Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a 1988 motion picture produced by The Walt Disney Company and Amblin Entertainment that combines animation and live action, and offers a unique chance to see many cartoons from different studios in a single film. It was one of the last star turns for Mel Blanc and other voice actors of animation's Golden Era. The film is set in a fictionalized Los Angeles in 1947, where animated characters (derogatorily referred to as "toons") are real beings who live alongside humans in the real world, most of them working as actors in cartoons. One of the most expensive films ever at the time of its release, the $70 million film eventually brought in over $150 million during its original theatrical release.
Cast, crew, and studio
The live action sequences were directed by Robert Zemeckis, and 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
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 (voiced by Kathleen Turner except for a song sung by Amy Irving), had been playing pattycake together (literally, not figuratively).
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 (a piano was dropped on his head). Eddie reluctlantly decides to help, and soon is shielding Roger from Judge Doom of the Toontown District Superior Court (Christopher Lloyd) and his "Toon Patrol" henchmen, the weasels.
This all occurs while the giant Cloverleaf Corporation, owned by Judge Doom, is plotting to buy out the interurban railway, the Pacific-Electric Red Car, and replace it with freeways (See also: General Motors streetcar conspiracy; National City Lines). 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 are also trying to find the will of the late Marvin Acme, which purportedly gives ownership of Toontown to the toons. Judge Doom is also trying to find the will in order to dispose of it, so he can destroy Toontown and build his freeway, and make himself 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 concocted of acetone, benzine, and turpentine, and the only sure way to kill a toon outside of making them laugh to death.
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 gets shot in the confrontation. Thinking the shooter is Jessica Rabbit, playing Roger as a patsy, Eddie chases the assassin all the way into Toontown, despite his trepidation after the death of his brother there years before. While in Toontown, Eddie discovers that the assassin was 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 has a huge machine that spews "dip" and is trying to eradicate Roger and his wife Jessica with it. He plans to then use his "dip" vehicle to erase Toontown. To combat Doom's weasel henchmen, Eddie, the typically hard-nosed detective, plays a clown (not unexpected, 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. After the weasels are out of the way and during the final battle with Eddie, Judge Doom is revealed to be a toon after a steam-roller rolls over him and he reinflates himself. To Eddie's horror, Doom then reveals himself to be the toon that murdered Teddy. 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, causing Judge Doom to be drenched with "dip" and melt away.
The police soon arrive, and realize that Judge Doom was responsible for the murders of both Maroon and Acme, though no one knows for sure who he was. Marvin Acme's will is found, and Toontown is handed over to the control of the toons, who all cheer and sing a chorus of "Smile, Darn Ya, Smile."
Although test screenings proved disastrous, Roger Rabbit opened to generally positive reviews on June 21 1988. Both Siskel and Ebert included the film as one of their 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 movie won four Academy Awards for 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". It was nominated for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Cinematography and Best Sound.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is seen as a landmark film that sparked a renaissance in the animation industry. The field of American animation had become lackluster and worn-out during the 1960s and 1970s, 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 $50 million - a staggering amount for the time) was a major risk for the company...one that paid off handsomely. It inspired other studios to dive back into the field of animation; it also made animation acceptable with the moviegoing public. After Roger Rabbit, interest in the history of animation exploded, and such legends in the field as Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, and even Ralph Bakshi were seen in a new light, receiving much-deserved credit and acclaim from audiences worldwide.
Also interesting was despite Roger Rabbit being produced by Disney's Touchstone Pictures division (in association with Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment), it also marked the first (and to date, the only) time that characters from several animation studios (from Universal to Republic, and from Turner Entertainment to Warner Bros.) appeared in one film, most notably Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck making their animation/live-action hybrid debut many years before Space Jam, and obviously, the first-ever meetings between Bugs and Mickey Mouse and between Daffy and Donald Duck.
The movie opens with a Roger Rabbit short subject. Eventually, several additional independent 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 moviegoing 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; the other two shorts were produced at the satellite studio located at Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando, Florida.
While Who Framed Roger Rabbit is considered a modern film classic, the film has also had its share of criticism. Much of the critcism revolves around the inconsistent tone of the film: the juxtaposition of the zany cartoon characters and the rough film noir story they appear in. While a blend between the two was the intended result of the producers, some people feel that the tone of the film deviates too much to properly identify it as either a film for children or a film for adults. While sex and violence were very prominent in Golden Age animation, the more blatant and saturated usage of such elements in this film, particularly in the characters of Jessica Rabbit (sex) and Judge Doom (violence), make many parents uncomfortable with allowing children to watch the film and cause discord among those who grew up watching (edited) versions of classic-era cartoons on television and wanted the film to evoke the same tone as the cartoons they grew up with, and those who felt that the death of a minor but harmless character violated the spirit of the original, unedited cartoons (that is, a deathless fantasy world of slapstick humor).
