|This movie won Oscars for Best Sound Effects Editing; Editing; and Visual Effects Editing.||
‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ (PG)By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 22, 1988
Not since Easter has a bunny been so eagerly anticipated as the lovable, lop-eared star of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" -- an instant slapstick classic from Disney and Steven Spielberg. Already, it's a hare's breadth away from legend.
A mix of live action and animation, the $45 million movie is as cunning as Wile E. Coyote and chipper as a flock of cartoon bluebirds. And Roger, with the panache of Peter, the brass of Bugs and the, well, stage presence of Harvey, is 24-carrot gold -- the Woody Allen of the hutch.
"Roger Rabbit" is cartoon noir, an antic mystery set in Los Angeles in 1947. The animated Toons mingle with humans on the sound stages, and cartoon cows line up for back-lot cattle calls. Dumbo flies in baby blue skies, but everybody else takes trolleys as L.A. has the best public transit system in the world. And nobody but the villain of the story has ever heard of a freeway.
Bob Hoskins, the gruff ex-con of "Mona Lisa," costars as the grieving gumshoe Eddie Valiant, a cross between Elmer Fudd and Columbo. He's been drinking his breakfast ever since a Toon killed his brother by dropping a piano on his head. "Just like a Toon," said the police officer.
Down on his luck, Valiant breaks his vow never to work for another Toon and takes a quick, dirty job for Maroon Cartoons, whose headliner Roger has been seeing bells instead of stars. Vicious gossip about his wife Jessica Rabbit has affected his otherwise extraordinary timing. Maroon hires Valiant to put a tail on her.
Valiant's snooping eventually implicates the dizzy but adorable Roger, who becomes the No. 1 suspect in the tabloid murder of his wife's admirer. Not since "Fatal Attraction" has a bunny been in such a dangerous stew. At Roger's behest, Valiant reluctantly takes on that case. He begins his investigation, as any sleuth worth his fedora would, with the slinky Mrs. Rabbit (the sultry voice is Kathleen Turner's).
"I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way," says Jessica, who is built like a Playboy bunny but otherwise is all woman. Though both are Toons, this is a mixed marriage. Jessica is a chanteuse at the Ink and Paint Club, where Betty Boop is a cigarette girl and Ducks Donald and Daffy are double-billed as a piano duet for the humans-only audience.
It's definitely a take on the old Cotton Club, where blacks entertained whites in Harlem; this is a Cottontail Club. It's a rap that lends a wry, angry undertone, making "Roger Rabbit" much more than a kid's cartoon, a stroke of genius that makes this tenuously integrated movie society seem all the more believable. And in a real sense, the moviemakers play mankind's foibles against the unflagging high spirits of the cartoon folk.
Whether it is the yakety exuberance of Woody Woodpecker or the squeaky-clean sweetness of Mickey Mouse, the gang's all here. Warner's lent its characters to the project, Toons with an edge, irascible types who could never have gotten work with Disney in the old days. Roger Rabbit is probably the first Disney cartoon star to toss back a bourbon, much less sip sherry. And surely Jessica is the first to be caught in an extramarital relationship.
Roger has a personality that is as three-dimensional as he appears to be. Why, he even casts a shadow. That took an army of artists, 1,000 special effects and more technology than a nuclear submarine. But this humanimated miracle is more than razzle-dazzle. It's also a landmark of high spirits.
You get the feeling that everybody involved was in love with the notion -- from director Robert Zemeckis of "Back to the Future" to animation director Richard Williams. Hoskins, who reacted to thin air during the filming while a comic in a rabbit suit read Roger's lines offcamera, is wonderful. And the chemistry is there -- the effervescent essence of Roger, his unbearable lightness really, at odds with Hoskins' stolid fireplug physique.
Indeed, Toontown is a new Wonderland, a rowdy, jellybean and yellow-brick-road colored piece of property, where the flowers dance and the sun has a face and the theme song is "Smile, Darn You, Smile." And that's the best way to get in the mood for this overwhelming charmer.
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