Bob Balaban's dark comic horror about a young boy suspecting his suburban parents to be cannibals
Pioneering live action/cartoon fusion that was one of the biggest commercial and critical hits of the late 80s. Stars Bob Hoskins and hundreds of expertly animated cartoon characters
Who Framed Roger Rabbit marked a huge technical breakthrough in 1988. It was by no means the first time that cartoon characters had appeared alongside live actors, but it was the first time they'd properly interacted with them: kicking them around, throwing them onto rubbish heaps and giving them great big smacking kisses. Equally impressively, the animations cast shadows and the camera whirled around them, giving a real sense of three dimensions: a marked improvement on the previous, two-dimensional attempts like Mary Poppins.
These technical innovations have been long surpassed, but whereas more contemporary CGI effects look dated and irredeemably naff even before they make it onto DVD (Die Another Day being a case in point), Roger Rabbit still looks fresh. The technical wizardry is always secondary to the remarkable skill and craftsmanship of the filmmakers. Roger (voiced by Fleischer) and his loony friends always look great. Just as importantly, a slick script, bravura direction and a torrent of visual gags make this great fun to watch - and not just for kids.
It's 1947 in Hollywood and Toons are big business. Roger, one of the biggest stars, is having problems pulling performances (when a fridge lands on him at the end of the deliciously frenetic-cartoon opening sequence, little birds fly around his head rather than the stars he's been scripted to produce). He's distracted by the thought that his pneumatic wife Jessica Rabbit (voiced by Turner) is playing around with other men. Studio boss RK Maroon (Tilvern) hires the cynical, hard-drinking Eddie Valliant (Hoskins) to investigate. Valliant photographs Jessica playing patty-cake (yes, the clapping game) with Stubby Kaye's enjoyably over-the-top gag-mogul Marvin Acme (who's made his fortune selling electric shock hand-buzzers, and instant holes).
When Acme is murdered, Roger is the prime suspect, hunted by Judge Doom (Lloyd) and his evil henchmen, the weasels from Disney's 1949s Wind In The Willows. The plot thickens as rumours circulate about a will that Acme had written, leaving the Toon's animated home, Toon-Town, to the Toons themselves. And why does Judge Doom take such sadistic pleasure in eradicating the previously indestructible cartoon characters by immersing them in his "Dip" (usually pronounced "DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIP!" by the terrorised Toons)?
Hoskins competently dead-pans his way through the mock film-noir setting, delivering gag after gag with gruff panache ("I don't do Toon Town," he tells Maroon. "Every Joe loves Toon Town." "Send Joe.") and he strikes a suitably earthy contrast with the brightly coloured, hyperactive Toons. But it's this army of cartoon-characters, treated with such reverence and affection, that really make the film: classics like Betty Boop (working in a bar because times are hard for black and white characters), Goofy (now cleared of fraud charges) and Donald Duck and Daffy Duck (fighting a piano duel) shine alongside equally funny new inventions: wise-cracking grumpy New York cab Benny (also voiced by Fleischer), Baby Herman (a 40 year old cigar-chuffing libido stuck inside a three month old body; voiced by Hirsh) and, of course, the manic, eye-popping, calamity-prone Roger. The furious pace is expertly maintained throughout, at 99 minutes it doesn't out stay its welcome and an utterly ridiculous "I'm melting, I'm melting" ending ensures satisfaction as the curtain falls and Porky Pig declares "Th-Th-Th-That's all folks".
Nonsensical maybe, but thoroughly entertaining. Shows just what can be achieved when enough time, skilful craftsmanship, effort and love are devoted to something as gloriously ridiculous as the Toons.
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