Tuesday, November 23, 2010

“Why, my Uncle Thumper had a problem with HIS probate, and he had to take these big pills, and drink lots of water.”

Been a while since we’ve dipped into the inky black pool of Film Noir, but 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a good solid twisting of the genre into a curious balloon animal shape.

Uhh, that was a weird metaphor. Let’s just get right into it.

Take bitter, drunken hard-boiled private eye Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins doing an incredible job hiding his British accent) and have him working in 1940’s Hollywood. Pretty noir-ish so far, right? Now add Toons, living, breathing cartoon characters that are a staple part of the entertainment business. Eddie, who very clearly does not like toons (for the simple fact that one murdered his brother by dropping a piano on his head) is hired by studio mogul R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern) to do a little snooping on the wife of Maroon Studio’s star player, Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer). When Valiant shows Roger pictures of his wife Jessica (voiced by Kathleen Turner) playing literal patty cake with the recently murdered Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye) owner of Toontown, the plot starts adding up and all signs point to the sinister Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd hamming it up BIG TIME) having something to do with the murder. And then hilarity ensues.

The live action cast is very solid and really gets it done, but since this is a hybrid live action/animation film, the real scene stealers are all the toons that populate Hollywood. And the movie does the near impossible feat of getting all the various companies to grant permission to include their characters in this one film. So you get Betty Boop, Woody the Woodpecker, Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse and so on. What this also means is that the movie features quite possibly the most impressive collection of voice actors ever assembled on screen. In addition to voice work god Mel Blanc (in one of his last performances), you get guys like Frank Welker, Nancy Cartwright, Jack Angel, Tony Pope, Jim Cummings, Wayne Allwine, Russi Taylor, June Foray, Joe Alaskey, Mae Questel (in one of her last performances) and more. You probably don’t recognize any of those names, but I guarantee that you’ve heard them plenty of times. Look them up and you’ll realize just how much respect is due to these incredibly talented people.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis with cinematography by Dean Cundey (who worked with Zemeckis on the Back To The Future Trilogy). The movie has two objectives: Look like the 1930s and blend live action with animation. It works brilliantly. Yes, its in color, but they had color back then (Adventures of Robin Hood, Snow White) and it fit’s the, well, cartoonish nature of the population.

Based on the novel “Who Censored Roger Rabbit? By Gary K. Wolf (bet you didn’t know that) and screenplay by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman. The snappy dialogue is really what cements the movie together, since it effectively blends the madcap cartoon wordplay with the double-entendre of noir. The plot itself is pretty tight and includes the obligatory third act twist.

Original music by the always solid Alan Silvestri. Also, the movie gets major props for including a dueling pianos act between Daffy and Donald Duck that is entirely in character for those two hotheads.

A love letter to film noir, the Golden Age of Hollywood and old school animation all rolled into one. Who Framed Roger Rabbit is just about perfect.

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