Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Bigoted toon hating Detective Eddie Valiant (the late and quite great Bob Hoskins) gets hired by cartoon superstar Roger Rabbit (Charles Fleischer) after Roger is framed for murder. Eddie’s investigation uncovers a plot that threatens all of Toontown, the home of all cartoon characters, with the toon dissolving Dip.
This classic is a nod to old school cartoons as well as film noir. Eddie Valiant is as pessimistic and hardboiled as they come in the genre. He was the streetwise detective that had seen too much and lost his brother to a homicidal toon. Bob Hoskins was great as a tough detective in a cartoon world. Then again, I don’t think he ever turned in a bad performance really. He was a great actor.
Jessica Rabbit (Kathleen Turner as the uncredited voice and Amy Irving as the singing voice) was as much a femme fatale here as was Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) in Double Indemnity was. She was all smoldering sexuality and not necessarily above using her appeal to get what she wanted.
And the movie’s villain Judge Doom is played by Christopher Lloyd. He is cold and calculating and one of the more frightening villains in a family friendly film. He’s pale skinned and dressed in black from head to toe. Everything-and I mean everything-leads back to Doom and it’s done in such a way that it’s not forced which is a difficult thing to pull off.
Christopher Lloyd is one of the great villain actors in my opinion, but he doesn’t do it too often. This is only one of a handful of examples that I can think of where he plays the villain in his long career.
There were classic cartoon characters everywhere. So many well-known animated stars had cameos in the film as well as just hung out in the background. There were even multiple obscure ones popping their heads in. For casual and hardcore fans, it was a treat. I remember when this movie came out you could buy VHS cassettes with public domain cartoon shorts at local discount retailers. My family owned a lot of them, and I was familiar with many of the lesser knowns that showed up. The only drawback was that the studio was unable to reach agreements with more rights holders so it was less packed than it could have been.
The opening sequence plays just like a classic Warner Bros. cartoon where you had to pay attention to not only the action but the stuff in the background as well. Their film shorts of the time (as well as those of others) had little jokes that were of the blink-and-you-miss-it type. And it has a few. There are plenty of sight gags and visual puns in this entire movie similar to those that made the old cartoons enjoyable.
I remember how excited I was when Eddie went to the Ink & Paint Cluband I finally got to see Daffy Duck and Donald Duck on the screen at the same time. It was a dream come true. Every little kid on some level wants them to share some screen time but generally it is a bit of a pipe dream given that they are owned by two competing companies. So to see them up there together for even that brief moment is a rush. And we even get the bonus of the pairing of Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny in an equally ludicrous moment a short time later in the film where Eddie is falling, and he encounters Bugs and Mickey.
Here was presented a murder mystery in a film noir world that still included fanciful animated characters. Robert Zemeckis is a genius of his craft and showed that with this movie. He seamlessly merged two very different things and gave us something that fit in both. That takes real skill and talent.
Effects wise, the mesh of cartoons and people is hit or miss at times. Sometimes you can really see the special-effects and other times the blend is seamless. You have to remember that at the time this was all cutting edge and much of what is used now to blend a computer generated space alien in with two flesh and blood people did not exist or was in its infancy. Still it is a massive technical achievement and those flaws are fleeting.
I’d heard the term “playing pattycake” used when talking about affairs and got a good laugh because Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye) was quite literally playing pattycake with Jessica Rabbit. It’s a great pun and much of the humor in the movie works on just goofy jokes or puns. Those jokes are not only kid friendly, but adults can get them too. The prostate joke is probably one of the funniest jokes in the movie. It is the one that will make you laugh out loud. Who knew Roger was related to Thumper? It was a funny way to connect Roger to an existing character.
One thing they manage to do is gather together original voice actors or quality replacements for those that no longer could. The voice of Droopy Dog (Richard Williams-the film’s animation director) is probably the worst voice in the whole movie though. He just doesn’t get it right. Then again that has been something of a curse for the character for some time. The voice is supposed to be sad. Here it’s more like a bad Marlon Brando impression.
It’s a fun and solid story that is a genuine classic. If you haven’t seen this yet I ask why are you denying yourself this piece of cinematic joy? Go and watch it!