WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (1988):
Written by: Gary K. Wolf (original novel), Jeffery Price & Peter S. Seaman
This movie is considered, along with The Little Mermaid, as having helped kick off the Renaissance Age of Animation. Based off of a novel called Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, they changed a lot of the plot and surroundings (the author admits this was a good idea, and the movie version is better than his darker version), took out the question mark (bad luck in Hollywood, apparently, to include question marks in titles), and basically reinvented a style of animation- the merging of live actors with cartoons on-screen. This was INSANE for the time, and would still take a crap-ton of effort today- animators to this day use the term “Bump the Lamp” to refer to taking the extra mile to make the animation look good and “right”, even though most people won’t notice it. It’s named for a scene where they bump a lamp at the bar (when Dolores is helping them with the handcuffs) and the animators had to fix the shadows on everything in frame as it spun around.
There are a TON of memorable characters in this movie, with Eddie Valiant as the hard-bitten detective, Roger Rabbit as the insane, foolish butt-monkey, Baby Herman as the perverted “adult” baby, Jessica Rabbit as the embodiment of all wet dreams, and Judge Doom as a vicious Nightmare Fuel Big Bad. The movie was a monster smash (at the time, it was the twelfth-highest-grossing film EVER), and is extremely famous.
However, the owners have all resisted efforts for sequels and spin-offs, refusing on several occasions (the show Bonkerswas supposed to be a spin-off, but instead just took ideas from it). It’s pretty much a shining example of both Film Noir, Animated Films, and the fact that cartoons don’t always have to be for kids (there’s enough swearing and horrific murders of poor innocent shoes to keep kids away from this one). Its legacy was secure when most imitators came up short (Cool World did some damage to Ralph Bakshi’s career, for instance). This also remains the only real crossover between Disney, MGM and Warner Brothers.
One of the neatest, underrated scenes in the movie is his little thing with Betty Boop in the club. While he acts like an anti-toon bigot and a grump, Eddie’s legitimately concerned that someone as sweet as Betty is working in a seedy nightclub (“What are YOU doing in a place like this?”), and when she does the “Boo-boop-bee-doop!” dance, he gives her the sweetest little smile and indicates “Yeah, you still got it”. It’s a “little thing” that basically lets you know immediately that the old drunk is a nice guy underneath it all, showing some genuine affection for one of the toons he knows personally. So as gruff as he is, you side with Eddie immediately.
They also really brilliantly set up a lot of the later movie, so nothing feels like they just pulled it out of their ass. Laughter is stated to be deadly to the “Hyenas” the Weasels replaced, and Doom repeatedly warns them to stop laughing. The Acme Warehouse at the movie’s climax is seen earlier, and both the Hole and the Hammer (props Eddie uses to save his own life) are established by the cops that are screwing around with them. Any outlandish prop Eddie finds only in the final scene (the giant magnet or singing sword, for example) ends up not being useful, but the two that save him are set up earlier on.
But man, everyone I know mainly remembers that scene with the goddamn SHOE…
Eddie is your classic Film Noir Protagonist- hard-assed, sarcastic, bitter, drunk and prone to dealing with large-breasted dames who have problems. Of course he’s got a Rick Blaine-like Sad Past to deal with and lots of booze to drink down, and he has to get over his prejudice against Toons long enough to save the most annoying roommate in HISTORY, even if he doesn’t really want to. Words cannot describe how great Bob Hoskins was in this role- he had to basically act for himself in DOZENS of scenes, merely pretending Toons were in front of him (scenes were “blocked” using models, and the voice actors were just off-camera to help, but it’s mostly Bob 90% of the time- he notes that you can’t look right at the wall- you have to focus your eyes three feet in FRONT of yourself).
And he does it REALLY WELL- many scenes are extremely convincing, and shots where you can see he’s not really holding onto something are few and far between. Keep in mind that Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman & Hayden Christensen gave some of the worst, most emotionless performances in cinema history in the same circumstances (the first three are actually talented actors, too). To be frank, he absolutely deserved an Oscar that year, but wasn’t even nominated- this is one of the greatest performances ever. This film should have made him an instant star, but being short, old & overweight combined with starring in that theatrical abortion known as Super Mario Bros. did his career in pretty well.
