In the short time following the confirmation of the sad news of Bob Hoskins’ death, I made the decision very quickly that as soon as time allowed, I would be watching one of my all-time favourite movies, as a tribute to it’s star. Who Framed Roger Rabbit broke ground never stepped on before, and changed the face of cinema.
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Staring: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Charles Fleischer, Joanna Cassidy
Run Time: 104 Minutes
Release Date: 1988
Based on the novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, the film nabbed director Zemeckis as soon as he read the screenplay’s opening scene of Roger and Baby Herman walking off a cartoon set and right into the real world. And I still remember watching the film for the first time and being taken aback by this. This was new, this was different, something never done before. And done so well.The ‘toons look like they belong, at no point does it feel like you are watching a newfangled movie technology on the screen before you. Of course, you know you are, but the film does such a good job of sucking you into it’s world you find yourself allowing it to happen and going on the ride with it. Much credit must be given to Hoskins, who sells the human-cartoon interaction in a way that many actors couldn’t. Credit also to the toons themselves, or at least the artists behind them, who ensure that the animated stars more than hold their own when on-screen with the human cast members. More than any, the chemistry between Roger and Valiant makes the movie.
Hoskins spent a lot of time acting opposite Fleischer dressed in a Roger bunny outfit, but you can sense watching this film that with every word that came out of his mouth, Hoskins was imagining the whole time that Roger himself was standing in front of him. Other actors were originally up for the role, but with all due respect to Harrison Ford and Bill Murray, Hoskins was always the man for this role.
The first stage of the film takes place firmly in live action, again with the toons looking right at home, but when Valiant takes a trip to ToonTown the movie goes to a whole new level. Hoskins is now interacting in a cartoon world, leading to some great cameos from Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse – the first time these two animated icons appeared on-screen together. Earlier appearances from the Ducks Daffy and Donald highlight the marvelous negotiations used to get all these famous toons together in one place. If I had one slight criticism of the film – and even this is flawed – it would have been nice to see more from the brand name cartoons. At the same time, however, the film’s brisk 100 minutes fly by and increased screen time for Micky, Bugs et al may have led the picture to feel longer than necessary. Besides, this film is about Roger, and only showing the famous names only briefly never allows the viewer to forget about the real star of the film. From the first moment he appears, you know Roger is a character you can root for. And you know you will.
Away from the titular hero, the strong toon supporting cast include the iconic Jessica Rabbit, who became a fantasy symbol for many a male viewer, and Baby Herman gets a couple of great early lines. On the human side of things, Christopher Lloyd hams it up superbly as the evil Judge Doom in one of those performances that screams “I’m having so much fun doing this!”.
As the film hurtles into it’s final act, Hoskins and Lloyd get some decent screen time opposite one another and rather predictably they don’t disappoint. And while the revelation of Doom’s real identity as a toon is hardly surprising, it still works and wraps things up nicely, especially with him doing as all good bad guys do and falling victim to his own fatal creation.
The family-friendly final scene of all the toons celebrating is a feelgood moment that works for adults and kids alike, and brings to an end a delightful concoction of technical marvel and a great script.
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A groundbreaking mix of live action and animation
Christopher Lloyd is suitably villainous as Judge Doom
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Would have been nice to see more from the famous toons that show up