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Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a 1988 live-action/animated film produced by Amblin Entertainment and The Walt Disney Company (released under its Touchstone Pictures banner) which blends traditional animation and live action. Based on the novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, the film is set in a fictionalized version of 1947 Los Angeles, where animated characters (always referred to as "Toons") are real beings who live and work alongside humans in the real world, most of them as actors in animated cartoons.

At $70 million USD, Roger Rabbit was one of the most expensive films to date at the time of its release. The film earned over $150 million in North America alone during its original theatrical release. The film is notable for featuring characters from several competing animation studios in a single film, and for being one of the last film roles for Golden Age voice artists Mel Blanc and Mae Questel. Various of the film's artists and technicians won four Oscars at the 61st Academy Awards ceremony in 1989.

Plot

The movie opens as production of a Baby Herman short subject – which in the realm of this film is "live action" slapstick – ends when Roger Rabbit blows his lines for the 23rd time. Roger plays the supporting comic foil to cartoon star Baby Herman (a baby physically but chronologically a cantankerous 50 year old man). In the movie's milieu (taken place in 1947), cartoon characters are a sapient species cohabiting alongside human beings, though unlike them, "Toons," as they are called, are not bound by the laws of physics. A section of Los Angeles has been designated as "Toontown" and is inhabited exclusively by the Toons.

In an effort to discover why Roger cannot keep his mind on his work, studio boss R. K. Maroon, owner of Maroon Cartoons, hires washed-up, alcoholic private detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) to investigate. However, Valiant harbors a deep bitterness toward Toons and refuses to set foot in Toontown, since his brother Teddy was killed by a Toon several years earlier.

He quickly obtains photographic evidence that Marvin Acme, the owner of the Acme Company and of Toontown, and Roger's wife, Jessica Rabbit, a sexy Toon femme fatale (speaking voice by Kathleen Turner, singing voice by Amy Irving, neither of whom was credited), have been (literally) playing pattycake together. This is tantamount to infidelity in the eyes of a Toon.

A devastated Roger attacks Valiant when shown the evidence, making it clear he will win his wife back, before running away. The next morning, Acme is found murdered, with the few clues pointing to Roger as the culprit. At the crime scene, Valiant first meets Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) of the Toontown District Superior Court and his Toon Patrol henchmen, a group of weasels named Smart Ass, Greasy, Psycho, Stupid, and Wheezy. Doom has no reservations about dispensing draconian justice, which he demonstrates by submerging a wayward Toon shoe into “The Dip”, a mixture of turpentine, acetone, and benzene. This concoction dissolves Toons on contact and kills them within seconds.

Returning to his office, Valiant finds Baby Herman, smoking a cigar, waiting in the hall for him. Herman insists that Roger is innocent and that Acme had promised to leave Toontown to the Toons in his will, which has since gone missing. Valiant dismisses this claim, shoving Herman's carriage down the hall for good measure, but changes his mind upon re-examining the photos he took. Before he can investigate further, he finds Roger in his office, hiding from the police, and is reluctantly dragged into the case. After stashing Roger at the bar where his sometime girlfriend Dolores works, he encounters Jessica, who tells him that she allowed herself to be seen playing pattycake with Acme. Maroon had threatened to ruin Roger's career if she did not cooperate.

Dolores informs Valiant that if the missing will is not found by midnight, a company called Cloverleaf Industries will be able to buy Toontown. Valiant and Roger flee the area, with the help of Roger’s friend Benny the Cab, after Roger’s antics in the bar nearly lead to his execution at the hands of Doom and the weasels. While hiding out in a movie theater with Roger and Dolores, Valiant recalls Teddy's murderer: a Toon with “burning red eyes” and a “high squeaky voice” who dropped a piano on the brothers after robbing the First National Bank of Toontown "of a zillion simoleons." Up until this point, Valiant had enjoyed working in Toontown with his brother and taking cases that involved Toons. He apologizes to Roger for mistreating him and makes up with Dolores; on the way out, he hears a newsreel item that proves to be a vital clue involving R. K. Maroon.

Valiant goes to the studio office and interrogates Maroon, who admits to having set up a blackmail scheme to force Acme to sell Toontown to Cloverleaf so he could sell his studio as well. Before he can identify the blackmailer and his plot, he is shot and killed from outside the window by an unknown assassin. Thinking the killer had to be Jessica Rabbit, playing Roger for a patsy, Valiant chases the killer's car all the way into Toontown, overcoming his long-standing avoidance of the place. Here, he finds Jessica in an alley and learns from her that the assassin was actually Doom, who also murdered Acme. As proof, she points out the murder weapon, dropped by Doom during his escape; she had tried to get to the studio herself, but was too late to prevent Maroon's death.

