Saturday, May 17, 2008

Review - Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Who Framed Roger Rabbit
1989 Hugo Winner for Best Dramatic Presentation

Very loosely based on the book Who Rubbed Out Roger Rabbit? this film tells of a Hollywood in the 40's where animated characters exist side by side with actors. The cartoons make their movies and live a lifestyle based on the quirky animation of the era. Roger Rabbit, one of their biggest stars, has been framed for the murder of the owner of the Acme Novelty Company and hires a washed up private investigator to find out who did it. The results are film noir filtered through Tex Avery.

There are three very good reasons for Who Framed Roger Rabbit to have been awarded a Hugo. First it's a good movie but that's pretty much a given with the awards; even when I don't care for a film that's won I can recognize the quality of the production. Second, it was a major technical achievement which is something that Hugo voters would appreciate. Finally it was an artistic achievement unlike anything else that has been done before or since and that's a good place to start.

You might not be able to tell looking at the state of things now but animation was pretty much dead in Hollywood at the time Who Framed Roger Rabbit was made. Disney's previous animated films had been financial disasters (Eisner would soon revive the animation division and produce The Little Mermaid but that was yet to come). Animation for the US was almost exclusively done cheaply overseas (take a look at the animation credits for your favorite 1980's television cartoon and count the Korean names). This movie helped bring that animation back to the forefront.

But on top of that if you had an idea for a film now that involved bringing together characters from multiple studios you'd be laughed out the door. It's tough enough getting minor studios to cooperate; getting Mickey Mouse together with Bugs Bunny could have been one of the labors of Hercules. Nearly every single major cartoon character from the 1940's and before appear in the film, many of them appearing on screen with their opposite number from another studio. The result is that the movie is a tribute to the animated films of the era and I honestly don't expect to see anything like this happen again in my lifetime.

On the technical side of things Roger Rabbit is astounding. The complex interplay of animated characters and humans over the course of the film is something taken for granted in these days of CGI but every one of those frames had to be painted by hand. In just a few years the CGI revolution would start so the effort that was placed into the production of the movie will never be equaled. That effort was not wasted since with only a few exceptions it is very convincing.

But even all of that would be nothing if the film wasn't any good. While I'm not fond of most of the actors the two principles (Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd) did exceptional work given that they were required to mime most of their role. The story doesn't flow as smoothly as it could since it's build around showcasing the technical achievements but it isn't terrible.

The net result is a superb and unique movie. Animation and live action have been combined before and it's almost a given in any large movie these days but rarely has it been done so effectively.