While it may not seem quite the stunning feat it was back in the late '80s, Who Framed Roger Rabbit remains a unique, and astonishingly good, piece of work. It's a bit of noir mixed in with fun for all the family that benefits immensely from the improved technology allowing actors to more realistically act alongside cartoons.
Bob Hoskins is the private detective, named Eddie Valiant, who ends up trying to find an answer to the title of the movie. Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer) seems to have been driven into a rage by revelations of his beautiful wife, Jessica (voiced by an uncredited Kathleen Turner), playing pat-a-cake with Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye). Roger insists that he's innocent, of course, and there's the very suspicious Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) making it easier for Valiant to believe that something stinks, but will it all be enough to get him to take the case seriously and do all he can. After all, Valiant hates toons, and has never been back to Toontown ever since his brother was killed there.
The big factor that made Who Framed Roger Rabbit such a big deal when it was released, and still a fairly big deal to this day, isn't actually the blending of live action work and animation, which is impressive, but the sheer variety and number of cartoon characters mingling onscreen. As well as Roger and Jessica (with the latter being one of the sexiest cartoons to be allowed in a family movie - look, all of us young boys thought it at the time, and we've all kept thinking it ever since so don't judge me), there are appearances from *deep breath* Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Dumbo, Betty Boop, Donald Duck, Daffy Duck, cast members from Fantasia, Sylvester & Tweety Pie, Porky Pig, Goofy, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Michigan J. Frog and many others. It's a veritable who's who of animated stars, unlikely to ever happen again.
Thankfully, the few human stars also do good work, with Bob Hoskins in top form as Valiant, a private eye who has let himself go over the years and is now more comfortable cracking open a bottle of bourbon than cracking a case. Lloyd is enjoyably creepy as Judge Doom, and Joanna Cassidy is adorable as the tough woman who puts up with Valiant in the hope that he will find himself again.
Director Robert Zemeckis handles everything with ease, which is as viewers would expect from this man who does so love to play with any toys he can get his hands on, and the script, by Peter S. Seaman and Jeffrey Price (based on the book, "Who Censored Roger Rabbit" by Gary K. Wolf), is packed full of great lines, references and gags to both the world of noir and also, more obviously, the cartoons of the past and the present.
A real triumph for everyone involved, including composer Alan Silvestri, cinematographer Dean Cundey, and, last but by no means least, everyone in the art and special effects departments, this holds up as one of those rare joys - a movie full of special effects that actually uses the technology to complement the story, as opposed to using distracting graphics and gimmickry to fill in a lot of empty space.
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