“We toons may act idiotic, but we’re not stupid!”
Forget the big-name actors in movies like Grand Hotel, Around the World in 80 Days, Murder on the Orient Express and Mars Attacks! Here’s the real all-star cast: Mickey, Bugs, Donald, Daffy, Goofy, Yosemite Sam, Betty Boop, Woody Woodpecker, Droopy and more, along with a long-eared newcomer named Roger. Who Framed Roger Rabbit not only boasted the most impressive cartoon lineup in movie history, it was a groundbreaking achievement in mixing those toon actors with live-action stars like Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd. It also happened to be more fun than you could shake a portable hole at.
Like any good movie, Who Framed Roger Rabbit begins with a short cartoon-”Somethin’s Cookin’.” Manic bunny Roger Rabbit is left in charge of adorable Baby Herman, who gets into one dangerous situation after another. Roger risks life and furry limb to protect his charge, but when a refrigerator falls on his head and a flock of bluebirds circle his noggin, it’s the last straw. Live-action human director Raoul J. Raoul shouts, “Cut!,” a now foul-mouthed and cigar-smoking Baby Herman complains that Roger’s blowing his lines (he was supposed to see stars, not birds), and Roger is threatened with being fired.
It’s Hollywood, 1947, and in an upstairs office at Maroon Cartoons, studio honcho R.K. Maroon hires detective Eddie Valiant on a job. Roger’s been distracted by his shapely cartoon wife Jessica, and Maroon thinks she’s been “playing pattycake” with gag tycoon Marvin Acme. Eddie hates toons (one killed his brother), but he needs the cash. Over at the Ink and Paint Club-where Betty Boop is a cigarette girl and Donald and Daffy Duck wage a war of dueling pianos-Eddie gets photos of Jessica’s pattycake affair.
Roger is crushed by the photos, and the next morning Marvin Acme turns up dead. Naturally, Roger is the chief suspect, and creepy lawman Judge Doom promises to find him and throw him in the “Dip”-a combination of turpentine, acetone and benzine, the only way to kill a toon. A panicked Roger forces Eddie to take his case, and the two set out to unravel a complex plot involving L.A.’s planned freeway system, a mysterious will, and the neighboring world of Toontown, home to cartoon characters great and small.
Simply put, Who Framed Roger Rabbit was unlike any film the world had ever seen. Not only was the technique first rate-cartoons cast shadows, carried real silver trays, spat real water, etc.-but the story, based on Gary K. Wolf’s novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit, was a unique blend of 1940′s film noir with the classic cartoons of the same decade.
The film itself was the result of an unprecedented collaborative effort. Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) got directing credit, but Richard Williams’ animation direction (which won a Special Oscar) was just as vital. Jeffrey Price and Peter Seaman adapted the novel to the screen, adding non-stop gags, one-liners and inside jokes, while executive producer Steven Spielberg personally helped arrange the teaming of Disney, Warner Bros., Paramount, MGM and Universal cartoon characters, a potential legal nightmare.
Of course, none of this mattered to the kids in the theaters, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit knew it. The movie never let its innovation spoil its fun. Fast, funny and filled with recognizable faces, the film was a young moviegoer’s dream come true, and it was family entertainment in the best sense of the word. As the critics praised the movie’s genius, children of all ages made Who Framed Roger Rabbit one of the biggest hits of the year and a classic for the ages.
If you have fond memories of this cartoon extravaganza, we welcome all of your Who Framed Roger Rabbit memories in our comments section, as we tip our hats to Touchstone for this unique and entertaining 80s film.