Epic Movie (Re)Watch #119 - Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Have I Seen It Before: Yes.
Did I Like It Then: Yes.
Do I Remember It: Yes.
Did I See It In Theaters: No.
1) Starting this comedy/noir film off with what appears to be an animated cartoon from the 40s is a good way of establishing tone for a few reasons. First of all it tells us what kind of toons Roger and company are. The kind that star in short after short after short like Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny, as opposed to say the Care Bears (it was the 80s, so I’m going with that example) who had a TV Show and a movie. It also introduces us to Roger, Baby Herman, the idea of ACME in cartoons, and Maroon studios. Also the film’s excellence in slapstick is there from the get go.
2) But as soon as the cartoon is over, we’re in the “real” world. This film has a slight bit of edge to it that I wildly appreciate. Not like Martin Scorsese edge, but come on. This is a film starring animated characters that has swearing, murder, sexual innuendo galore, and an alcoholic main character. For example in the original version of the film (now edited out): after Baby Herman walks under the skirt of a female employee on set, his finger is extended upward and has some liquid on it. That is VERY adult but will go over the heads of children.
3) According to IMDb:
Joel Silver’s cameo as the director of the Baby Herman cartoon was a prank on Disney chief Michael Eisner by Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg. Eisner and Silver hated each other from their days at Paramount Pictures in the early ‘80s, particularly after the difficulties involved in making 48 Hrs. (1982). Silver shaved off his beard, paid his own expenses, and kept his name out of all initial cast sheets. When Eisner was told, after the movie was complete, who was playing the director - Silver was nearly unrecognizable - he reportedly shrugged and said, “He was pretty good.”
4) Bob Hoskins as Eddie Valiant.
Eddie is a wildly interesting character. He’s a former goofball who has kept his sharp tongue for wiseass remarks and being a pain in the ass, which is always appreciated by me. His conflict is incredibly interesting (more on that later) and he’s just a great character to follow around in this world.
Bob Hoskins is perfect for this role. I’ll go into detail on this later but his interactions with the cartoon characters look easy when they’re not, and Hoskins is able to balance the sourpuss aspect of Eddie’s personality with the wiseass, heartache, alcoholism, and former goofball in a complete package.
According to IMDb:
On the Special Edition DVD, Robert Zemeckis recounts that he had stated in a newspaper interview that Bill Murray was his and producer Steven Spielberg’s original choice for the role of Eddie Valiant, but neither could get in contact with him in time. Bill Murray, in turn, has stated that when he read the interview he was in a public place, but he still screamed his lungs out, because he would have definitely accepted the role.
I think Hoskins can’t be replaced though.
5) This film is more of a noir film than an animated fantasy. You have your archetypes like RK Maroon begin the big money slime, Judge Doom is the shady government official, and Jessica Rabbit it the femme fatale. This is felt in every aspect of the film, from the cinematography right down to Alan Silvestri’s wonderful music.
6) Remember how I said Eddie had a great conflict?
Angelo [bar patron who Eddie flipped out on]: “What’s his problem?”
Dolores [Eddie’s sort-of-girlfriend and bar owner]: “Toon killed his brother.”
Like that is such a strange idea, a murderous toon, and it provides such great conflict for Eddie. A conflict which we see laid out before us when the camera takes the time to look at all the stuff on his and Teddy’s desk. You SEE that Eddie is in pain, and without a flashback you see the guy he used to be when his brother was around. The fun goofball who liked working Toontown and helpings toons out. To go from that to where he is now takes a lot of heartbreak.
7) I love that the password to get into the Ink & Paint Club is, “Walt sent me.”
8) Daffy and Donald Duck.
This is the first (and to date only) time cartoon characters owned by Warner Brothers and Disney have appeared in a film together. Since the film was being made by Disney, WB only allowed to have their characters show up if the major characters had the same amount of screen time as the Disney characters. That’s why Donald/Daffy and later Mickey/Bugs always share the screen together.
As a kid THIS was my favorite part of the film! The crossover aspect. Getting to see characters interact who normally don’t. AND they got the official actors at the time to voice them. Mel Blanc voices all his Looney Tunes characters, Tony Anselmo is Donald, and Wayne Allwine is Mickey Mouse. These aren’t cheap cameos, these are the genuine articles and that’s amazing!
9) There are also some appearances by non-Disney/non-WB characters, such as Betty Boop.
I think the inclusion of Betty is a nice way to pay respect to the early days of studio animation, and her original voice actress was still alive at the time so she got a chance to reprise the character.
10) Jessica Rabbit.
