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Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Entry updated 14 October 2020. Tagged: Film.

US live-action/animated film (1988). Warner / Touchstone (Disney) / Amblin. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Animation director: Richard Williams (uncredited). Producers: Frank Marshall and Robert Watts. Written by Jeffrey Price and Peter S Seaman, loosely based on Who Censored Roger Rabbit? (1981) by Gary K Wolf. Special effects by Industrial Light & Magic. Cast includes Joanna Cassidy, Bob Hoskins, Stubby Kaye, Christopher Lloyd and Alan Tilvern. Voice cast includes Mel Blanc, Charles Fleischer, Lou Hirsch, Amy Irving, Kathleen Turner (uncredited) and Richard Williams. 104 minutes. Colour.

Private eye Eddie Valiant (Hoskins) has turned to drink since the murder of his brother by a Toon, one of the animated characters who co-exist with humans in this Alternate-World 1947 Tinseltown. Another Toon, Roger Rabbit (Fleischer) – co-star in Maroon Cartoons' series of animated shorts starring Baby Herman (Hirsch) – is fluffing his lines because concerned that his wife Jessica (speaking voice Turner; singing voice Irving) has become involved with the owner of Toontown, Marvin Acme (Kaye). Valiant, a confirmed Toon-hater, reluctantly accepts from studio boss R K Maroon (Tilvern) the commission to dog Jessica and capture her indiscretions on film, with the intention of shocking Roger out of his anxiety. Valiant takes the photographs, but then Acme is murdered and Roger is chief suspect. Judge Doom (Lloyd), sadistic arbiter of all matters Toonish, pronounces Roger guilty without trial and declares the rabbit will be, on apprehension, dissolved in a fluid called The Dip. More devious crookery is afoot: Acme's will – reportedly leaving the Toon ghetto Toontown to the Toons – has gone missing. Valiant is informed by his girlfriend Dolores (Cassidy) that a combine called Cloverleaf Industries is buying up everything in the hope of turning Los Angeles (see California) into a freeway-dominated waste; if Acme's will is not found by midnight, Toontown too will fall to Cloverleaf. Aided by the sentient taxi Benny the Cab (Fleischer), Valiant pursues Jessica into Toontown where he encounters a cornucopia of historical animated characters – Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny (Blanc), Daffy Duck (Blanc), Droopy Dog (Williams), Porky Pig (Blanc) and many more – and is shot at by Judge Doom, now revealed as the true Villain behind Cloverleaf. Captured by Doom and his weasel/bent-cop sycophants the Toon Patrol, Valiant and Jessica prepare for death. Doom's plan is mass murder – to spray all Toontown with The Dip, erasing it from the face of the Earth. Valiant uses trickster means to sabotage this plot and save Toontown and our heroes.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a landmark in the history of animated films – a glance at the credits list above is evidence of that – and may even be regarded as a culmination of the second phase of that genre (if the first is taken as having ended with the integration of colour and sound). The interaction between live and animated characters is masterfully handled; Williams's team, using largely traditional animation techniques, achieved an effect so commonplace in live-action movies as usually to go unnoticed, but rare in animated movies, that of allowing the camera to roam rather than be fixed, and thus the principal animated characters have a realism and solidity to match their live counterparts. But technical considerations should not outdazzle the fact that Who Framed Roger Rabbit is among the Cinema's most significant achievements in the sphere of Fantasy. The heart of this Instauration Fantasy [for this and Fairies below see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] is an exploration of the relationship between two worlds, one based firmly in reality (the mundane events in the movie are based on a genuine 1940s corruption scandal) and the other belonging to myth and Magic: we can make a direct analogy, reading the Toons as fairies in Technofantasy guise (and, by definition, capable of such fairy-like feats as Shapeshifting), between the plot of Who Framed Roger Rabbit (beneath its convoluted, Chandleresque surface story) and the situations depicted in classic fairytales. Science-fictionally the Toons might be viewed as Avatars of human, Uploaded or AI personalities.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit won multiple Oscars and was recognized by the sf community with a BSFA Award as best media production and a Hugo as best dramatic presentation. The novelization, necessary because the storyline is so different (and, it must be said, improved) from Gary K Wolf's original novel, is Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) by Martin Noble (1947-    ). [JGr/DRL]

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