Tuesday, January 22, 2013

CANON OF FILM: "WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT"


WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (1989)

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Screenplay: Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman based on the novel “Who Censored Roger Rabbit?” by Gary K. Wolf



In a moment of reminiscence of mine, I decided to think back and try to remember some of my favorite films, well, cartoons actually, and decided to see how many I could remember and then identify using a imdb.com search. Not just the characters, but my favorite shorts. “What Opera Doc?”, and “Duck Amuck”, or “Ali Baba Bunny”, my personal favorite Looney Tunes.  In those few moments, I also found myself in the right mind to recall “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” a revolutionary film in its day, becoming the first film to believably combine animated characters and humans. And hand-drawn animation as well! (Animator Roger Williams won a special Academy Award for it.) But, what’s even more noteworthy is the combining of rival studios coming together for the film, and there was tension trying to make sure Mickey Mouse doesn’t get more screen than Bugs Bunny, not one second more. One of my favorite moments is the duo-piano act between Donald Duck and Daffy Duck, and of course, neither of those two egos can come together without killing each other. And, one more thing I should mention is that, unlike today, there used to be a time where there’d be short cartoons shown before the feature presentation. That almost never happens anymore, although short films do get shown at film festivals in huge blocks. This movie starts out with what appears to be a cartoon short that you’d get before the movie, and the cartoon itself is one of funniest ones I’ve ever seen, than we realize that it’s not a cartoon, we are watching the making of a cartoon, and Roger has flubbed his lines after the refrigerator falls on his head. He sees birds, he’s supposed to see stars. The film itself is actually not too far off from a Philip Marlowe film noir, only the humans act as though they’ve been talking with cartoon rabbits their entire life. Which is just fine, you don’t really need to get too complex when you’re dealing with cartoons, and in saying that I’m distinguishing “cartoons” from animation here as in Bugs Bunny is a cartoon, while “Beauty and the Beast,” or any Miyazaki film would be animation. At the core of the movie, is a hidden-in-plain-sight great performance from Bob Hoskins. He plays Eddie Valient, and in many ways, the movie is practically a one-man show he’s giving. A hard-boiled P.I. who spends his days disgusted with toons since one of them killed his brother, and spends his working hours drinking and occasionally taking some quick jobs, investigating small-time adultery. He ends up working for Roger (Charles Fleischer), or behalf of R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern) who suspects correctly that Roger’s wife Jessica (Kathleen Turner, with Amy Irving’s singing voice) is playing pattycake with Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye), the holder of Toontown, a magical place somewhere on the other side of a cave in 1940s L.A. where all the Toons live. When he gets killed, Roger, who has motive and no alibi for the night, is framed for his murder, and Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) is on the search for him, and his own brand of rough justice, in a concoction called “The Dip”, that is the only thing that can reportedly kill a Toon. Roger hides out at Dolores’s (Joanna Cassidy) bar, who once upon a time had a fling with Eddie, back when he was the funny guy who got all the Toons off of crimes, and is seen in his Police Academy photo in clown makeup with his brother.  

 I also enjoyed this film as a kid, although I was shocked by the fact that humans were in my cartoon, but as an adult, I can fully appreciate watching Roger grab a human coat and have it float in the air, or watch Jessica Rabbit cast a shadow onto the ground, or Baby Herman smoking an actual cigar and then crying when he loses it. I also think about Mel Blanc with this film, one of the last times he did the voices for all the Looney Tunes characters he did. There’s a Warner Brothers store in Ceasar’s Palace, and whenever I’m there, I go to see a painting called “Speechless,” which was made in honor of Mel Blanc after he died in 1995, and just consider it for a moment, because it’s not just that he voiced all those great Looney Tunes characters, but how someone made fictional characters, fictional animal characters for that matter, and made them come alive. This isn’t just a goal in film, this is a goal in all art forms, and few ever achieve it so well or as often as he did. “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, kinda gets overlooked now as a landmark film, maybe because animation didn’t really start getting taken as seriously as live action until recently, but it’s it achieve the highest marks in every art form it tackles. 
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