The film's finale, during which its main characters are essentially tied to a rope waiting to be sprayed by a hose, was cited as being weak and unimaginative (Gray).
The film's animation is also accused of using too much superfluous movement. Held cels are very rarely used in Roger Rabbit, and most of the animation is on "ones" (each frame is animated, as opposed to the cheaper, more familiar method of animating every other frame, i.e. "twos"). Even when characters are standing still, they continue to move (particularly Roger, whose ear movememnts were based upon ballet patterns), and some animators and animation artists have cited the extra movement as unneccessary and distracting.
- Several Easter eggs were hidden into 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 is a frame that shows a blurry shot of her pubic hair. 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, raising 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 through the trouble in the first place?"
- 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 DVD edition of the movie, though it can be found on earlier editions of the VHS and laserdisc issues.
- Much of the cinematography and several scenes of the film are an homage to Roman Polanski's Chinatown.
- The credits go on for nearly ten minutes, a record at the time the movie was made.
- 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.
- A contract was signed between Disney and Warner, stating that Bugs and Mickey would each receive exactly the same amount of screen time. That is why the script had Bugs, Mickey, and Eddie altogether in one shot falling from a skyscraper, posing problems with the wide-screen format being adapted to the conventional television screen..
- 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, though CGI technology was used for adding shadows and lighting to the toons to give them a more "realistic," three-dimensional appearance.
- 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. He has provided copies of this list to anyone who requests it. Wolf also sued Disney in 2001 for unpaid earnings related to the film.
- In the scene where Judge Doom comes to the cafe looking for Roger, Angelo speaks up when he hears that there is a reward saying: "Yeah, I've seen a rabbit" turns around and addresses thin air: "Say hello, Harvey." Many think this is a reference to the James Stewart movie Harvey 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 in 1944, to which, logically, Angelo must be referring to, although whether the writers intended this is unclear.
Other films combining live action with animation
Audiences were amazed by the ground-breaking special effects used in Who Framed Roger Rabbit to create a "realistic" portrayal of the interaction of animated characters and live actors. While the film did this with more advanced technology than previous films, the combination of animation and live action had been practised since the beginnings of animated cartoons, often to very good effect.
The tradition goes back all the way to the earliest days of animation with Winsor McCay's short Gertie the Dinosaur, which shows a live-action narrator (specifically, a "live" actor, instead of a filmed one) interacting with an animated landscape and character (Gertie). In one scene, the narrator appears to throws a real orange which is caught by Gertie (the real orange is replaced by an animated one just as it leaves the narrator's hand), and the film climaxes with a scene in which the narrator enters the animated landscape (again, replaced by an animated version) and takes a ride on the famous dinosaur's back.
In the later days of silent film, the popular cartoons of Max Fleischer included a series where his cartoon character Koko the Clown interacted with the live world; for example, having a boxing match with a live kitten. In a variation on this concept, Walt Disney's first directorial efforts (years before Mickey Mouse was born) were the animated Alice Comedies short cartoons, in which a young live-action girl named Alice interacted with animated cartoon characters.
In the era of sound film, the 1940 Warner Bros. cartoon You Ought To Be In Pictures, directed by Friz Freleng, can be seen as a predecessor to Roger Rabbit. The animated sequence in the 1945 film Anchors Aweigh in which Gene Kelly dances with an animated Jerry Mouse is one of the actor's most famous scenes. In 1964, The Walt Disney version of Mary Poppins was a huge success. It showed Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke dancing with animated penguins; these penguins make an appearance in Roger Rabbit. In 1971, Disney revisited this technique in Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
With the commercial and technological success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a slew of live action/animated films followed. Cool World, released in 1992, was a critical and commercial failure. Space Jam, the 1996 film debut of Michael Jordan featuring Bugs Bunny, was a commercial success. The Warner Brothers characters returned to reality for Looney Tunes: Back in Action in 2003. The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (2000) and Monkeybone (2001) were also critical and commercial failures.
- Despite the film taking place in 1947, the model sheets used for many of the characters in it, especially the Warner Bros. stars, who were on paid license from Time Warner, 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).
Cartoon characters that make cameo appearances
- Betty Boop
- Big Bad Wolf
- Bozo the Clown
- Crows from Disney's Dumbo
- Broomsticks from Disney's Fantasia
- Bugs Bunny
- Daffy Duck
- Donald Duck
- Droopy Dog
- hummingbirds from Disney's Song of the South
- Foghorn Leghorn
- Dancing hippo from Disney's Fantasia
- Mickey Mouse
- The penguins from Disney's Mary Poppins
- Porky Pig
- The Road Runner
- Sylvester the cat
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
- Woody Woodpecker
- Wile E. Coyote
- Yosemite Sam
- Disney's official site for this film
- Filmsite.org - Who Framed Roger Rabbit
- Dave Mewhinney's Pacific Electric Photos - Roger Rabbit Collection
- "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.
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