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Who Framed Roger Rabbit

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Movie poster who framed roger rabbit
The story of a man, a woman and a rabbit in a triangle of trouble.
Directed By
Edited By
Cinematography
Music By
Distributed By
Country
200px-Flag of the United States (Pantone).svg
Language
English
Release Date
June 22, 1988 (1988-06-22)
Runtime
104 minutes
Rating
Rating PG
Budget
$70 million
Gross
$329,803,958

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a 1988 live action/animated fantasy comedy film, released by Touchstone Pictures, and produced by Amblin Entertainment, that combines animation and live action. The film takes place in a fictionalized Los Angeles in 1947, 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, it was one of the most expensive films ever at the time of its release, but it proved a sound investment that eventually brought in over $150 million during its original theatrical release. The film is notable for offering a unique chance to see many cartoon characters from different studios interacting in a single film and for being one of the last appearances by voice artists Mel Blanc and Mae Questel from animation's Golden Era.

Plot

Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.

The movie opens, innocently and deceptively, as a Baby Herman short subject, which in the realm of this film is revealed to be a "live action" slapstick short in the midst of production (after the manner of The Three Stooges). This introduces the film's title character, who plays the supporting comic foil to infant cartoon star (actually a grown man who appears to be a baby) Baby Herman. In the movie's milieu, cartoon characters are a cohabiting sapient species alongside human beings, though unlike them, are unbounded by the laws of physics when it's funny. Eventually, it is revealed that Marvin Acme, the owner of the Acme Company and of Toontown, has been murdered. All signs point to Roger Rabbit, a Toon star at Maroon Cartoons, who had recently been shown evidence that Acme and Roger's wife, Jessica Rabbit, a sexy Toon femme fatale (uncredited speaking voice by Kathleen Turner, singing voice by Amy Irving), had been playing pattycake together (literally) — this is tantamount to infidelity in the eyes of a Toon.

Roger Rabbit

Roger Rabbit, from the opening scene

The only person who can help clear Roger's name is Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins), a washed-up, alcoholic detective who hates Toons because his brother, Teddy, was murdered by a Toon during a routine criminal investigation in Toontown years before when a piano was dropped on his head. Eddie is reluctantly forced into helping when Roger hides in his apartment, and soon finds himself shielding Roger from Judge Doom of the Toontown District Superior Court (Christopher Lloyd) and his "Toon Patrol" henchmen, a group of weasels: Smartass, Greasy, Psycho, Stupid, and Wheezy.

Meanwhile, Doom's giant Cloverleaf Corporation is plotting to buy out the interurban railway, the Pacific-Electric, nicknamed "the Red Trolleys," and replace it with freeways (based on the General Motors streetcar conspiracy and National City Lines, the effort to replace trolleys with buses across the country). With Acme dead and no will having been found, Toontown is in danger of being bulldozed in order to make way for the freeway.

Eddie and Roger must find the will of the late Marvin Acme, which purportedly gives ownership of Toontown to the Toons, as per Acme’s solemn oath. Judge Doom is also trying to find the will in order to dispose of it, so he can destroy Toontown and build his freeway where the place once stood, making himself a profit out of the deal. If any Toons happen to get in his way, Judge Doom feels no qualms about subjecting them to the "dip": a mixture he’s concocted of acetone, benzene, and turpentine – the only sure way to kill a Toon.

Eddie goes to the studios of Maroon Cartoons, Roger's employer, to help clear the rabbit's name. There he speaks to R. K. Maroon, who is shot during the confrontation. Thinking the shooter to be Jessica Rabbit, playing Roger for a patsy, Eddie chases the assassin all the way into Toontown, despite his trepidation; Eddie has not set foot in Toontown since brother Teddy’s demise. There Eddie discovers that the assassin was actually Judge Doom, who manages to kidnap Jessica, and later Roger, so he can "dip" them.

