“Who Framed Roger Rabbit” has aged remarkably well. 27 years after it’s release, in a time when mixing live-action with CG creations is commonplace, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” is still relevant. The way the live-action characters – Bob Hoskins specifically – interact with the animated characters is just as believable as modern day movies that are working with exponentially more technology than Robert Zemeckis had in 1988.
It wasn’t the first time that animation and live-action were mixed, but it was the best. Zemeckis gave an interview in 2013 in which he discussed how they were able to create the illusion so effectively. One aspect that he mentions is the fact that the camera actually moves around the animated characters, with the living actors still in frame. This was an extremely difficult job since up until then animations had simply been placed flat on the frame with the actors trying to act like they were really there. The technical wizardry applied here still astounds me. However, its technical savvy isn’t the only reason to admire ‘Roger Rabbit,’ it’s pretty damn funny too.
The world Zemeckis developed here is one of the most immersive movie settings I’ve ever experienced. He creates a living breathing world in which humans and cartoons share the same space. Nothing ever feels forced or out of place. Instead, the entire experience is so completely integrated that you believe it implicitly. There’s no need for strenuous, overdrawn exposition about why toons exist along with humans. All you need to know is that they do.
Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer) is the most famous toon in Toontown. He was born… I mean drawn, to make people laugh. Sadly, he’s fallen on hard times. His smokin’ hot wife Jessica Rabbit (voiced by Kathleen Turner) may be cheating on him, and to top it all off, somebody has framed him for murder.
Thrown into the mix is lonely private eye Eddie Valiant (Hoskins). Eddie hates toons, “A toon killed my brother,” he sneers. But, Eddie also loves money, so he takes a job spying on Roger Rabbit’s wife to see if she’s up to no good.
What makes ‘Roger Rabbit’ so successful, other than the deftly executed technicalities of it all, is the fact that the movie is wholly self-aware. It understands why toons are funny and plays with the clichés. You get a sense of that awareness at the very beginning when Roger, acting in an animated short, is unable to conjure up floating stars after being smashed by a fridge. Instead, tiny birds pop up and start flying around his noggin. “Stars, Roger! Stars!” the director yells. The movie is replete with this type of scene, moments that embrace the wackiness of a bygone era, when animated shorts involved little more than an anvil being dropped on someone’s head.
“Who Framed Roger Rabbit” is refreshingly adult. It doesn’t shy away from cartoons cursing. It’s also strange to see Mickey Mouse inhabiting the same screen as Baby Herman, but it happens here. Not to mention the fact that this is one of the only places you’ll be able to see a brightly coloured clash of the imaginations of Walt Disney and Chuck Jones. Watching a Donald Duck and Daffy Duck dueling piano show is one of the many delights of the movie.
“Who Framed Roger Rabbit” is a true classic in terms of technical prowess and storytelling. Hoskins work here is more believable than many modern day actors can pull off with CGI helping them out. This is still, arguably, Zemeckis’ most inventive. Revisiting it on Blu-ray has been a treat. (My Movie Rating: 4.5/5)
THE IMAGE QUALITY
Things are a little tricky here. There’s no doubt that transferring a unique film like this would have its challenges. The source, the way the animation and live-action elements were combined, make for a very difficult transfer job. Especially, when Disney has become synonymous with HD perfection as far as their catalog titles are concerned.
“Who Framed Roger Rabbit” comes to Blu-ray with an uneven, but forgivable 1080p presentation. You’ll notice inconsistent blacks, wavering grain structures, flickering animation, and a line of other oddities as the movie progresses. What you won’t notice is any sign of extreme age or wear and tear. A lot of love has gone into bringing this movie to Blu-ray, yet the source material holds it back from becoming perfect.
The good news is that most of the movie looks great. Whenever the stage is lit well the live-action and animation both shine. Detail is rich, giving us uninterrupted views of Bob Hoskins’ inhuman amount of shoulder hair. Each hair is well-defined, as are the textures of Eddie’s stereotypical private eye getup. I’ve never seen Jessica Rabbit’s dress look so clear and gorgeously rendered. The moment she walks out on stage is a “wow” moment. Not just because of her well-endowed features, but because this is where you can tell the finer resolution is really giving this movie more visual “oomph” than it’s ever had.