There’s so much great stuff with Haskins’ acting. His reaction of Jessica Rabbit is along the lines of Sam Neil’s “Holy SHIT!” reaction to seeing a Brachiosaurus for the first time in Jurassic Park. That scene where he happily looks at the photos of him and Dolores on vacation… and then immediately tears up when he spots the pictures of himself with his dead brother (and right then, the camera pans over to the desk, where Teddy’s stuff sits covered in dust)- the acerbic asshole immediately becomes a sympathetic hero. The countless scenes with Roger and the Weasels. And then he has to pull off a song & dance routine like a clown.
About the Performer: Bob Hoskins has a pretty minor career, being a short, chubby actor, but his co-stars always spoke highly of him. This is his most popular role by far- “Super Mario Bros.” killed off all the momentum it gave him, however. Nonetheless, he had won many awards before he died, so definitely had credibility and respect.
Roger is a collection of numerous Cartoon Tropes of the Golden Age of Animation, being a clueless guy who bad things tend to happen to- effectively a Goofy-styled character. However, he’s got a good heart and is one of the bigger stars in Toontown- meaning that some people think it’s his WIFE who married up, and not HIM.
About the Performer: Charles Fleischer is primarily a voice actor, and did Roger, Benny the Cab, and two of the Weasels in this picture. His live-action stuff is usually minor roles in horror pictures, though he was Carvelli on “Welcome Back, Kotter”.
Has any character in history EVER had a better entrance that Jessica Rabbit going through a curtain BOOBS FIRST and singing Why Don’t You Do Right? while doing the “tease the men in the audience” thing? Like, what better introduction could any character ever have?
Jessica Rabbit is basically what happens when you take all the pervy animators in the world and force them to create the hottest woman ever- she’s so exaggeratedly hot that she goes from grotesque and unnatural to super-hawt again, no matter HOW bizarre her anatomy really is when you look at it. Scientific studies have basically proven that men are naturally attracted to an hourglass shape no matter HOW exaggerated it is. She has an exaggerated Veronica Lake look, with the bang hiding one eye, her giant eyelids nearly closing off her green eyes, and her tiny, sultrily-curled mouth.
Her legs are ludicrously long, her waist is ludicrously tiny, her ribcage puts her chest WAY out, and her prodigious bosom bounces in the opposite direction most women’s would, giving it an iconic “bounce”. All in all, it could be grotesque, but totally works as an exaggerated version of the hotties old animators used to draw. The fact that the movie is full of jokes about how hot she is (“nice Booby Trap”) to fit its PG rating is all the better. Also, KATHLEEN TURNER.
Jessica is also a classic Bad Girl from the Noir movies, but averts it in the end. Her dark, sultry looks make her appear threatening, and the way she effortlessly flirts with men to the point of destroying their psyches could easily have made her the perfect villain. Thankfully, she avoids all that, because she truly DOES love her idiotic husband, much to the surprise/chagrin of all the men around her. Stuff like this is what gives false hope to dorks everywhere .
Jessica isn’t an elite fighter, and has little to her in combat aside from being very athletic (and able to move pretty quickly in heels). Overall, her build (and WHAT a build!) reflects a standard Film Noir Dame, but for her staggering hawtness- she is so hot that she can bring an entire room to a drooling state just by tawking in- a Reaction Perception Area Affliction that slowly Fades (since people sorta get used to her… somehow).
About the Performer: Kathleen Turner is an iconic sex symbol of days past, and has the corresponding downturn in roles after she turned, say, about 35. Her lusty, deep, growly voice became an instant eye-opener, and makes her PERFECT for any sexpot role (and also works for aged characters, like Malibu Stacy’s creator on The Simpsons)- nude work in Body Heat turned her into one the most sought-after people of the ’80s and early ’90s, and pretty much set off the whole “Sex Movie” craze in Hollywood, which Sharon Stone would later capitalize on.
She once boasted that “on a night when I feel really good about myself, I can walk into a room, and if a man doesn’t look at me, he’s probably gay.” A bad case of arthritis did major damage to her career in the ’90s, as the resulting alcoholism and medication did a number on her looks- she notes that in her forties, “I started getting offers to play mothers and grandmothers”.
“Remember ME, Eddie!? When I KILLED your BROTHER!?!
