Buena Vista/Buena Vista .
R4 . COLOR . 99 mins .
PG . PAL
‘Toons, you either love ’em or you hate ’em. Or you’re completely indifferent to them – but that doesn’t work with we’re I’m going here, so we’ll just gloss over that little option. Anyway, down-and-almost-out gumshoe Eddie Valiant is quite definitely in the hate ‘em camp, not least of all because one killed his brother. Still, desperate for any work he can get his mitts on, he takes a gig for cartoon tycoon R.K. Maroon, as one of his stars, Roger Rabbit, is off his game, with rumours around town that his rather shapely wife, Jessica
She's not bad, she's just drawn that way...
– the light of his life, the apple of his eye, the cream in his coffee even - is playing patty-cake with another, erm, man. After all, you can drop all manner of blunt objects on their heads, shoot ’em, bash ‘em, pulp ‘em and mash ‘em and they’ll be fine, but break a toon’s heart and they’re toast. It seems a simple gig for Eddie, just take a few happy snaps of the scarlet woman sharing her palms, pocket the moolah and get on with life, such that it is.
Naturally, however, it isn’t that simple. It seems Jessica’s suitor is one Marvin Acme, gag king and much-loved owner of Toontown – the home of all creatures great and animated. When Acme turns up dead (having had a safe dropped on his head, of course), all the accusatory fingers are pointed at an insanely jealous Roger, who inveigles his way into Eddie’s life leaving the private dick no option but to become involved. Ah, but it’s also not such a simple case of murder. Nefarious things are afoot in L.A., with a mysterious company named Cloverleaf Industries buying up the public transport system – the world’s finest no less – and there’s the little matter of Acme’s will. It had long been known that his intention was to bequeath Toontown to its inhabitants, however his last will and testament is nowhere to be found and the clock’s a tickin’ before the metropolis is up for sale to the highest (or evilest) bidder. And just what’s with this menacing Judge Doom guy and his weasel henchmen? And then there’s the dip… Is Toontown’s goose cooked in the name of multi-lane progress?
"We toons may act idiotic, but we're not stupid!"
A simply revolutionary achievement in its day (1988), and just as awe-inspiring today (2003, duh!), as most will know Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a combination of classic film noir tale and bright as a button ‘toon, almost flawlessly combines the worlds of reality and cartoon in more than just its story, giving our animated friends full reign to interact in what many of us consider “real life”. Even more amazing than the fact that Steven Spielberg, director Robert Zemeckis and the many, many, many, many, many, many (etc.) talented folks in their orbit managed to pull it off at all is that they did it without the aid of computers. While any odd or bod can fart out a Monkeybone or the like nowadays thanks to a little box which mushes and smushes all those zeroes and ones into some semblance of animated output, Who Framed Roger Rabbit’s often stunning animation – in the wondrously classic Tex Avery, Looney Tunes kind of vein – was created entirely by hand. As such numerous thousand cels were drawn and painted, then added to with all manner of shading and shadowing so they would look their part in the human world. And it worked an absolute treat.
Not only a remarkable feat of animation, including the creation of modern day classic characters the likes of Roger and Jessica Rabbit, Baby Herman and Benny the Cab, Who Framed Roger Rabbit also managed to pull off the unthinkable, with classic characters from Warner Bros and Disney
Mickey and Bugs drop in...
(who backed the picture) sharing screen time for the first, and possibly last, time ever, along with such well-loved ‘toons as the delightful Betty Boop, Droopy and Woody Woodpecker from other studios. As such it’s a veritable spot-the-character fest for any classic cartoon fan, with such unforgettable moments as Messrs Daffy and Donald Duck doing a duelling pianos thing and respective company flag-wavers Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny double-teaming to “assist” a troubled Eddie Valiant. Classic voice talent is also called in, the likes of June Foray, the inimitable and much missed Mel Blanc and more, in what is a veritable feast for anybody who proudly counts themselves in that “love ‘em” camp. And all with more than enough of those fantastical Acme products to have the Coyote absolutely swooning with lust.
Made in a ratio of 1.85:1, pleasingly this is how Who Framed Roger Rabbit comes to our homes, complete with 16:9 enhancement, yay! Even better news is how well it all scrubs up – or has been scrubbed up.
Hey! I'll follow whatever I damn well want!