Before anything else, I would just like to point out that Jessica’s proportions are PURPOSEFULLY impossible. I think that this is done to play into the idea of her being a femme fatale, but more so even to critique some of the ridiculous bodies animated female characters have (but that last part may just be wishful thinking on my part). Kathleen Turner unfortunately does not get credit for her voiceover work as Jessica, which is a shame because she gives the character so much of her heart and intrigue. When she’s just the femme fatale Jessica’s a bit of a stereotype but by the end of the film she becomes truly interesting to me because she doesn’t just fill that role. There’s also a fan theory about Jessica I’m totally onboard with, but more on that later.
11) Robert Zemeckis’ films are marked for their incredible special effects, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit is no exception. Ask yourself: every time an animated character opens a door, or moves a desk, or splashes water, or bumps into a lamp, or (in the case of Jessica) pulls Eddie close to them by his tie and then lets him go, how did they do that on set? Because they had to! CGI is not a factor in this film. The animation is done by drawing over the film that was shot in the traditional fashion, but everything else had to be done practically on set. It’s so subtle and so natural that I marvel at it every time.
12) Okay, I love the theory that Jessica Rabbit is asexual. If you want to read the full post click the link above but here are the basic points of argument:
- She’s in love with a rabbit because he makes her laugh.
- She uses her body to get things she wants from people, but outside of that doesn’t she interest in anybody.
- Her line, “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.”
- Her line, “You don’t know how hard it is being a woman looking the way I do.”
The only thing that really contradicts the theory is that later in the movie Eddie says to Jessica that Roger is a better lover than a driver, to which she replies, “You better believe it buster.” But I can easily see that as her defending his loving husband side instead of any sexual prowess.
13) Another thing that supports the asexual Jessica theme is that instead of her doing anything sexual with Marvin Acme, she plays Patty Cake with him. Like literally, patty cake.
(GIF source unknown [if this is your GIF please let me know].)
That is a joke I did not understand as a child.
14) I haven’t talked too much about Roger’s voice actor yet, Charles Fleischer.
During filming, Charles Fleischer delivered Roger Rabbit’s lines off camera in full Roger costume including rabbit ears, yellow gloves and orange cover-alls. During breaks when he was in costume, other staff at the studios would see him and make comments about the poor caliber of the effects in the “rabbit movie”.
Fleischer’s voice IS Roger in so many ways. All he can do to deliver Roger’s heart is speak, and Fleischer’s performance in this film is not to be underwritten because it is amazing. It is full with such life, such heart, and a surprising amount of honesty. It works brilliantly.
15) You have to keep your eyes open for the little innuendos in this film. For example, when Eddie meets Jessica at the crime scene he quickly peeks down at her boobs. This is the first time I’ve ever noticed that and I’ve seen this film a lot.
16) Christopher Lloyd as Judge Doom.
Director Robert Zemeckis had worked with Lloyd on their most iconic film Back to the Future (where Lloyd played Doc Brown), and now Lloyd gets to show off his villainous side. He is wonderfully and gleefully evil, showing no remorse and has a cartoon like quality which makes the bad guy work wonderfully in the role. He’s just threatening enough but also just funny enough. And Lloyd never phones it in once. It’s a fantastic performance through and through.
16.5) Can we talk about how this judge just murdered a cartoon shoe for no other reason than to show that he could and no one stopped him. Like, is the shoe technically a prop and so it doesn’t count as murder? Because that thing seems more alive than a prop!
17) So I talked about Roger’s voice actor but not much about Roger as a character yet.
Roger is a pure cartoon character, and I mean that in a sort of literal sense. He’s not tainted by greed or hatred, he is pure joy and humor. A bit of a dunce but he trusts people and WANTS to see the best in them. His entire purpose in life is to make people life and that feeds every decision he makes. It’s a wonderful cartoon counterpart to Hoskins as Eddie.
18) Hoskins’ interactions with Roger is where he shines. Because remember, Hoskins was not on set with Rogers. He was looking at an empty space which would be drawn in latter. But when you watch the film he’s never looking through the space. He’s miming it excellently, he is looking AT an animated character who isn’t even there yet. It’s amazing and the key reason he excels in the role.
19) I never caught this line before.
Roger [asking Eddie for help]: “You know there’s no justice for toons anymore.”
So toons are sort of a disenfranchised minority. That’s an interesting concept. If there’s a sequel maybe they’ll play with it.
20) According to IMDb:
When Eddie takes Roger Rabbit into the back room at the bar where Dolores works to cut apart the hand-cuffs, the lamp from ceiling is bumped and swinging. Lots of extra work was needed to make the shadows match between the actual room shots and the animation. Today, “Bump the Lamp” is a term used by many Disney employees to refer to going that extra mile on an effect just to make it a little more special, even though most audience members will never notice it.
21) @theforceisstronginthegirl, this is for you:
(GIF originally posted by @i-am-the-wallflower)
Nothing sums up Roger more than the fact that he can only get out of those handcuffs when it’s funny. It feeds into how Roger entertains all the guys at the tavern because they’re down on their luck, even though they could turn him over to Doom for a ton of cash (but they don’t). He believes in the power of laughter.