In the film's climax, set in the Acme Warehouse, Judge Doom spews "dip" from a huge machine and tries to eradicate Roger and his wife, Jessica. He reveals his plans to then use his "dip" vehicle to erase Toontown. To combat Doom's weasel henchmen, the normally hard-nosed Eddie plays a clown (not completely out of character, as the audience has been shown a photo of him and his brother working for Ringling Brothers earlier in the film), causing the weasels to die of laughter – evidently another way to kill a Toon (or at least, specifically, the weasels). During the final battle with Eddie, Judge Doom is revealed to be a Toon himself after a steam roller flattens him, and he reinflates by using an air tank, revealing his Toon features. To Eddie's horror, Doom then reveals himself to be not just any Toon, but the very one who murdered Eddie's brother, then he fights Eddie by creating all sorts of tools – buzzsaws, anvils, and springs, which are lethal - from his hands and feet.

Just when it seems that Judge Doom will get the upper hand, Eddie uses a scissor-spring-loaded punch-glove mallet to knock open the drain valve on the "dip" machine. Judge Doom is drenched with "dip" and melts away, screaming "I'm melting!" in obvious reference to the climactic scene in The Wizard of Oz. Eddie frees Roger and Jessica, but the "dip" machine breaks through the wall, and enters Toontown. Fortunately, it is plowed into by a passenger train almost instantly and is rendered harmless.

The police soon arrive, and realize that Judge Doom was responsible for the murders of Maroon, Acme, and Eddie Valiant's brother Teddy, though no one knows for sure who he was under his rubber-mask disguise. Marvin Acme's will is found (Acme wrote it in "disappearing re-appearing ink" and Roger used the "blank" paper to write Jessica a love letter), and Toontown is handed over to the control of the Toons, who all cheer and sing a chorus of "Smile, Darn Ya, Smile."

Background

The live-action sequences were directed by Robert Zemeckis and mostly filmed at Elstree film studios in Hertfordshire, England. The animated sequences were directed by Richard Williams and produced at his London animation studio. 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. It was released by Buena Vista Distribution under its Touchstone Pictures division.

The lack of question mark in the title is allegedly due to a superstition that films with a question mark in the title do badly at the box office.

The plot of the film is derived from the infamous General Motors streetcar conspiracy, in which General Motors, Standard Oil and Firestone Tires allegedly formed the National City Lines holding company that bought out and deliberately destroyed the Los Angeles Red Car trolley system in the 1940s and 1950s. (Similarly, the Key System trolley cars in the San Francisco Bay Area suffered the same fate.) In the film, the real-life role of NCL is filled by the fictional "Cloverleaf Industries," owned solely by Judge Doom.

Much of the cinematography and several scenes of the film are a homage to Roman Polanski's Chinatown.

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.

A slightly earlier draft of the screenplay revealed Judge Doom also to be the hunter who mortally shot Bambi's mother, thus providing more insight into his sadistic, cruel, and calloused nature towards his fellow Toons. However, Disney allegedly nixed the idea, most likely believing the idea to be overkill and not wanting to scare younger audiences with the character more than necessary for the emotional purpose of the movie. [1] In the graphic novel Roger Rabbit: The Resurrection of Doom, it is revealed that Doom's real name was Baron von Rotten, and that he played villains in old cartoons, until one day, he was knocked unconscious and woke up thinking he was a real villain.

The film's credits run for nearly ten minutes. At the time of its release, Roger Rabbit held the record for having the longest end credits sequence in cinema history.

Critical reaction

Although test screenings proved disastrous, Roger Rabbit opened to generally positive reviews on June 21 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" [1]. Rotten Tomatoes lists Who Framed Roger Rabbit as being #38 on its Best Of Rotten Tomatoes list [2] all-time list with 100% positive reviews. As the website was created in 1995, and would only have the option of searching past archives, it is not able to give an accurate contemporary depiction of the review success.

The movie won four Academy Awards: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing; Best Effects, Visual Effects; Best Film Editing; and a Special Award for Richard Williams for "animation direction and creation of the cartoon characters". The film received four further nominations: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Cinematography and Best Sound.

Jessica Rabbit's look was designed after Veronica Lake. Jessica even sports Lake's trademark "Peek-a-Boo" hairstyle.

The film was disliked by Chuck Jones, the famed animation director best known for his work at Warner Bros. Jones himself storyboarded the piano duel between Donald and Daffy Duck, but he felt that the version of the scene in the final film was horrible. Jones also felt that Richard Williams had become too subservient to Robert Zemeckis.