As Doom runs off, Benny shows up to help them chase himback into the human world, but a puddle of Dip dumped in the road by Doom causes Benny to lose control and crash into a light pole. Valiant and Jessica are taken captive by Doom and the weasels, while Roger later finds Benny and the two go after Doom in Eddie’s car to the Acme Warehouse. After dropping Roger off there, Benny drives off to call the police, while Roger gains entry only to be caught when Greasy drops a ton of bricks on him.

With Valiant, Roger, and Jessica captured, Doom reveals his master plan to them. As the sole stockholder of Cloverleaf Industries, he is buying up properties along a proposed freeway route (funded by the L.A. city council), including Toontown, the Acme Company, and the Maroon Cartoons studio, for commercial development. Doom has also purchased the Pacific Electric Railway (nicknamed "the Red Car") in order to shut it down so that people will be forced to use the freeway and his businesses. (This storyline is based on the General Motors streetcar conspiracy, an alleged effort by GM and Westinghouse to buy up and dismantle public transportation systems throughout the U.S.) Doom intends to retire from being a judge and start controlling the profits for the new road system.

To wipe out Roger, Jessica, and Toontown, Doom has built a monstrous vehicle that can spray thousands of gallons of Dip over the area. Valiant buys the couple some time by performing a slapstick comedy routine, drawing on his past experience as a circus clown, that causes all the weasels but Smart Ass to literally die of excessive laughter. Smart Ass meets his end when Valiant kicks him in the crotch, launching him into the Dip tank and destroying him.

As Psycho’s soul rises to heaven, he aims the Dip cannon back toward Roger and Jessica, putting them in danger once again. Valiant diverts it away temporarily, but Doom attacks him and a fight ensues. After the two battle using an assortment of ACME products, Doom is then flattened by a steamroller but peels himself up off the floor alive, revealing himself to be a Toon. He reinflates himself with a tank of compressed air, revealing his Toon red eyes and squeaky voice and proclaiming himself as Teddy Valiant's killer.

Doom quickly gains the upper hand by turning his right arm into a variety of Toon weapons. Just as he is about to kill Valiant with a cartoon buzzsaw, Valiant grabs a spring-loaded boxing-glove mallet and uses it to open the drain valve on the Dip tank. The flood of solvents obliterates Doom’s Toon body, killing him and leaving only his clothes and the rubber mask he wore to conceal his identity. The now-empty vehicle crashes through the warehouse wall and into Toontown, where it is immediately is hit by a Toon train and destroyed.

After Valiant washes the spilled Dip away and frees Roger and Jessica, the Los Angeles Police and a crowd of Toons arrive at the scene. Roger’s name is cleared and the murders of Acme, Maroon, and Teddy are closed. Baby Herman objects that Acme's will is still missing, but it suddenly turns up, the words appearing on a blank sheet of paper that Roger had used to write a love letter to Jessica the night he found out about the pattycake incident. (Acme had written the will using “Disappearing Re-Appearing Ink” and given it to her for safekeeping, but she discarded it, thinking it blank.) Toontown is officially bequeathed to the Toons, who break into a chorus of “Smile, Darn Ya, Smile” in celebration, and Valiant regains his long-lost sense of humor, finally abandoning his bitterness towards Toons.

Production

Casting

According to ToonTown Confidential (the production subtitles on the Who Framed Roger Rabbit DVD) Harrison Ford, Robert Redford, Ed Harris and Jack Nicholson were considered for the role of Eddie Valiant. Kurt Russell screen-tested for the role. Many A-list actors turned down the role because they were afraid their performance would be overshadowed by a cartoon character.

Filming

The live-action sequences were directed by Robert Zemeckis. Interior scenes were partly filmed at Cannon Elstree film studios in Hertfordshire, England. Many of the outdoor scenes were filmed in Los Angeles. The block of "Hollywood Boulevard" where Eddie's office and the Red Car terminal sat were constructed from extant buildings on Hope Street between 11th Street and 12th Street in downtown Los Angeles, though the interiors were located in England. Other filming locations included the Hyperion Avenue bridge and the Ren-Mar Studios on Cahuenga Boulevard (standing in for the Maroon Cartoon studios). The "Red Cars" seen in the film were fabricated for the film and were powered by diesel engines, not by power lines.

Though Disney was the studio behind the film, the animated sequences were mostly done in London because Richard Williams refused to work in Los Angeles. The film stars Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy and the voice of Charles Fleischer. The screenplay was adapted by screenwriters Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman from the 1981 novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf, and the music was composed by perennial Zemeckis film composer Alan Silvestri and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.

