WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? Directed by Robert Zemeckis; written by Jeffrey Price and Peter Seaman; produced by Robert Watts and Frank Marshall for Touchstone. Starring Bob Hoskins, Joanna Cassidy and Christopher Lloyd. Rated PG (some subtle sexual references, some mild vulgarity).
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Well, well, well. It would seem that, occasionally, there is something new under the sun. Or, at least, under the theater marquee. Roger Rabbit is the most innovative and totally different movie to come out of Hollywood since Fantasia (in 1940). And to the delight of all kinds of moviegoers, it's also one of the best.
The Roger of the title is a 'toon—that is, a cartoon character with a real, independent existence, who interacts freely with humans off-screen. Although he's a rabbit, he's married to a sultry "human" nightclub singer whose physical endowments could only be drawn, never actually grown.
His jealousy over her rumored affairs has started to affect his work. And when a real human who was seen in her company turns up dead, Roger is the main suspect.
Down-on-his-luck private eye Eddie Valiant (Hoskins) begins to suspect Roger is innocent, though. Together the human and the 'toon not only solve the murder case, but unmask a plot against the whole of Toontown.
The technical brilliance of Roger Rabbit's special effects is certainly responsible for a lot of its appeal. Over half of the movie consists of scenes with 'toons "acting" in a real environment. The acting, though, must also take a lot of the credit. Hoskins in particular seems perfectly at ease with the 'toons. Even though we realize that he had to play these scenes without his co-stars, who were drawn in later. For some of his more physical scenes with Roger, I don't see HOW he did it.
Roger Rabbit's story is based on the most unreal premise imaginable. Its production design, on the other hand, has the gritty, realistic look of Chinatown, another movie about the L.A. of an earlier era.
The themes of the story—grief, alcoholism, marital infidelity, highlevel corruption—aren't exactly children's movie fare. But the presence of 'toons like Dumbo, Daffy Duck, etc., bring the look of Saturday morning to the movie.
Being pulled in different directions like this, Roger Rabbit would have plenty of excuses to be a failure. That it is an astonishing, delightful, success is one of the movie year's happiest surprises.
July 13, 1988