Legacy

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is seen as a landmark film that sparked the most recent era in American animation. The field had become lackluster and worn-out 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 such as Darkwing Duck, Duck Tales, Animaniacs and Tiny Toon Adventures. (In fact, upon close inspection, Darkwing Duck owes as much to Looney Toons as it does to traditional Disney animation.)

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, as none of the Fleischer characters appear in the film). Blanc (who would shortly 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 policeman. That last line, naturally, is "That's All, Folks!" The Disney character Tinkerbell then brings the film to a close with the wave of her pixie-dust splashing wand.

Despite being produced by Disney's Touchstone Pictures division (in association with Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment), Roger Rabbit also marked the first (and to date, only) time that characters from several animation studios (including Universal, MGM, Republic, Turner Entertainment, and Warner Bros.) appeared in one film. 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 screen time. This is why the script had Bugs, Mickey, and Eddie together in one scene falling from a skyscraper; in this scene, the mouse and the rabbit speak the same exact number of words of dialogue, as per the contract. However, a split-second shot of Bugs is seen just before the scene changes to the red car stopping. 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 Tinkerbell appears to tap the scene in the traditional Disney ending manner.

Eventually, several additional animated shorts featuring Roger Rabbit, Jessica Rabbit, and Baby Herman would be released. These shorts were presented in front of various Touchstone/Disney features in an attempt to revive short subject animation as a part of the movie-going experience. These shorts include Tummy Trouble released in front of Honey, I Shrunk The Kids (this was included on the original video release of the film), Roller Coaster Rabbit shown in front of Dick Tracy and Trail Mix-Up shown in front of A Far Off Place. They were all released on video in 1996 on a tape called The Best of Roger Rabbit, and in 2003 on a special edition DVD of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Tummy Trouble was produced at the main Walt Disney Feature Animation studio in Burbank, California and the other two shorts Roller Coaster Rabbit & Trail Mix-Up were produced at the satellite studio located at Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando, Florida.

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 to rapturous applause 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.

Some parallels between Roger Rabbit and Robert Zemeckis's movie trilogy Back to the Future (BTTF) can be discovered. Christopher Lloyd appears in all four films, as Judge Doom and as Dr. Emmett Brown. Charles Fleischer, the voice of Roger Rabbit, appears as Terry the mechanic (soliciting donations for the clock tower in 2015 and returning Biff his car in 1955) in BTTF Part II. Also, Eddie Valient discovers a missing will in Acme's pocket by examining a newspaper photo under a magnifying glass, in the same way as Doc Brown discovers the missing sports almanac in Biff's pocket in BTTF Part II. The car chase in which the weasels chase Eddie and Roger in Benny the Cab has similar elements to Biff and his friends chasing Marty on a skateboard around the Hill Valley town square in the original BTTF; in both cases, the chasers say the line "I'm gonna ram him" just before they crash into a truck. The two movies were both scored by Alan Silvestri, and some of the music sounds very similar. The tunnel into Toontown resembles the River Road tunnel. Also, part of the mechanism designed for Benny The Cab was used in BTTF Part III when Marty is dragged by a horse.

Controversies, Easter eggs and deleted sections

Several Easter eggs were hidden in the film by its animators. Tape-based analog video such as VHS did not reveal these, but better image-quality-delivering-technologies such as the laserdisc were said to reveal amongst others the phone number of Disney CEO Michael Eisner. Also, when Bennie the Cab wrecks at night and Eddie and Jessica roll out, there are two separate frames (2170-2172 on side 4 of the laserdisc version), within two seconds of each other, showing a blurry shot of her crotch. Disney recalled the laserdisc and issued another disc, later claiming that it was an incorrectly painted cel. Oddly, they also stated that the cel in question could be seen on the new disc and on the VHS version, prompting many to raise the question "if it's on the VHS version too, why was only the laserdisc recalled, and if the new discs were reissued with the same flawed cel, why did they go to the trouble in the first place?". The best way to see this on VHS is with a 4-head or 6-head VCR, as these have a clearer pause function than a 2-head VCR with no interference such as noise bars and loss of color while paused.

A brief scene consisting of the toon Baby Herman giving a sexual gesture to a female (human) extra on the set of the opening cartoon 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.