As many as 100 separate pieces of film were optically combined to incorporate the animated and live-action elements. The animated characters themselves were hand-drawn without computer animation; analogue optical effects were used for adding shadows and lighting to the Toons to give them a more "realistic," three-dimensional appearance. This being before reliable computer effects were developed, a human operator could not be digitally "erased" from a scene, and all physical effects had to be done mechanically, using the "Toons" to cover the rods, wires and other machinery.

Since the animated Roger was added in post-production, Bob Hoskins was effectively acting against empty air during the shooting of his many scenes with Roger. In order to facilitate Hoskins' performance, Roger’s voice actor Charles Fleischer (dressed in a Roger bunny suit) stood in for Roger in some scenes.

Much of the cinematography and several scenes of the film are a homage to Roman Polanski's Chinatown. Chinatown's screenwriter, Robert Towne, had intended to write a trilogy, but it never materialized. One planned installment was a drama called Cloverleaf, with the plot revolving around the creation of the freeway network and the decline of the Red Cars. Probably one of the most obvious references is the scene in which Roger is shown the pictures of his wife cheating on him, which is very similar to the opening scene in Polanski's film. Also J.J. Gittes in Chinatown and Eddie Valiant are both pastiches of the same stock character, that of the hard-boiled private detective. Both plots involve a corrupt establishment and a femme fatale whose intentions are at first unclear to the protagonist and viewer.

Rating

The film was rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for Mild Profanity and Cartoon Violence. This would translate to a PG-13 rating today.

Release

International premieres

Critical reaction

Roger Rabbit opened to extremely positive reviews on June 22, 1988. Both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert included the film on their lists of ten favorite films of 1988 with Ebert calling it "sheer, enchanted entertainment from the first frame to the last - a joyous, giddy, goofy celebration". The film currently has a 98% "Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

Academy Awards

The movie received 7 Academy Award nominations.

Winner of 4 Oscars:

3 additional nominations:

Easter eggs

Several easter eggs were hidden in the film by its animators. Tape-based analog video such as VHS did not reveal these, but technologies with better image quality, such as the analog laserdisc, were said to reveal them. Among the hidden visuals were:

  • The phone number of then Disney CEO Michael Eisner.
  • When Benny the Cab wrecks at night and Eddie and Jessica roll out, there are two separate frames (2170-2172 on side 4 of the CAV laserdisc version), within two seconds of each other, showing a blurry shot of what seems to be her with no underwear Disney recalled the laserdisc and issued another disc, later claiming that it was an incorrectly painted cell. Disney also stated that the cell in question could be seen on the new disc and on the VHS version. The 1999 DVD version reanimated the scene so that Jessica is wearing white panties underneath her dress. When the DVD set was reissued in 2002, the scene was reanimated so that a piece of Jessica's skirt strategically covers Jessica as she rolls down the hill.
  • Just before Eddie falls off the building, the words "For Good Times, call Allyson 'Wonderland'" can be seen on the wall behind him.
  • There is a brief scene consisting of the toon Baby Herman passing by a female (human) extra on the set of the opening cartoon and sticking his middle finger up her dress, and then coming back from under the dress with a drool of spit on his lip. This was edited out of the first DVD edition of the movie, though it can be found on editions of the VHS, laserdisc, and DVD issues.

Controversy

  • Gary Wolf, author of the original novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, corresponded with many fans of the film through written letters and the Internet, compiling an exhaustive listing of the many hidden "easter eggs" in the film and in the later Roger Rabbit short films. Wolf also sued Disney in 2001 for unpaid earnings related to the film.
  • In the piano duel scene with Donald Duck and Daffy Duck, Daffy says "I've worked with a lot of wise-quackers, but you are despicable." and, according to some, Donald replies, in his kazoo-like voice, "God damn stupid nigger...." Snopes, a noted debunking website, debunks this with the closed-captioning and Cartoon Network airings which records Donald as saying "Goddurn stubborn nitwit," though Snopes actually believes he's saying something akin to his typical exclamation, "Doggone stubborn little...That did it...waaa-aaaghghgh!" as is heard in many old Disney cartoons. The Vista Series DVD release uses the latter quote in its closed-captioning.

Legacy

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is seen as a landmark film that sparked the most recent era in American animation. The field of animation had suffered a recession during the 1970s and 1980s, to the point where even giants in the field such as The Walt Disney Company were considering giving up on major animated productions. This expensive film (production cost of $70 million - a staggering amount for the time) was a major risk for the company, but one that paid off handsomely. It inspired other studios to dive back into the field of animation; it also made animation acceptable with the movie-going public. After Roger Rabbit, interest in the history of animation exploded, and such legends in the field as Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, and Ralph Bakshi were seen in a new light and received credit and acclaim from audiences worldwide. It also provided the impetus for Disney and Warner Brothers' later animated television shows.