And I TALKED… JUST… LIKE… THIS!!!!”
Geez, Christopher Lloyd was scary ENOUGH as the un-blinking, angry, threatening Judge Doom, but that transformation? Getting squashed flat fails to kill him, and it’s revealed that he was a TOON all along, popping his false eyes out, revealing RED SWIRLING EYES on Lloyd’s masked visage, speaking in a voice that comes directly from Satan’s own worst nightmare. I saw this as a kid, and was like “Holy HELL”, but thank goodness I was probably 12 or so- seeing it as a young boy would have probably frightened me the way watching Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings did as a lad, but even WORSE.
Doom is your classic great villain, too- frightening, utterly memorable, vicious and evil for the sake of evil- he wants to demolish Toontown just to make a profit with this newfangled “Freeway” idea. He even buys up the local Tram company just so more people will be forced to drive cars along it (this is based off of a real thing- car manufacturers bought out and demolished many public transit systems in order to force people to drive- I’m almost certain this is still a thing in major cities that have poor public transit- Edmonton has a TON of problems nowadays because we had 30+ years of anti-transit people in office).
Lloyd did an amazing job here, but so did the costumers and directors. He was told to never blink on camera, giving him an inhuman demeanor, which is added to by his stiff body language. His cloak seems to flap in the wind when nothing else in the scene does. His skin has a waxy pallor, resembling a corpse. His smile always seems WAY too forced- a combination of sadistic glee and an inability to show genuine affection. And when he finally does his big reveal later, we see the entire veneer of civilization slough off of him, turning him into the very incarnation of Nightmare Fuel.
About the Performer: Christopher Lloyd was an unexpected big star of the ’80s, as he was an odd-looking older dude, but the Back to the Future films were REALLY BIG, capping off his debut in stuff like One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest (where he looks so young you barely recognize him) and a much-beloved role on Taxi. Playing Judge Doom only helped his career, as that was a monster smash as well.
He became someone known for this pair of roles, and wasn’t in that many more huge things, but largely kept working during the ’90s, usually playing Quirky Old Dudes, like Uncle Fester in the Addams Family movies (another big pair of hits) or the bad guy in Dennis the Menace. A lot of kids stuff- The Pagemaster, Anastasia (as the memorable Rasputin), etc. He’s actually kept working into his late seventies, but work has trickled to minor projects and roles for the most part, as you’d expect. Not bad for a guy whose career peaked in his fifties.
Reception & Cultural Impact:
Oddly, this didn’t really set off a huge “Toons With Live Actors” craze, largely because of how INSANELY difficult that is to actually do. Cool World bombing put a nail in the coffin, too. But this movie did incredibly well, and led to a number of Roger Rabbit shorts, the Bonkers series, and even a Car Toon Spin dark ride at the Disney Parks- both Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland have “Toon Towns” based around a combination of Roger Rabbit and Mickey Mouse, complete with Benny the Cab appearing out of a large building (this moving animatronic is nearly always broken and immobile, however).
The ride is popular enough (despite dropping the planned feature that would have the cars literally moving outside the building during the ride) that it remains the one major obstacle to demolishing all of the much-maligned, rarely-upgraded Toon Town and replacing it with a more popular IP in the Park. The other obstacle is the fact that it’s the staging ground for the daily fireworks show, which means you have to close it early, no matter WHAT’S in there.
A proposed sequel has been in Developmental Hell for half a century- the advent of CGI helped kibosh the first one, plus Steven Spielberg’s both starting up DreamWorks and not wanting to deal satirically with Nazis (the proposed subject matter of the sequel- Spielberg had just done Schindler’s List). Then director Robert Zemeckis lost his studio. Then Disney corporate changed over many times. The current mindset of the studio has little love for, say, Jessica Rabbit (Zemeckis points this out as a specific reason, also adding the “sexiness” of the film isn’t their style at the moment), and sequels are not proven moneymakers any longer. Plus the original movie is too far in the past. AND Bob Hoskins died, taking out the heart of the project.
The REAL impact, however, is on the minds of the public- people now realized the full breadth of what animation could do- most of what we see today is, in fact, a LITTLE bit inspired by this film. More “adult” jokes, less “animation = only for kids”, etc. South Park, Beavis and Butt-Head and more all owe this movie a tremendous debt.