It's a mad, mad, mad, mad, 'toon world!
One of the biggest hits of 1988 came in the form of director Robert Zemeckis' live action/cartoon romp Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. Produced by über-filmmaker Steven Spielberg, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? broke box office records as a zany romp about a man, a woman, and a lovelorn animated rabbit. Zemeckis also found a way to put Bugs Bunny (a Warner Brothers cartoon) and Mickey Mouse (a Disney character) on the same screen together! Folks, does it get any better than that? Featuring Bob Hoskins (Mona Lisa), Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future), and Joanna Cassidy (John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars), Who Framed Roger Rabbit? comes to DVD in a new two-disc Vista Series set care of Buena Vista Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
In what might be considered an alternate universe, 1947 Hollywood, California, is brimming with movie stars, bright lights…and real live cartoons! Yes, among Clark Gable and Greta Garbo are such famous 'toon faces as Bugs Bunny and Donald Duck. In what seems to be a cruel twist of fate, one famous cartoon named Roger Rabbit (voiced with manic glee by Charles Fleischer) has been framed for the murder of gag factory mogul Marvin Acme (the legendary Stubby Kaye, Cat Ballou). Detective Eddie Valiant (Hoskins)—who'd been working on a case involving Roger's voluminously drawn wife Jessica (Kathleen Turner, The War of the Roses) and some hanky panky with Mr. Acme—finds himself trying to defend Roger from the dreaded Judge Doom (Lloyd) and his band of cartoon weasels who want to exterminate Roger in a vile death sentence called "the dip." As Eddie and Roger duck in and out of the back lots of Hollywood, as well as the zaniness of Toontown and its cast of misfit 'toons (including almost every animated character produced), they'll attempt to discover just Who Framed Roger Rabbit!
It could be that Who Framed Roger Rabbit?'s most impressive feat was taking two mediums—animation and live action—and making them work together with unflinching accuracy. Although the idea of taking cartoons and slapping them inside a filmed movie wasn't new (Disney had done this before with Pete's Dragon, among others), Who Framed Roger Rabbit? took this time worn tradition and made it new, something fresh—Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was, in effect, revolutionary. Director Robert Zemeckis took on the task of using actors like Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd (in a wonderfully manic performance as Toontown's resident baddie) as a springboard for the wonderfully inventive animation throughout out the film. Never before or since have so many animated figures been collected in one enormous film: Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Goofy, Dumbo, Yosemite Sam, and dozens of other famous characters pop up out of the woodwork (which reminds me, I think Woody Woodpecker's somewhere in there as well).
There are about a zillion reasons why I liked Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. Instead of going over them detail by detail (because let's be honest, you don't want to read sixteen pages on why I think this movie is great), I'm going to just give you the top four reasons why I think everyone should see Who Framed Roger Rabbit?:
Reason #1: It's groundbreaking entertainment!
That's right, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is the type of movie that had never been seen before (with this type of complexity), and though there have been many imitators since (The Pagemaster, Cool World, Space Jam), there have been no equals. The movie broke all barriers and features animation melded with live action that's about as realistic as we're ever going to see. In a way, this was the start of utilizing drawn characters and having them interact with live actors—Jar-Jar Binks and The Hulk owe a small debt to Zemeckis and his brilliant direction.
Reason #2: It's funny!
Hysterical, in fact. The film thrives on many moments of hilarity that will resonate with both kids (the slapstick stuff) and adults (a few cynical zingers about the "freeway" system in Los Angeles). Roger Rabbit himself is a crack-up, and Christopher Lloyd's performance is near deserving of an Oscar nomination. Along the way, there are a ton of other great characters (Jessica Rabbit, Benny the Cab, the Weasels) and a great turn by the late Stubby Kaye as the jokester Marvin Acme. All in all a wonderfully loony cast of humans and 'toons.
Reason #3: Alan Silvestri's music score!
Evoking an era long since past, Silvestri's haunting, often jazzy tunes capture the mood of the early 1900s Los Angeles perfectly. From Roger's zaniness to a darkly lit bar full of passed out booze patrons, this is one of the composer's best efforts. Since his score for Zemeckis' Romancing the Stone, the two have become collaborators in the vein of Herrmann and Hitchcock, Williams and Spielberg. As a side note, the CD soundtrack sells for big bucks on eBay, so if you find it, snag it!
Reason #4: It's not just bright and shiny kiddy fluff!
Unlike most animated films marketed towards kids, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? included both fuzzily warm elements and dark undertones. The whole idea of "dipping" a cartoon character and killing it off is pretty creepy, and get a load of Judge Doom's alter ego at the end of the film! It's rare to find a movie that works well for both minors and adults, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit pulls off this feat impressively.
