Saturday, February 12, 2022

Stubs - Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) Starring: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy, Charles Fleischer, Stubby Kaye, Kathleen Turner. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, Ian Sharp, Frank Marshall, Max Kleven. Screenplay by Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman. Based on the book Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf (New York, 1981). Produced by Robert Watts, Frank Marshall. Run time: 107 minutes. USA Color Animation, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy.

The Disney that we know today, the large conglomerate that seems to own a lot of everything, owes its origins to what happened under Michael Eisner’s tenure. It was then that the company utilized its theme park profits to buy into sports, bought the ABC network and started a new label for more adult films, Touchstone. Things have only gotten bigger from there but that’s a topic for another blog.

One of Eisner’s hopes was to start a new legacy in animation by introducing new characters that he hoped would be loved alongside company staple and mascot, Mickey Mouse. This hope starts with Who Framed Roger Rabbit, known for introducing the title character and his wife Jessica Rabbit. Eisner envisioned them as new perennial characters for the studio and would march next to Mickey in the Disney parades down Main Street in Disneyland.

The idea to turn Who Censored Roger Rabbit? into a film was first proposed in 1981, when the book was published, and it was originally planned to be a Disney animated feature. It was not until 1986, however, when Roger Rabbit changed to a mix of live action and animation in association with Steven Spielberg. Who Framed Roger Rabbit had several working titles throughout production, including Dead Toons Don't Pay Bills, Eddie Goes to Toon, Murder in Toontown, The Toontown Trial, Toons, Trouble in Toontown, Who Censored Roger Rabbit, and Who Shot Roger Rabbit. The budget was at $45 million, making Who Framed Roger Rabbit one of the most expensive animated movies of its time.

The director of animation, Richard Williams, seems to be a good but odd choice. He was quoted as saying: “I just hate animation and live action together; it just doesn't work, it's ugly.” He decided to take on the project, however, under the premise that he would “remove all the inhibitions” and use new techniques for “blending animation and live action.” He did not like working for Disney and refused to work in L.A.

To accommodate him, animation was moved to London, where the film was also in production at Elstree Studios. The animation production was split between Walt Disney Animation UK and a specialized unit in Los Angeles, set up by Walt Disney Feature Animation and supervised by Dale Baer. The production budget continued to escalate, while the shooting schedule ran longer than expected. Disney CEO Michael Eisner seriously considered shutting down production, but studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg talked him out of it. Despite the budget escalating to over $50 million, Disney moved forward on production because they were enthusiastic to work with Spielberg.

Post-production lasted for 14 months. Because the film was made before computer animation and digital compositing were widely used, all the animation was done using cels and optical compositing. First, the animators and layout artists were given black-and-white printouts of the live-action scenes (known as "photo stats"), and they placed their animation paper on top of them. The artists then drew the animated characters in relationship to the live-action footage.

To round out Toon Town, Touchstone Pictures struck deals with Warner Bros. allowing the studio’s trademark cartoon characters to appear in the film. Some of the more famous Warner Bros. characters to make appearances include “Bugs Bunny,” “Daffy Duck,” “Porky Pig,” and “Tweety.” However, agents for Warner Bros. characters placed the stipulation that Disney characters, such as “Donald” and “Mickey,” had to have the same amount of screen time as their Warner Bros. counterparts.

The film opens in 1947. Cartoon star Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer) is not performing as well as he should. He’s missing marks and causing delays in productions. Cartoon producer R. K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern) hires Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins), a private detective, to investigate Roger’s wife, Jessica (voiced by Kathleen Turner [uncredited]), because he fears Roger’s performance issues are grounded in rumors that she’s cheating on him.

Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) grabs a ride on the back of a Red Car.

