I remember how highly this film’s technical achievements were lauded when it first came out. The melding of live action and animation got lots of attention at the time. Now, it looks pretty pedestrian, and I wouldn’t quite call it seamless. The saving grace is that the filmmakers (once again, a Spielberg-backed Zemeckis directs) didn’t pass on story and simply rely on special effects. The film is actually a moderately successful neo-film noir.
Another latter-day film noir, Chinatown, is considered by many to have the best-written screenplay in movie history. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? borrows liberally from it. A troubled detective in 1930s Los Angeles investigates a seemingly simple adultery case and uncovers a massive conspiracy to reshape the developing city itself. The twist here is that, in this world, the stars of the popular cartoons of the era are real, and humans can interact with them. The detective in question, Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) has descended into alcoholism after the crushing death of his brother at the hands of a violent cartoon. He hates cartoons, but he takes a job concerning the wacky Roger Rabbit out of financial need. Roger’s wife Jessica plays a risqué game of pattycake with the head of the Acme corporation, who ends up dead the next day. Roger is the obvious suspect, and the dreaded Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) is ready to erase him from existence. Roger takes refuge with Eddie, who must now clear the silly cartoon’s name by delving deeper into the Toon community.
As I suggested before, the effects have not aged well into the era of digital effects. And, I can’t help but feel like the movie could be a lot funnier. Roger Rabbit is just downright annoying and cameos by the likes of Daffy and Donald Duck provide most of the cartoon laughs. Still, the plot and script are pretty effective, even if they are knock-offs of a much better film (Chinatown is about as good as it gets – if you haven’t seen it, rent that first), and I actually liked the juxtaposition of some fairly dark material, and lots of sexual innuendo, with silly cartoons. There are even a few musings about the legal and social status of cartoons that make this halfway interesting as speculative fiction. It's worth a look, even if it probably won for the wrong reasons.