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 Donald supposedly replies, in his kazoo-like voice "God damn stupid nigger...." Snopes, a noted debunking website, debunks this with the closed-captioning which records Donald as saying "Goddurn stubborn nitwit," though Snopes actually believes he's saying something akin to his typical exclamation, "Why you doggone little...I'll...waaagh!" as is heard in many old Disney cartoons. The Snopes conclusion is that people are much more able to hear something negative when they know ahead of time what they are supposed to be hearing (suggestibility) as well as thinking the worst of an entertainment mega-corporation (distrust) which will lead them to hear what they want, whether or not it's true. [3]

Anachronisms

Roger Rabbit takes place in Hollywood in 1947. With this in mind, several anachronistic errors are easily spotted. For instance the model sheets used for many of the characters in it, especially the Warner Bros. stars, who were on paid license from Warner Bros., were typically older ones that were not actually in use at the time (Bugs Bunny, noticeably, used an early sheet that was phased out of use at Warner Bros./Leon Schlesinger Pictures in 1943). It could be, however, that these Toons are still around although retired from films. Also, several characters who were created after 1947 were included at the behest of the film crew; for example, the Road Runner & Wile E. Coyote appear because they are Robert Zemeckis' favorite cartoon characters. The appearance of post-1947 Toons can be explained by the idea that in the universe of the film, Toons are sentient beings who exist independent of humans and that certain Toons were around but hadn't started working in films yet.

There are some anachronisms in the film that aren't so easily explained by Roger Rabbit’s premise. In the scene where Judge Doom comes to the café looking for Roger, Angelo speaks up when he hears that there is a reward for the rabbit. He says: "Yeah, I've seen a rabbit", then he turns around and addresses thin air: "Say hello, Harvey." Many believe this is a reference to the James Stewart movie Harvey (in which the title character is a six-foot-tall talking rabbit seen only by the protagonist) and perceive it as an error, because the movie came out in 1950 and Roger Rabbit takes place in 1947. However the stage version of Harvey came out on Broadway in 1944, to which, logically, Angelo could be referring. Also, it is possible that the character himself is not intentionally or directly referencing the movie nor theatre production, and merely gives his 'rabbit' the name 'Harvey', thus enabling the filmmakers to reference the movie regardless of when it was released.

Another error that cannot be justified is the cartoon that plays in the theater where Eddie and Roger hide out: Goofy Gymnastics, a Goofy cartoon from 1949. In Roger Rabbit DVD special commentary, they explain the justification for the cartoon. When the movie was made, the film makers used Goofy Gymnastics because they considered it to be the most violent and comical cartoon Disney had made to that date.

Finally, at the end of the film Porky Pig casually claims to spontaneously come up with his famous stuttering "That's all folks!" line and, decides to conclude the film with it. However, nearly all Looney Tunes cartoons ending with Porky saying that line were made before 1946.

Regarding the errors, writer Peter Seaman said that the aim of the film was "entertainment, not animation history" which explains why these anachronisms were overlooked.


Spoilers end here.


Animated characters

Main cartoon characters

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

Cartoon characters that make cameo appearances

These characters had all appeared in either film or cartoon shorts made by various studios.

Disney

Warner Bros.

MGM

Paramount Pictures/Fleischer Studios

Walter Lantz

Chilly Willy, Dinky Doodle and Screwy Squirrel are mentioned

(*) Denotes anachronisms; these characters (or, in the cases of characters such as Tinkerbell, the animated versions of them that appear in the film) were created after 1947.

Merchandising

The success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit lead 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 well as a Roger Rabbit doll. Other memorabilia included cookie jars, Christmas ornaments, music boxes, snow globes, pinback buttons, 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.

Marvel Comics commissioned a special graphic novel shortly after the film's release as a novelization in comic-book form.

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 096-284445-4.
  • Chuck Jones Conversations. Edited by Maureen Furniss. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1-57806-729-4.
  1. The idea of a villain killing Bambi's mother was later incorporated into Disney's Beauty and the Beast, and suggested that Gaston was the one who shot Bambi's mother. This mention can be found in the script for "Who Shot Roger Rabbit?"

External links

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