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Who Framed Roger Rabbit
March 9, 2013

Next Tuesday, Who Framed Roger Rabbit comes to Blu-ray in a 25th Anniversary edition that ports the classic animation/noir mash-up to the latest digital technology, newly restored. It’s still a revolutionary film, entertaining to see so many classic cartoon characters from different studios in one movie.

Bob Hoskins was perfect casting, seeming slightly caricatured himself. He’s also great at the physical clowning required to interact with a co-star who isn’t there. He plays a down-on-his-luck private detective, Eddie Valiant, sent to get the goods on the no-good Jessica Rabbit (Kathleen Turner). Her husband Roger’s boss, head of the studio, wants to open Roger’s (Charles Fleischer) eyes so he’ll focus on his work. Soon after Valiant gets involved, there’s a murder. Roger’s the top suspect, forcing Valiant into Toontown to confront the ghosts of his past and his hatred of toons.

The plot is familiar from old-school private eye movies, but the real appeal is how forward-reaching the moviemaking was. People had appeared with cartoons on film before, but they were all shot flat and static. Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a quantum leap forward in showing the interactions much more realistically and three-dimensionally.

You can sometimes notice the different layers between the human actors and the drawn characters, but it’s still magical to see, for example, Jessica Rabbit pull a handkerchief from Stubby Kaye’s pocket and run it over his head. It’s the practical effects — the objects moving as though manipulated by the toons — that make this film so unusual.

Beyond that, I didn’t appreciate, when I first saw the movie back in the day, the old Hollywood studio elements, aside from the animation history, and the 40s costuming and design. Now, they helped build the feeling of another time. I also hadn’t realized that Mae Questel, the original Betty Boop voice from 1930-1939, performed the character again here. What a nice and neat acknowledgement.

The opening Baby Herman cartoon looks more textured, less crisp than I’m used to seeing today’s computerized animation on Blu-ray. That contributes to the nostalgic feel. Overall, I’d forgotten how enjoyable and funny this film is. This release was a great reminder and excuse to watch it again.

Special Features

All of the special features from the earlier two-disc DVD release are ported over, with one exception, and there are no new extras. Those features include:

  • The three Roger Rabbit short cartoons:
    • “Tummy Trouble” which puts him and Baby Herman in the hospital
    • “Roller Coaster Rabbit”, best of the three, a bizarrely inventive cartoon with the world’s deadliest amusement park ride
    • “Trail Mix-Up”, going camping
  • Bob Hoskins with Roger Rabbit
    “Who Made Roger Rabbit” (11 min), a chirpy special hosted by Charles Fleischer with on-set footage, including with him in the rabbit suit. (Although his acting was voice only, he was on-set to provide it and wore a rabbit costume to look more like the character.) Some of this is way too slow and boring, based on what we know now about the movie, but the parts that are interesting show the devices built to manipulate props; footage before the cartoons were added; and the animation techniques used.
  • Two options that run with the movie: a filmmakers’ commentary and a “Toontown Confidential” trivia track. (The latter is found under the “Set Up” options on the Blu-ray.) My favorite part was when it translated for Donald Duck.
  • A deleted scene, “The Pig Head Sequence” (5 1/2 min), introduced by Robert Zemeckis.
  • “Before and After” (3 min) shows more of the filming footage and storyboards contrasted with the final version once the animation was added. Watching this makes Hoskins’ performance all the more impressive.
  • “Toon Stand-ins” (3 min) shows another technique they used, with actors interacting with rubber figures in place of the toons.
  • “Behind the Ears” (37 min) is the big making-of.
  • “On Set!” (5 min) covers the filming of the scene where Eddie Valiant rides in Benny the Cab. Neat to hear Hoskins’ actual British voice.

The Blu-ray Combo Pack claims that “The Valiant Files”, an interactive image gallery, is available on the DVD included, but I couldn’t find it. Comparing it to the earlier two-disc set, the Combo Pack DVD appears to be the same as the first of the two discs. (This impression is reinforced by how one of the options on the disc says “insert disc two”, which isn’t included with the Blu-ray.) Unfortunately, the Valiant Files feature was on that second disc in the prior DVD set, so this might be a mistake on the Blu-ray box copy.

Bob Hoskins with Jessica Rabbit

What does come over on the Combo Pack DVD is a “Trouble in Toontown” game that wasn’t moved to Blu-ray. What’s missing from the original are the lengthy animated menu sequences where Benny the talking taxi walked you through the disc — no big loss, in my opinion, since they were a bit annoying to navigate while trying to compare the two sets. (The studio provided a review copy.)

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