Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) / Comedy-Animation

MPAA Rated: PG for violence and some innuendo
Running Time: 103 min.

Cast: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy, Charles Fleischer (voice), Kathleen Turner (voice), Stubby Kaye, Alan Tilvern, Joel Silver (cameo), Mel Blanc (voice), Amy Irving (voice)
Director: Robert Zemeckis

Screenplay: Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman (based on the novel, "Who Censored Roger Rabbit?" by Gary K. Wolf
Review published December 20, 2006

This film is set in Los Angeles in the 1940s, where part of the city is the fictional Toontown, where all of the famous (and not so famous) cartoon characters (called "Toons") reside.  Bob Hoskins (Beyond the Sea, Unleashed) stars as a hard-nosed, alcoholic detective named Eddie Valiant, who has been doing petty jobs since his brother and partner died at the hands of a Toon.  His latest gig is to monitor the activities of Jessica Rabbit (voiced by Kathleen Turner, Prizzi's Honor), the wife of hotshot star Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer, A Nightmare on Elm Street), whom Eddie finds to be engaging in a game of "patty cake" with Toontown owner Marvin Acme (Kaye, Cat Ballou).  Acme ends up dead, Roger ends up being wanted for his murder, and it's up to Eddie to find out just what is at the bottom of the mystery of the murder and the sudden disappearance of Acme's will.

Most famous for its nearly seamless merging of animation with live action, Who Framed Roger Rabbit manages to be a rare film that pushes forward a technical idea that actually entertains on its own terms as well.  It also is a treat for anyone who loves early 20th Century animation, as this features many recognizable characters from a variety of studios, which can be fun when you're playing a game of "spot the cameo". 

The film itself is very loosely based on the 1981 novel, "Who Censored Roger Rabbit?", by Gary K. Wolf, though it became a beast of an entirely different nature by the time it hit the big screen.  It really is, more or less, an excuse to show off the unique blending of animated characters playing against their real-life counterparts, constructed around a family film setting.  It's a film that will please everyone from the very young (who will be enrapt in the cartoon aspect of the film) to the very old (especially those nostalgic for the characters from their own early childhood).  Perhaps best of all, the direction (by Robert Zemeckis, Back the Future) and storyline are interesting, and Hoskins does a marvelous job as the gruff and grumbling American detective at the heart of the film -- especially notable since in most scenes he had no one to actually play against, as the animated characters would be filled in later.

One caution to this family film: although PG-rated, there are a number of killings throughout of Toon and human characters.  The final scenes can be especially intense for younger viewers, who may get restless at the violence, the scary-looking villain, and in seeing beloved characters in mortal jeopardy (not to mention the innuendo and language issues that some parents might object to).

Of course, in today's films, full-blown and very realistic CG characters interacting with real-life actors are very common, so there is a bit of a dated aspect to Who Framed Roger Rabbit in its quality and style of animation, despite garnering several Academy Awards for its technical achievements.  Nevertheless, its depiction of 1940s Los Angeles, and its respectful homage to Golden Era animation still allows the film to continue in appeal above and beyond the hybrid aspect of the production, plus it is genuinely funny, interesting, and finds the right balance of physical comedy, satire, and irony to emerge as winning entertainment.

-- Three future theatrically-released shorts would be made featuring the main animated characters: "Tummy Trouble", "Roller Coaster Rabbit", and "Trail Mixup". 

Qwipster's rating

©2006 Vince Leo