Valiant is reluctant to work with cartoons, “Toons” for short, but still takes the job, telling anyone who asks that he’s working for Maroon, not a toon. Paid in check half of the $100 he’s charging, Valiant hitches a ride on the back of a Red Car to get back to his office. He makes his way to a local bar and asks the waitress, his girlfriend, Dolores (Joanna Cassidy), for her camera, though she wants him to ask for more; her. A bar regular taunts Valiant about how he works for Toons, sending Valiant into a fit of rage. He storms out of the bar, leaving the patron perplexed until Dolores explains that a Toon killed Valiant’s brother.

Jessica Rabbit (voiced by Kathleen Turner) flirts with Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye).

Valiant heads to the Ink and Paint Club to watch Jessica perform and runs into gag king Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye), who is also the owner of Toontown, the part of L.A. where all of the cartoon characters live. Valiant expects Jessica to be another rabbit but is shocked to find that she is a beautiful female human cartoon. And during her torch song, Valiant finds himself being attracted to her.

After the show, Valiant follows Acme to Jessica's dressing room and from the alley manages to get photos of Jessica and Acme playing patty-cake.

Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer) doesn't react well to photos of Jessica and Acme.

He revisits Maroon, who breaks the news to Roger, using Valiant’s photos as proof. They are as damaging as it seems, Jessica is indeed playing patty-cake with Acme. They try to console Roger by telling him he will find someone new, but Roger becomes agitated, declaring that Jessica is the only one for him. He then bursts out the window, leaving a Roger-shaped hole in the blinds and glass.

The next morning, Valiant is awakened by a police lieutenant named Santino (Richard LeParmentier), who tells him that Acme was killed the night before, presumably by a jealous Roger Rabbit. They travel to Acme's workshop, the scene of the crime. As Valiant investigates, a forbidding man enters wearing black clothes. Lt. Santino introduces the man as Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd). Doom is convinced that Roger killed Acme. Doom explains that since Toontown is in his jurisdiction, he has been trying to make Toons respect the law, and has come up with a mix of turpentine, acetone, and benzene, known as dip, that is the only known way to kill a Toon. Doom's enforcers begin the search for the fugitive Roger.

Valiant finds Roger in his bed.

Outside his office, Valiant runs into Roger's coworker, Baby Herman (Lou Hirsch), who claims that Roger did not kill Acme. He also informs Valiant that Acme left a will, even though the newspapers reported otherwise. Once inside the office, Valiant takes a closer look at the patty-cake pictures he took and notices that Acme actually has the will in his pocket. When Valiant goes back to bed, he finds Roger under the sheets.

Panicking, Valiant attempts to throw Roger out, but the Toon explains that he didn't kill anyone. When Valiant tries to call the police, Roger handcuffs himself to Valiant, only to realize that the handcuffs have no keys. Just then, Doom's Toon Patrol weasels park outside, sending Roger scrambling for cover with Valiant in tow. The weasels shoot the door open but only see Valiant. As the leader tries to question him, Valiant, who has his hands in dishwater, forces him to eat soap, sending the other weasels into fits of laughter. The weasels give up the search and leave.

Valiant cuts himself out of a pair of handcuffs.

Roger pops out of the sink, thanking Valiant for saving his life. They head to the bar. where Dolores has a secret room with tools they use to get out of the handcuffs, even though, as it turns out, Roger can slip them off.

Valiant shows Dolores the picture of Acme's will and asks her to go to probate court and look into the situation.

He then returns to his office, where Jessica tells him that Maroon wanted to blackmail Acme and set up Valiant to take the patty-cake pictures in order to manufacture damaging evidence against Acme. Just then, Dolores bursts into the room and explains that Maroon is not after Toontown. Instead, a previously unknown company, Cloverleaf Industries, has put in the highest bid for the area and if Acme's will does not turn up by midnight, Toontown will belong to Cloverleaf, the same company that recently bought the Red Cars.

Valiant seems confused at this turn of events, but when they hear what sounds ominously like Roger singing, Valiant and Dolores return to the bar, where they find Roger dancing on the tables and entertaining the customers. Valiant quickly throws Roger into the hidden room, furious that Roger put everything on the line for a few laughs.

Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) tries to dip Roger while Valiant and Delores (Joanna Cassidy) watch.

Doom enters the bar and tries to bribe the customers into turning in Roger, but no one provides information. However, when the judge finds a phonograph record with a “loony” tune on it, he is certain Roger is hiding somewhere in the bar. Doom captures Roger and attempts to dip him, but Valiant frees Roger and the two escape.

Valiant drives Benny the Cab (voiced by Charles Fleischer).

Roger releases a cartoon taxicab named Benny (voiced by Charles Fleischer) from the trunk of a Toon Patrol car. Eager to escape from the weasels, Benny takes them through the streets of Los Angeles and drops the pair off at a movie theater. There, a newsreel reveals that Maroon has made a deal with Cloverleaf to sell Maroon Cartoon Studios. Seeing a connection, Valiant drives to the studio to confront Maroon.

Roger and Valiant hide out in a movie theater.

When they get to the studio, Valiant tells Roger to stay behind and watch his back. But as soon as Valiant walks away, a mysterious figure knocks Roger out and throws him in the back of a car.

Meanwhile, as Valiant faces off against Maroon, the cartoon producer pulls a gun. The men struggle, but Valiant gets the upper hand and demands to know what is really going on. Maroon claims that he had a chance to sell his studio, but the buyer would not make the purchase until Acme sold his land as well and that he only wanted to blackmail Acme into selling.

Before he can continue, Maroon is shot and killed by an unknown gunman. Valiant looks through the blinds and sees Jessica running down the alleyway. He races downstairs to his car and gives chase through the Toontown tunnel. After several misadventures in Toontown, he finds Jessica in an alleyway.

She pulls a gun on Valiant but actually saves his life by shooting at the mystery killer behind him, who turns out to be Judge Doom. The killer flees to avoid being shot. Jessica tells Valiant that Doom is the one behind both the frame-up and the murders.

Valiant summons Benny, who gets them out of Toontown, but Doom is waiting on the other side of the Toontown tunnel. Doom pours dip on the road, which causes Benny to lose control and to crash, then takes Valiant and Jessica prisoner, and transports them to the Acme factory.

Meanwhile, Roger drives Valiant's car out of Toontown. He sees Benny along the way and picks him up.

At the Acme factory, Doom reveals that he is the sole stockholder of Cloverleaf Industries and that he recently bought the local trolley system. He plans to completely erase Toontown to make way for a freeway, knowing that without the trolley, people will be forced to drive on the new road, which he plans to line with gas stations, restaurants, and hotels.

Doom unveils a large vehicle filled with enough dip to destroy Toontown. Just then, Roger bursts through a manhole and threatens Doom with his gun, but he is knocked out by a weasel.

It is revealed that Doom is actually a toon.

Struck with an idea, Valiant starts singing, dancing, and even juggling in an attempt to get the weasels to laugh. His plan works, and the weasels laugh themselves to death. Valiant rushes to stop the machine, but Doom forces Valiant to face him. The two fight, using various Acme inventions, and in the struggle, it is revealed that Doom is actually a Toon.

Acme's will is written in re-appearing ink.

Laughing maniacally, Doom declares that he murdered Valiant's brother as he attacks. Thinking quickly, Valiant opens the drain on the dip vehicle, turning Doom into a puddle of ink. The dip vehicle is destroyed, and Acme's will is revealed to have been written with disappearing-reappearing ink.

An apparently blank piece of paper he gave to Jessica is the will that gives Toontown to its cartoon inhabitants. Roger, Jessica, Valiant, and Dolores walk into the Toontown sunset, followed by a crowd of celebrating cartoon characters.

Porky Pig is one of the Warner Bros. cartoon characters featured in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

The filmmakers give credit to the novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, although the only similarities between the book and the film are the characters of “Eddie Valiant,” “Roger Rabbit,” “Jessica Rabbit,” and “Baby Herman.” These characters were altered in the movie; in the book, “Roger” was a murderer, “Jessica” hated him, and “Herman” always used “Roger” as a foil, not the other way around.