Roger Rabbit also was known for its numerous spin-off films and television series. While not featuring any of the main characters from the film, it did help establish the Toon Noir sub-genre, which features toons and non-toon humans living together, each playing by their own set of physics. The small sub-genre also includes the television series: Raw Toonage, Bonkers, House of Mouse, Animaniacs, Freakazoid!, and Tiny Toon Adventures, the movies: Cool World (1992), Space Jam (1996), and Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003), and also the MMORPG Toontown Online; all of which are considered spin-offs of the movie. The 2000 film, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, is also in this sub-genre category and is considered to be another spin-off film of Roger Rabbit. The film featured the last major voice role for two legendary cartoon voice artists: Mel Blanc (voicing Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird and also Sylvester in a one-line cameo) and Mae Questel (voicing Betty Boop, but not Olive Oyl, who did not appear in the final version of the film). Blanc (who would shortly thereafter pass away at the age of 81) did not do Yosemite Sam's voice in the movie, done instead by Joe Alaskey. (Blanc had admitted that in his later years he was no longer able to do the "yelling" voices such as Sam's, which were very rough on his vocal cords in old age. There was a Foghorn Leghorn scene recorded, but cut, which also utilised Alaskey for the same reason.) Blanc also does Porky Pig, who gets the last line of the film, dressed as a police officer.

The film was also the next-to-last screen appearance for veteran actors Alan Tilvern, who portrays R.K. Maroon in the film, and Stubby Kaye, who plays Marvin Acme. Tilvern appeared in only one other production before his retirement, the 1993 television version of Porgy and Bess, in which he played the non-singing role of the Detective. Alan Tilvern died in 2003. Stubby Kaye, best known for playing Nicely Nicely Johnson in the original stage and screen versions of Guys and Dolls, died in 1997. Despite being produced by Disney (in association with Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment), Roger Rabbit also marked the first time that characters from several animation studios appeared in one film. Studios that provided characters included:

This allowed the first-ever meetings between Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. A contract was signed between Disney and Warner stating that their respective icons, Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny, would each receive exactly the same amount of "air time" (they also had the same number of lines). This is why the script has Bugs, Mickey, and Eddie together in one scene falling from a skyscraper. (However, Bugs Bunny can be seen for a second in the studio lot near the beginning of the film, and Mickey has a second of free time before Bugs arrives.) During the speeding elevator scene, if you look without blinking, you'll see Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner in silhouette. They also appear in the crowd at the end of the movie. Also the speakeasy scene features the first and only meeting of Daffy Duck and Donald Duck performing a unique dueling piano act. Finally the unique pairing is given a final send off at the end of the film when Porky Pig faces the audience and says the traditional Warner Brothers animation closing line, "That's All, Folks!" just before Tinker Bell appears to tap the scene in the traditional Disney ending manner. Eventually, several additional animated shorts featuring Roger Rabbit, Jessica Rabbit, Baby Herman and Droopy would be released. In 1991, the Disney Imagineers began to develop a new land for the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California, completely based on the Toontown of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Mickey's Toontown opened in 1993 and spawned "Toontown" (without the Mickey's prefix) at Tokyo Disneyland in Japan. The Californian and Japanese Toontowns feature a ride based on Roger Rabbit's adventures, called Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin.

Prequel

A prequel entitled Roger Rabbit II: Toon Platoon was planned in 1992. Set in 1940, the script had Roger expose the manager of the radio station that Jessica works as a Nazi spy. However, having made Schindler's List, Spielberg rejected making a film with cartoonish Nazis in it. Who Discovered Roger Rabbit was being written in 1994 by Sherri Stoner and Deanna Oliver, which focused on Roger looking for his mother during the Great Depression. Alan Menken volunteered to serve as executive producer and wrote five songs for what was conceived as a parody of classic Hollywood musicals. (One of the songs, "This Only Happens in the Movies," was recorded in 2008 on the debut album of Broadway actress Kerry Butler.) Walt Disney Pictures was planning to create the cartoon characters with computer animation. Michael Eisner pulled the project in 1999 when the budget rose to over $100 million, believing a prequel to a film made twelve years before would not be successful. In December 2007, Frank Marshall told MTV that he was willing to revive development of the film. As of 2008 it is unknown if production will begin or not.

