Thursday, January 1, 2015

Working When It Commits To Its Adult Themes, Who Framed Roger Rabbit Delivers!

The Good: Acting, Animation, Adult plot developments and character motivations
The Bad: Child-oriented jokes and cop-outs, Simplistic moments
The Basics: Attempting to straddle the child and adult themes, Who Framed Roger Rabbit works when it commits to the complexities and might well be the peak of Bob Hoskins’s performances.

As 2015 begins, I find myself catching up with a few things I did not quite get to in 2014. At the top of my list, was writing something in tribute to Bob Hoskins. Hoskins died in April of 2014 and right around the time I found myself with enough time to watch new (to me) movies and write a tribute, Robin Williams died. But, with the possibility of a sequel to Who Framed Roger Rabbit hitting theaters in 2015, I figured that I could start out my new movie reviews of 2015 by rewatching and reviewing Who Framed Roger Rabbit. In fact, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is an exceptional example of the talent Bob Hoskins possessed; given that much of his performance in Who Framed Roger Rabbit forced him to interact with virtual characters (in a time when film was still the medium) and that Hoskins nailed the performance, he was undeniably a genuine talent.

Until tonight, I had not seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit since it aired in theaters. I recall seeing the movie as a child on the big screen, but I never bothered to rewatch it until now. Outside a few blown eyelines, the live-action and animated film holds up remarkably well on the acting front. Occupying a weird niche between noir detective film and a parody of the same, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is, at the very least, a fun flick.

In Hollywood, 1947, Roger Rabbit is the co-star of Baby Herman cartoons, but he keeps blowing his lines. Eddie Valiant is a down-on-his-luck private detective who is called to Maroon Cartoons’ offices by the studio’s owner where he is hired to find out if Roger’s wife, Jessica, is stepping out on him. After paying down his bar tab with half the payment he gets from Maroon, Valiant reluctantly enters the toon underbelly of Los Angeles (reluctant because a toon killed his brother by dropping a piano on him). Valiant follows Jessica Rabbit from the club at which she works to a rendezvous where Marvin Acme . . . where they play pattycake (literally). After taking photographs of the two together, Valiant delivers the evidence to Maroon and Roger Rabbit freaks out. The next morning, Acme is found murdered and Roger Rabbit is the prime suspect.

But a trip to the scene of the crime near Toon Town puts Valiant in contact with the menacing Judge Doom. Judge Doom kills an animated shoe in front of Valiant and soon Baby Herman provides Valiant with a motive for Acme’s murder. Apparently, Acme was going to leave Toon Town to the toons and when Valiant sees that the will which would have turned over the town to the toon actually existed, he finds himself mired in the case. Teaming up with Roger Rabbit, Valiant works to exonerate the rabbit, find the will and stop Judge Doom from unleashing his genocidal Dip on Toon Town!

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a fun noir-ish film that is based upon a novel, which to be honest, I have not read. But many of the best moments in Who Framed Roger Rabbit have a very literary sense of spark to them. And, like many ‘80s films that are oft-quoted, Who Framed Roger Rabbit has some startlingly memorable lines.

What is perhaps most surprising about Who Framed Roger Rabbit is that it is actually a fairly adult film, mistaken for a kid’s movie because of the film’s unreal characters. Despite having some ridiculous jokes involving competing animated characters (Disney and Warner Bros. characters openly compete in little subplots and side-scenes throughout the film), Who Framed Roger Rabbit has a plot that is given surprisingly adult concepts and motivations. Judge Doom rose to power by buying an election and the conspiracy surrounding the missing will has to do with competing bids and real estate transactions that will go way over the heads of children.

In addition to having character motivations that are not simplistic and a surprisingly dark climax that is fairly terrifying, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is the gold standard for actors who want to work with virtual characters. In addition to Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd is impressive as Judge Doom. While Judge Doom is something of a monolithic evil character, Lloyd brings a quiet menace to the role that is unsettling to watch. His interactions with characters like Roger Rabbit when Roger is vibrating manically are wonderful to watch; he and Hoskins sell the weird reality of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Unfortunately, the failure of the film to commit to its more adult themes robs it of perfection. But perfect or not, Bob Hoskins is amazing as he talks to Roger Rabbit with all the emotion and nuance, as if the animated character was actually sitting beside him. Combined with all the jokes and serious moments that actually make for a deep story, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is worth rewatching . . . even if it takes a couple of decades to get around to it!

For other works with Bob Hoskins, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Snow White And The Huntsman
A Christmas Carol


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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