Judge Doom [upon observing the record on the record player]: “‘The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down’. Quite a looney selection for a bunch of drunken reprobates.”
“The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down” is the theme to the Looney Tunes shorts.
23) The rest of the bar scene is filled with so many great cartoon gags. The fact that Judge Doom is able to lure Roger out by having him respond to, “Shave and a haircut,” is great. But a subtler reference is how Eddie gets Roger to drink the alcohol and loose control (thereby freeing himself from Doom). They go back and forth where Eddie wants Roger to drink the drink but Roger doesn’t want it, but when Eddie says Roger DOESN’T want the drink Roger says he wants it just to continue the conflict. Sound familiar?
24) Benny the cab is another fun original character added to the film, and he’s the same voice over actor as Roger!
25) I find this hysterical.
Benny [right before they’re going to hit a car]: “Pull the lever!”
Eddie: “Which one?”
Roger: “Which one?”
Benny: “‘WHICH ONE?’!?”
26) I am so ashamed of myself that I never caught the Back to the Future reference this film makes! Benny is driving down an alleyway and the evil weasels are driving straight towards him, and one of the weasels declares, “I’m gonna ram him!” Well in Back to the Future (also directed by Robert Zemeckis) Biff Tannen is about do the same thing to Marty McFly and says the EXACT same line as we get the EXACT same shot of his car!
I love that.
27) Me too Roger, me too.
Roger [expecting another cartoon to play in the movie theater but it’s a news reel]: “I hate the news.”
28) When we were introduced to Roger in the opening cartoon, I was trying to dissect what made him a unique cartoon character. Like Donald has his temper tantrums, Bugs Bunny is a wise guy, and Roger I’ve discovered likes to go on tangents. Like someone will tell him to do something and he’ll talk for five minutes about how well he’ll do it even when no one is around to listen. I like that.
29) The animated bullets Eddie uses in the gun given to him by Yosemite Sam are very much in the style of Chuck Jones and I can appreciate that.
30) It’s pretty fun watching for all the animated characters the filmmakers inserted into Toontown.
31) Droopy Dog is another cartoon character who shows up despite not being owned by Disney or WB. This meant he got to show up again later in an animated Roger Rabbit cartoon.
32) When Eddie is in a Toontown bathroom there’s writing on the wall that says, “For a Good Time Call Alyson ‘Wonderland’,” but then there’s no phone number. The theatrical release DID have a phone number but it was Michael Eisner’s home phone (I think) so it was edited out for the home video release.
33) What could possibly top Donald Duck & Daffy Duck dueling pianos?
I love everything about this. But it also gets to another agreement between WB & Disney: Disney did not want any of their characters doing anything to harm Eddie, so that’s why when he gets the “spare” from Mickey & Bugs (it’s a spare tire but he thought it was a parachute) it is BUGS who gives it to him!
Honestly it’d be awesome if Disney and WB could make more crossover cartoons. That would be pretty awesome.
34) File this one under jokes I didn’t get as a kid:
35) So Judge Doom’s end goal, his whole villainous plan, is to construct…a freeway? God, if it weren’t for the twist coming up that would’ve been so stupid.
36) Eddie’s comedy routine is great. It shows Bob Hoskins’ skill at slapstick and goofball and is just a joy to watch. Also we get this fun line:
Eddie: I’m through with taking falls / And bouncing off the walls / Without that gun, I’d have some fun / I’d kick you in the…
[bottle falls on his head]
Head Weasel: Nose? That don’t rhyme with “walls.”
Eddie: No, but this does. [kicks Head Weasel in the balls, propelling him into a vat of Dip]
37) Doom is a toon!
This is a nice twist in the film that you can totally see was setup if you’re looking for it. Christopher Lloyd is able to play Doom with an even bigger sense of cartoony evil, and it means his end goal of a freeway isn’t so stupid after all.
38) The train that hits the dip machine at the end has a bunch of window. If you go through it frame by frame, each window depicts someone being murdered. Fun fun fun.
39) According to IMDb:
The opening track on the Sting album “…Nothing Like the Sun”, the song “The Lazarus Heart” was originally written as the movie’s musical finale, at an early stage of the movie’s production when the book’s tragic ending, where Roger is killed in the crossfire during the final duel, was still in the script. When the studio ordered its default ending to be used at the film’s end, in which Roger is alive at the end of the duel, however, the song was deleted from the script and ended up on Sting’s album instead.
40) I like that the film ends not only with the classic, “That’s All Folks,” but also Tinkerbell to let us know this was special.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is awesome. It’s fun, funny, gives us interesting characters, has effects which stand the test of time even 29 years later, and is just a wonderful ride. Hoskins’ performance and the animation are the true standouts here, but that is not to discredit any of the other amazing aspects of the film. A true joy to watch all the way through.