Though, it doesn’t quite overshadow the problem with the shadows. The darker areas of ‘Roger Rabbit’ are oversaturated with crushing and micro-blocking. When Eddie enters the club, to see Jessica perform, the shadows end up exhibiting dreaded bluing. This sucks the life and detail out of the picture. The flat blacks cast a pall over an otherwise gorgeous looking filmic transfer.
Grain feels like it wavers from scene to scene depending on how much animation is included. As long as you temper your expectations slightly, and realise that this isn’t going to look like it was filmed recently, then you’ll most likely be pleased with the outcome. (Video Rating: 3.5/5)
THE AUDIO QUALITY
Disney’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix also features some troubling aspects that cropped up as a result of the tricky way in which the movie was filmed. You’ll most likely notice quite a few scenes, particularly the first time Eddie and Roger visit the bar, where some instances when inconsistent and muffled ADR stick out like a sore thumb. In that scene, a few voices sound otherworldly, and a few instances remain where sound doesn’t sync up to moving lips.
Alan Silvestri’s memorable score holds up very well here. His rousing strings and booming drums are given ample room to spread out and keep the movie tense. Rear channels are filled with ambient sound. The busy streets of Los Angeles feature cars driving by in the background and people milling about, whereas the zany streets of Toontown are an all-out riot in the rear channels. It really adds to the overall enjoyment of the movie. It’s like you’re being surrounded by toons!
Aside from a few dialogue missteps here and there, most of it comes across as being clearly intelligible. Cartoon-inspired sound effects have a decent depth to them. LFE is deep and well-resolved. I found Disney’s loss-less audio mix to be a playful, immersive experience. (Audio Rating: 4/5)
DIGGING INTO THE SUPPLEMENTS
- Audio Commentary – Zemeckis is joined by producer Frank Marshall, visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston, co-writers Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman, and associate producer Steve Starkey. It’s a pretty crowded affair so it’s hard to keep everyone straight. Although, if you can get past that, this is a commentary that is full of information about the technical aspects of the film (which are indeed the most interesting) and how they were able to license a wide variety of toons to be in the movie. Because, had they all been Disney toons, then the movie would’ve lost a lot of its charm, feeling more like a corporate creation than a conglomeration.
- The Roger Rabbit Shorts (HD, 25 min.) – Thank you Disney for seeing fit to present these three shorts in high-definition. They are: ‘Roller Coaster Rabbit,’ ‘Trail Mix-Up,’ and ‘Tummy Trouble.’
- Who Made Roger Rabbit (SD, 11 min.) – A short look at a behind-the-scenes look at making the character Roger Rabbit with Charles Fleischer acting as host.
- Behind The Ears: The True Story Of Roger Rabbit (SD, 37 min.) – An in-depth documentary about the making-of. It includes a wealth of interviews peppered among great on-set behind-the-scenes footage of the film. This is the one to watch.
- Deleted Scene (SD, 6 min.) – Filmmaker commentary is provided for a deleted scene entitled, “Pig Head Sequence.”
- Before And After (SD, 3 min.) – A fun, but short, look at what scenes look like before and after animation is added in.
- Toon Stand-Ins (SD, 3 min.) – This is a short featurette explaining the rubber models and the people they used to stand in for the animation that would be added in later.
- On Set! Benny The Cab (SD, 5 min.) – A short behind-the-scenes look as Zemeckis controls the set to shoot the car chase sequence in the movie.
- Toontown Confidential (HD) – A trivia track that can be played along with the movie. You have to select it in the subtitles menu.
(Special Features Rating: 4/5)
There are so many reasons to love “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” It’s an innovative idea that was taken to a whole new level by Zemeckis and his crew. He truly had a vision of what the movie could be like if done right, and they succeeded by any measure. Not only is the technical side of the movie impressive, but the entire world created here is completely overpowering. It sucks you into a strange alternate reality where cartoons inhabit the same world as people. Disney has done an admirable job restoring the movie for HD treatment. The video has a few problems here and there, but should, on the whole, make fans happy. “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” is highly recommended. (Overall Blu-ray Disc Review: 4/5)