And there are many, many other reasons to see Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. But do you really need that many more? If you haven't seen this wonderful Disney/Touchstone flick (and really, who among you haven't?), this is the perfect opportunity to pick it up!
A few years back, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was released in a DVD edition featuring a shoddy non-anamorphic transfer that left much to be desired from fans. I'm happy to report that Buena Vista has rolled out the red carpet for this new edition with a 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, enhanced for 16x9 TV sets. Overall, this is an exceptionally attractive picture that boasts strong colors (lots of reds and blues) as well as dark, solid black levels. The only minor imperfections I noticed were a small amount of edge enhancement in a few key scenes. Otherwise, fans should definitely trade in their old disc for this new, better looking image. Also included on this disc is a "family friendly" (huh?) pan and scan version of the film. I guess this is okay for kids, but shouldn't we be showing them at an early age what real movies should look like?
The soundtrack is presented in multiple options: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English), DTS 5.1 Surround (English and only included on the widescreen version of the film), and Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French and Spanish). This sound mix is good, if not great—there aren't a ton of effects to be found from the left and right speakers, though Alan Silvestri's bouncy music score is prominently featured throughout. While I really would have liked to have heard a bit more "oomph" in these mixes, they're apt for the film they're supporting. Of the two tracks, the DTS might have a slight hold over the Dolby 5.1, but not by very much. Also included on these discs are English closed captions and subtitles.
Fans rejoice! After years of waiting, Buena Vista has finally put together a coveted "Vista Series" two-disc set of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. Featuring all the bells and whistles a fan could want, this set is sure to please rabid Roger fans alike. Here's a rundown of what's on this set:
Roger Rabbit Short Films: Included under this section are the following Roger Rabbit shorts: "Tummy Trouble," "Roller Coaster Rabbit," and "Trail Mix-Up." It's a real treat to get these short cartoons in this disc, and a bonus that they're presented in anamorphic widescreen. Kids and adults alike will eat these shorts up. Each is also presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English.
Finally on the first disc there are two trailers for the films Ultimate X and Schoolhouse Rock, plus a "Trouble in Toon Town" game that's quite bland.
Deleted Scene: A single deleted scene—"The Pig Head Sequence"—is included with an introduction by director Robert Zemeckis. Zemeckis seems disappointed that his scene was trimmed from the final cut of the film. Overall this is one of the better deleted scenes on a disc—the scene might have added something to the film, and the full frame presentation looks like it's in good shape.
Behind The Ears: The True Story of Roger Rabbit: This lengthy retrospective on the film includes interviews with Robert Zemeckis, Don Hahn, Lou Hirsch (Baby Herman's voice), Richard Williams, Arthur Schmidt, Steve Starkey, Bob Hoskins, and Roger's own voice, Charles Fleischer. Aside of footage from the shoot, this fine piece includes stories about how the film came into being, the challenges of the animation, and Charles Fleischer parading around the set in a life sized rabbit uniform.
Valiant Files: This feature is basically a game wherein the viewer can snoop around Eddie's office and find all kinds of information about the production of the film. If you don't have the patience to figure out the codes and play the games, there's a cheat sheet that allows the viewer to see what's inside the section. Everything from promotional titles to Chuck Jones animation to original character sketches and models are included in this section.
Toon Stand-Ins: This is a neat little feature about how rubber sculptures of the animated characters were used as stand-ins while the actors did their thing. "Somewhere out there there's an entire motion picture of Roger Rabbit where instead of cartoon characters there's full sized rubber sculptures of the characters," one crewmember muses. This feature includes lots of behind-the-scenes footage featuring these life-sized props.
Before and After: Included in this section is a split-screen look at the final version of the film and what it was like for Bob Hoskins to film the cartoon sequences on a solid blue soundstage.
On Set!: This short (under five minutes) featurette sends us to the sequences where Bob Hoskins is inside Benny the Cab. This behind-the-scenes piece gives fans a glimpse into how this scene was produced, and the director at work.
Toontown Confidential: This is one of those fact tracks where trivia bits and fun tips about the movie pop up from time to time. Most of this trivia information is new stuff that isn't found anywhere else on this set, so it's worth the time to watch.
THX Optimizer: If you don't know what this is by now, you don't deserve to own a DVD player.
This newly produced set is well worth your time and money. Discard that old version of the film and replace it with this worthy two-disc edition. As for the film itself, it was a breakthrough movie in 1988 (can you believe it's been 15 years since it's release?) and still manages to inspire awe and wonder in both the young and the old alike. Highly recommended.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is found acquitted of every crime under the shiny Toontown sun! Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
• Commentary Track by Director Robert Zemeckis and Filmmakers Frank Marshall, Jeffrey Price, Peter Seaman, Steve Starkey, and Ken Ralston
Review content copyright © 2003 Patrick Naugle; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.