The film was released on June 22, 1988, and would go on to make $238,092,038 worldwide. The film’s success rekindled an interest in the Golden Age of American animation, and sparked the modern animation scene, as well as the Disney Renaissance, which included such films as The Little Mermaid (1989), The Rescuers Down Under (1990), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), and The Lion King (1994) to name a few.

A sequel was planned, including an outline written by J.J. Abrams in 1989. A prequel titled Roger Rabbit: The Toon Platoon, set from 1941 to 1943, was also planned. It was later retitled Who Discovered Roger Rabbit, but Spielberg left the project over a proposed plotline that included satirizing Nazis. A rewrite, in which that subplot was replaced by one in which Roger searches for his mother, impressed Eisner enough that he ordered five songs written for the proposed feature. But when the proposed budget was past $100 million, Eisner canceled the project. Since then, there has been repeated talk from director Robert Zemeckis, though an actual sequel seems very unlikely at this point.

The film works in part due to what Bob Hoskins brings to the film. The British actor got his start on the British stage, in 1968, where he was considered “a natural” by fellow actor and friend Robert Frost. Frost would recall that "he just got up on stage and was brilliant." In 1975, he started to work in television, getting his breakthrough role in Pennies from Heaven (1978), the original BBC version of Dennis Potter's innovative six-part fantasy-drama.

His work in British films like The Long Good Friday (1980) and Mona Lisa (1986) won him positive critical reviews but also cemented him as a film tough guy. Even though he might not have been the first choice for the role, it is his rep that helps sell him as a hardboiled private detective in this fantasy world. As much as any voice performance and the production values of the film, it is Hoskins’ performance that makes the film work better than it would have been with many other actors.

Joanna Cassidy is also cast well as Valiant’s supportive but suffering girlfriend, Dolores. Even though there really isn’t much for her to do in the part, she makes the most of her opportunities. Cassidy is perhaps best known for this role as well as her appearance as the replicant Zhora Salome in Blade Runner (1982). She has also starred in such films as Under Fire (1983), The Fourth Protocol (1987), The Package (1989), Where the Heart Is (1990), Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead (1991), Vampire in Brooklyn (1995), and Ghosts of Mars (2001). A versatile actress, she has also appeared on many television shows, including Buffalo Bill (1983–1984) and 21 episodes of Six Feet Under (2001-2005).

For a certain generation, Christopher Lloyd is best known for his long-running character Jim Ignatowski in the comedy series Taxi (1978–1983), and for another, it’s his appearance as Doc Brown in the Back to the Future trilogy. Here, he gets to play Judge Doom, a toon pretending to be a human. Surprisingly, he isn’t called upon to be funny but instead feared, cruel, and evil and he pulls it off.

For the role, Lloyd shaved his hair and avoided blinking his eyes while on camera to perfectly portray the character. According to Lloyd, “I just felt a toon doesn’t have to blink their eyes to remoisten their eyeballs. They’re not human, so I just felt Judge Doom should never blink. It makes him even more ominous, more scary, if he’s just looking like that. It wasn’t really difficult, I’d just keep my eyes open as long as I could, try to time it out with the next take and all that. It was cool. I just like to find little things that make him even more evil, and that was that.”

For his effort, Lloyd’s portrayal has received overall positive reception with some authors comparing his role as a "brilliant" or "scary" villain. Wizard magazine rated Doom as the 60th Greatest Villain of All Time.

A character like Roger Rabbit has the potential to become annoying a la Jar Jar Binks, but voiced by Charles Fleischer, he manages to avoid that fate. Fleischer has also appeared in front of the camera in such films as A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and had a recurring role on the 1970s TV series Welcome Back, Kotter. He manages to make Roger funny and to make him an interesting character as well.

Considering the age of the film and the advancements in film technology since it was made, Who Framed Roger Rabbit holds up very well nearly 35 years later. I would definitely recommend it.

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