**** out of ****
"Who Framed Roger Rabbit" is an extraordinary film, riskily combining live action and animation, but coming off as pure perfection. Nearly all of the material and inspiration is borrowed, but "Roger Rabbit" blends it creatively and well. In addition, mixing all of the well-known cartoon characters from different studios, including Betty Boop, Daffy Duck, and Droopy Dog, is a miracle in itself. Later films such as "Space Jam" have not been able to replicate the power that the innovative design of this film successfully touts.
The film is based on the 1981 novel, "Who Censored Roger Rabbit?," by Gary K. Wolf. In the film, Roger Rabbit is a cartoon character who worries that his wife, sexy Jessica Rabbit, is playing "pattycake" with someone else. When that person turns out to be Toontown and Acme Company owner Marvin Acme, it all hits the fan once Acme turns up dead and Roger becomes the prime suspect. Eddy Valliant (Hoskins), the detective who took the tell-all photos of Jessica and Acme, is Roger’s last hope for clearing his name and uncovering the real killer and the larger devious plot.
Bob Hoskins is fantastic as the grumpy detective who “don’t work for toons!” Titular character Roger Rabbit is an entertaining alternative to everyone’s favorite, carrot-chompin’ Bugs Bunny. With no contest, the highlight of the film is one Jessica Rabbit, who exudes sexuality from her sultry eyes to rich rouge hair to the slit in her dress sliding up her thigh to her large breasts. She says, “I'm not bad. I'm just drawn that way.” She is the epitome of the film noir femme fatale.
Film noir itself is the greatest inspiration for this film, from the detective protagonist to the femme fatale to the mystery and intrigue. The film obviously draws on such classic films as "The Maltese Falcon" (dead partner) and "Chinatown" (sales of local resource—there water, here the train system, and the photos showing infidelity).
Particularly because of the cultural coding established by film noir, the 40's-inspired art direction is fantastic and delightfully appropriate. Sitting and hand-drawing every cell of animation must have been tedious, but the finished product shines. Other aspects of the film worth mentioning include the sound and sound mixing, which were fantastic. Robert Zemeckis also does a fabulous job behind the camera, bringing this cartoon-laden mystery to life. The only slight drawback worth mentioning is Alan Silvestri’s score, which sticks out like a sore thumb because everything about it screams "Back To The Future." However, this was a more obvious problem in his earlier work. The score is enjoyable nonetheless.
The film’s theme seems to be a clash between old and new. One example is the direct comparison and contrast between the older and newer ‘toons, notably Betty Boop and Jessica Rabbit. Though Betty proudly claims, “I’ve still got it,” the men in the bar quickly direct their attention to the alluring gaze and erotic frame of Jessica when she appears. Another example is how Judge Doom attempts to erase Toontown and create freeways with his Cloverleaf Corporation—this could again be another direct example of the old phrase “out with the old, in with the new.” Besides the narrative, the film itself brings about the heralding moment of film since it so astonishingly combines live action with animation as never before.
This film is a wonder and a favorite. Everything about this film is outstanding because it venerably draws on many sources of classic film and animation and creatively delivers distinct, awe-inspiring stylistic elements. Roger Rabbit truly deserved its numerous Academy Awards, including Best Film Editing, Sound Effects Editing, and Visual Effects, and a Special Achievement Award for Animation Direction. Audiences will laugh, but they will also be captivated with the suspense. This zany masterpiece does target audiences of all ages, but adults will capture the innuendo better. Everything about this film is flawless.
April 3, 2008
**** out of ****