WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT

(1988)
With Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy, Stubby Kaye, and the voices of Charles Fleischer and Kathleen Turner
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Reviewed by JL

What's up. Bob?     The techniques of combining live action and animation have come a long way in the past couple of decades: witness SPACE JAM, LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION, or even the computer dinosaurs of the JURASSIC PARK films.  Unfortunately, the techniques of good storytelling haven't kept pace with the technology used to tell stories.  You have to go back to the 1980s, the last days of the pre-CGI era, to find films that used animated effects in support of the story, rather than vice-versa.  Seems as if the amount of effort put into the effects paralleled the effort put into the screenplay.  Conversely, they could probably make WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT in about half the time for about half the cost today, and they'd probably put about half the amount of effort into the screenplay as well.

     WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT is an example of effects-laden entertainment that lived up to its hype.  Set in 1947 Tinseltown, where humans regularly interact with the Toons of Toonville, the film is both a parody of detective noir as well as a loving homage to the Golden Age of animation.  More importantly, it was made by people with a deep love and knowledge of their subject.  As such, the film is a moving and wistful experience, with the denizens of Toonville (a repressed minority living, literally and figuratively, on the other side of the tracks) threatened with genocide by the evil Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd).  We pity their exploitation and somehow sense their impending doom even amidst their giddy, sunshiny world where "Smile, Darn Ya, Smile" (a vintage Merrie Melodies theme) is sung 'round the clock.  The film is prescient in that it foretells the end of full-figure animation (1947 being the last year before television sales boomed), as well as hand-drawn animation itself (something the filmmakers couldn't have known in 1988, but a fitting coincidence nonetheless).  And despite all the weighty subtext and shadowy undertones, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT also manages to be as giddy and hilarious as the best product of the Disney or Warner Bros. animation studios.  Much of the credit for this goes to Bob Hoskins, who, as gumshoe Eddie Valiant, convinces us that the worlds of Raymond Chandler and Tex Avery can coexist.  (Once cast in the picture, the animators realized that Hoskins was one of the few actors capable of stealing scenes from cartoon characters -- which, in turn, made the animators work twice as hard.)

     Subtext aside, there's also the sheer joy of seeing Disney and Warner animated stars sharing the screen, as well as cameo appearances by just about every major pre-1947 cartoon star.  Yet despite the obvious appeal of the all-star 'toon lineup, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT never resorts to gratuitous gimmickry and never bogs down under the weight of its own cleverness. It's one of the few American films from the past two decades that can rightfully be called a classic. 5 - JL 

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