive Doc Emmet Brown in Back to the Future, plays another wacky character here but much more sinister and terrifying (his climactic scenes are the ones that will stay with you long after the film has ended) and works well to make an impact in each scene he's in. Joanna Cassidy is underused but adds warmth to Valiant's love interest Dolores while the rest of the support cast do the odd job they need. However the main applause goes to the vocal performances particuarly Roger and Jessica, both voiced well by Fleischer and Turner. Fleischer turns Roger into a manical character who has a good heart but fails to always do as he is told, while Turner's contribution to Jessica is speaking sexually to the main characters especially Eddie and Roger and (with the assistant of the cartoon makers) turned her into an unlikely sex symbol, even being named in FHM's 500 Sexiest Women of All Time in 2004. Her "I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way" line adds irony to how certain characters are made to be how they speak or through their body language and Jessica Rabbit certainly deserves that accolade.


As earlier noted, the mixture of characters and actors is well orchestrated, as well as Valiant and Roger's lines together; Mickey, Bugs, Goofy and the rest of the cartoon clan are used to good effect as well such as Daffy Duck and Donald Duck having a piano face-off in the nightclub and Tweety-Pie treating Valiant badly when he is hanging from the pole of a skyscraper. The scene of Valiant's journey into Toon Town is mixed in well, in such a crucial part of the film with how the setting is edited with such careful precision (particularly with its Oscar winning special effects), it's a thing that many young audiences had waited to see for many years to see humans and cartoons in the same shot. The scenery for 1940s Los Angeles is also well made with the right props similar to Chinatown and the Toon's appearance together in the final scene of the film plays up to a fitting finale. To criticise the film in my usual manner would be to highlight the surprise use of innuendo and dark humour in a PG based film which probably would have been a 12A if released now. The sexual references including Jessica's appearance and Dolore's joke to Eddie involving Roger hiding in his raincoat is funny but shocking for a family film while supposed urban myths involving Jessica as well as the possible use of a racist word in the Duck piano face-off takes away the delight of the film and leaves something a little distasteful when watching those particular scenes over and over again (damn those DVDs controls haha). But to conclude the film however, despite that slight controversy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a family classic, which has been loved by many over the last 20 or so years, visual effects superbly used to clever effect with how we could watch a film with humans and cartoons appearing together and mixing various genres and characters old and new to the maximum. As Porky Pig would say "That's all folks!"

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