While the odd speckle can be found here and there, in general it’s a gratifyingly clean and mostly detailed print, although it isn’t perfect. There is noticeable grain at times, and possibly due to the whole film noir vibe of the flick shadow detail suffers on occasions in, not surprisingly, darker scenes, sometimes offering up a bit of a challenge to make out just what’s going on. This isn’t too common, thankfully, and the generally slightly muted ‘40s colouring of the film combined with the hyper-hued Toontown palettes utilised wins the day in the end – unlike the layer change which, although navigated quickly, is rather clumsily placed. Possibly the best thing of all is that despite the resolution afforded by DVD technology, the remarkable feats accomplished in combining live action with animation aren’t at all compromised or made more obvious, it all still looks as utterly magical as it ever did.
Now to canvas the hate mail. Much to-do has been raised about a couple of split-second alterations made to the film after the original Laserdisc release brought to light a few decidedly un-Disney-like animated frames. Naturally opinions will differ on this subject, however while historical revisionism can be a dreadful thing in certain circumstances, surely a mere couple of fleeting changes to alter the work of some deviant animators – frames which weren’t even detectable when watching the film without the aid of a frame-by-frame function – are hardly worth the massive hoo-hah that’s being raised? I mean who in their right mind gets excited about seeing a cartoon character’s private parts?! Let’s get some perspective here; there are much more important things in life to get up in arms about. OK, OK, I’ll get off the soapbox now…
While DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 may not have existed back in 1988, a six track mix certainly did. There’s nothing to tell us if this is actually what was used here or whether a new mix has been created for this release, however it doesn’t really matter – it sounds better than most would ever imagine.
This isn’t to say it’s a jaw-dropping, eye-popping aural thrill ride, for it isn’t, with much of the action placed across the front of the sonic arena. As well as offering more subtle ambience, the surrounds do kick in when appropriate, if not to earth-shattering effect, and the subwoofwoof does its stuff on the odd occasion adding some subtle, but effective, vibration to proceedings. As for that other important thing, synch, all the human cast’s dialogue matches up perfectly with their mouth movements, while naturally their cartoon co-stars should be given just a little bit of leeway. As for differences between the two formats, it’s pretty much chalk and chalk – when discounting the extra volume in the DTS mix there’s little noticeable that anybody with standard human hearing will discern.
Composer Alan Silvestri was given the daunting task of scoring this tale of he with the floppy ears, and did a fabulous job juggling the challenge of combining quite authentic noir-styled compositions with as happy as all get out ‘toon-type fare. The result, courtesy of the London Symphony Orchestra, adds volumes to the enjoyment of the flick, and is handled extremely well by both audio mixes.
Hold on to your hats folks, for we’re off on a bonus bonanza courtesy of Benny the Cab, who hoons us about the various menus on disc one in a way which is quite fabulous at first, but is soon cause for a hearty “get on with it!”.
Unlike the US release, which was divided into family and fan type shiny platters, we are spared a full-frame version and a couple of unrelated trailers, however otherwise all bonus bits and bobs are all present and accounted for. As such our discs have their content spread differently, with the bulk of the goodies housed on the second shiny little round thing.
Ooh, that's gotta hurt...
This isn’t to say there’s nothing worthwhile playing with on disc one - no sirree Bob - for first up is a commentary from a vast array of folk who worked on the film. How vast is vast? Well, erm, kinda six. These particular people are director Robert Zemeckis, screenwriters Jeffery Price and Peter Seaman, visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston and finally production types Frank Marshall and Steve Starkey, and joy of joys for the most part they actually introduce themselves before speaking, making it all just that little bit easier to follow. Recently recorded, this is both a great fun and pleasingly informative example of the old commentary thing, with plenty for those into technical knowledge and just as much for those of a less nerdy bent as well – although perhaps intriguingly no mention is made at all of those much-hyped alterations. It all works even better when combined with the trivia track, entitled Toontown Confidential. Utilising a mostly easy to read chunky white font, it is crammed with Roger Rabbit related information, general cartoon history, guff about most anybody who walked onto the film’s set, freeze frame fun, trivia questions and many examples of the old “did-you notice?”. It may also illicit the odd unintentional laugh, with lines such as, “Before CDs music was played on records”. Mrrf, I feel kinda old now… Rounding out the first disc’s bonuses is a rather pointless little Roger head which plays a clip from the film demonstrating just why certain rabbits should seriously consider teetotalism.