Merchandising

The success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit led to a moderate degree of merchandising for the film. In October 1989, McDonald's made a Halloween themed certificate offer for a free VHS copy of the film as well as a Roger Rabbit doll. Other memorabilia included cookie jars, Christmas ornaments, music boxes, snow globes, pinback buttons, three videogames, and a novelization of the film. While much of the merchandise was produced throughout the 1988–89 promotion of the film, other items would later be offered as commemorative collectibles in celebration of Disney-related anniversaries.

In 1989, Marvel Comics commissioned a special graphic novel as a novelization in comic-book form. The novel featured several ideas for the plot scrapped from the original film, such as Roger and Eddie actually making a getaway in Dooms' squad car (until the engine blows up after Roger constantly hammers the pedals), as well as the deleted Pighead sequence featured on the Laserdisc version of the DVD releases (as well as on its first broadcast on CBS). Today, these Graphic novels are collectors' items due to their rarity. A follow up Graphic Novel titled Roger Rabbit: The Resurrection of Doom was also published, which was later continued by Disney Comics with their own Roger Rabbit comic-book series, which lasted 18 issues.

Animated characters

Main cartoon characters

These characters were all created for and made their first appearances in the film.

  • Roger Rabbit
  • Jessica Rabbit
  • Baby Herman
  • Benny The Cab
  • Lena Hyena
  • Toon Patrol
  • Bongo, the Ape Bouncer of the Ink & Paint Club

Some of the characters who appear in the film are anachronisms; these characters (or, in the cases of characters such as Tinker Bell, the animated versions of them that appear in the film) were created after 1947. But as screenplay writer Peter S. Seaman said, "The aim was entertainment, not animation history." It also has been mentioned before with such settings that the characters may simply have not been "discovered" yet, and their movies simply have not been produced yet.

Cast

Human actors

Actor Character
Bob Hoskins Eddie Valiant
Christopher Lloyd Judge Doom
Joanna Cassidy Dolores
Alan Tilvern R.K. Maroon
Stubby Kaye Marvin Acme
Richard LeParmentier Lt. Santino
Richard Ridings Angelo
Joel Silver Director Raoul J. Raoul
Eugene Guirterrez Teddy Valiant
Betsy Brantley Jessica's Performance Model
Paul Springer Augie
Edwin Craig Arthritic Cowboy
Mike Edmonds Stretch
Morgan Deare Editor
Eric B. Sindon Mailman
Ed Herlihy Newscaster
James O'Connell Conductor
Frank Sinatra Singing Sword

Toon voice actors

Character Voice Actor Original Voice
Roger Rabbit Charles Fleischer characters
original
for the film
Benny The Cab
Jessica Rabbit Kathleen Turner (speaking)
Amy Irving (singing)
The Weasels David L. Lander
Charles Fleischer
Fred Newman
June Foray
Baby Herman April Winchell (child voice)
Lou Hirsch (adult voice)
Mrs. Herman April Winchell
Sylvester the Cat Mel Blanc
Daffy Duck
Bugs Bunny
Tweety Bird
Porky Pig
Hippo Mary T. Radford
Yosemite Sam Joe Alaskey Mel Blanc
Foghorn Leghorn
Woody Woodpecker* Cherry Davis
Betty Boop Mae Questel Helen Kane
Donald Duck Tony Anselmo Clarence Nash
Goofy Tony Pope Pinto Colvig
Big Bad Wolf Billy Bletcher
Mickey Mouse
Wayne Allwine Walt Disney
Pinocchio
Peter Westy Dickie Jones
Droopy Dog Richard Williams Bill Thompson
Minnie Mouse Russi Taylor Marcellite Garner
The Bird N/A
J. Thaddeus Toad
Les Perkins Eric Blore
Bullet #1 Pat Buttram N/A
Bullet # 2 Jim Cummings
Bullet #3 Jim Gallant
Singing Sword (archive sound) Frank Sinatra
Lena Hyena
Toon Hag
June Foray
Bongo the Gorilla Morgan Deare
Dipped Shoe (uncredited) Nancy Cartwright
Dumbo/others (uncredited) Frank Welker
*While Mel Blanc was the first voice-actor for Woody Woodpecker, for the bulk of the character's original run, his voice was provided by Ben Hardaway and Grace Stafford, aka Mrs. Walter Lantz.

References and footnotes

  • "Behind the Ears: The True Story of Roger Rabbit". (2003). Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Vista Series [DVD]. Burbank: Buena Vista Home Video.
  • Gray, Milton (1991). Cartoon Animation: Introduction to a Career. Lion's Den Publications. ISBN 0-9628444-5-4.
  • Chuck Jones Conversations. Edited by Maureen Furniss. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1-57806-729-4.

External links

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