And now for the second disc - the place where all the extras action really is. The menu features a combination of real life and animation much like the film, and runs for quite some time before looping. The first cab off the rank here is Benny – and we missed him, so we’ll have to settle for a deleted scene. Quite well-known to animation nerds, and actually showing up in some television airings, this is available with or without an explanatory intro, leaving it running for either 5:32 or 3:53. What’s it all about? Well, suffice to day it involves Eddie Valiant being rather pigheaded. Speaking of Mr V., next up is a series of galleries under the banner The Valiant Files (sorry, owners of ancient Chryslers need not get excited). These are accessible two ways, by trundling about the office highlighting bits and pieces with a magnifying glass, or by wussing out and going the cheat sheet route. Within are six galleries featuring character development; a section on art including development, some Chuck Jones works, Toontown, deleted ideas, deleted titles and the odd image from the movie’s opening cartoon, Somethin’s Cookin’; a production section containing set decoration, special effects and posters; some promotional guff and finally theme parks, featuring design sketches from the Toontowns at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Be advised, if you choose the more adventurous option you’ll likely trip over a few bonus bits of silliness, including a safe with surprising contents…
A brief (3:09) before and after is next to roll up, featuring combinations of blue screen and sketches down below, and how it looked when completed up top. A quite short featurette, Toon Stand-ins (3:15), follows, offering up the odd interview along with scenes of actors plying their trade to rubber dummies. The odd different line is included here and there, too. Jumping around a bit for the sake of neatness, we are also given an On-set featurette (4:52) letting us in on the recording of a couple of Benny’s scenes.
Hey, smoking really does stunt your growth!
A pleasingly chunky documentary is also on offer. Behind the Ears – The True Story of Roger Rabbit clocks in at 36:38, and is a fabulous melange of all the usual stuff such things tend to offer – well, as usual as you can get for a rather unique film such as this. Filled with recent interviews from many of those who were behind the cameras and in front of them, there are also plenty of clips both final and from behind the scenes, before and afters and much more. A wonderful watch in its own right, it’s made indispensable just for the chance to see the voice of Roger, Charles Fleischer, lolloping his way around the set in a bunny suit. Speaking of Fleischer, he hosts a more kiddie-friendly affair entitled Who Made Roger Rabbit (10:57), in almost teeth-gratingly over the top style (bring back Judge Doom and his blackboard!). It is worth enduring, however, for some different behind the scenes insights. Speaking of kiddie stuff, one of those interactive game doobries is included, under the guise of Trouble in Toontown. Whilst pretty lame due to the limitations of controlling such things with a button-laden rectangular item that in no way resembles a joypad, some effort has been expended, combining sequences requiring the player to splat weasels with pies, answer trivia questions, whack weasels with mallets, use that jaded old memory and finally dodge dip. Don’t get too excited though - even if you save Toontown from those wascally weasels there’s no payoff. Humph!
Saving the best ‘til last, the three original Roger Rabbit shorts created for the cinema are all here, complete in a 16:9-enhanced ratio of 1.85:1 and sporting Dolby Digital 5.1 sound (in English at least, Italian only scores Dolby Digital stereo). All superlative odes to the days of Tex Avery, Looney Tunes et al, more specifically they are Tummy Trouble (7:27), featuring hospital hi-jinx; Rollercoaster Rabbit (7:32), with its State Fair sitting shenanigans and Trail Mix-up (8:31) with all its national park nuttiness.
Finally (yes, we’re almost there), mention must be made of the packaging all this comes in. Housed within a silver cardboard slipcase is a foldout dossier that couldn’t be glossier, within which the two discs are housed (duh!), along with an eight-page notebook describing the extra features and “signed” photo postcards of Jessica and Roger. It’s lovely stuff, although it will require a bit more TLC than an Amaray.
If you’re in with that coolest of crowds who worship the ground classic animation has been drawn on, this fabulously presented two-DVD set is an absolute life necessity. More than just an amazing technical achievement, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a classic, timeless tail - uh, tale - that only relatives of Judge Doom could fail to fall in love with.
Jack & Sarah "Proving that simplicity is no obstruction to brilliance, this is an ultimately sweet (but not sickeningly so) tale that gives all those bigger English films out there a more than respectable run for their money... "