Who Framed Roger Rabbit may not be the first film to present live action and animation simultaneously in the same frames (Disney's Mary Poppins managed to do this 24 years earlier), but it definitely takes it to the next level. With technology available at the time, it became possible to present animated characters in a live-action setting, not just live-action characters in front of a cartoon background, and to have live-action and animated characters interact with each other. This, I imagine, caught the attention of producer Steven Spielberg and director Robert Zemeckis, who must've been clever enough to imagine a setting that seamlessly merges the worlds of live action and animation.
The setting of this movie is 1940s Hollywood, where live-action humans and cartoon characters, who are simply called "toons," coexist within and outside the walls of the Maroon Cartoons animation studio. This is where exaggerated cartoon physics meshes well with our ordinary laws of physics, where toons hold jobs in the human world, and even where human men lust over beautiful animated toons, namely the voluptuous animated woman Jessica Rabbit. At first, there seems to be mostly harmony between the humans and toons, but one character is an exception: private investigator Eddie Valiant (played by Bob Hoskins), whose brother had been murdered by a toon in the past.
This film may feature cartoon characters, the kind of thing that kids today like, but they're mixed in a plot with a few adult themes. Eddie Valiant is asked to investigate the possibility that Jessica Rabbit is having an extramarital affair. Yes, her husband is Roger Rabbit, who is not human but is nevertheless someone whom she finds charming. Anyway, Eddie soon witnesses Jessica having a fling (if you want to call it that) with Marvin Acme, owner of the Acme Corporation. Things get complicated when Acme is found murdered, not too long after Roger Rabbit learns about the affair. The toon rabbit is suddenly accused of that horrific crime.
From there, the movie presents an engaging detective story dotted by clever scenes of human-toon interaction. While working to uncover the truth behind Acme's murder, Eddie finds himself hiding and protecting Roger Rabbit, especially as Judge Doom (played by Christopher Lloyd) has devised a death penalty method for toons: a corrosive chemical mixture that he likes to call "the Dip." While Eddie might have some angst against toons, Doom clearly has an intense dislike of toons, especially after Marvin Acme, a human, has likely been killed by a toon. Eddie's invesigation takes him from Hollywood to the animated world of Toontown, and the climax that follows is exciting to watch and nicely wraps up this clever film.
I should also mention one other thing before I forget. Who Framed Roger Rabbit is also worth seeing for the cameos by various known animated characters. Expect to see Disney's Mickey Mouse and the Looney Tunes' Bugs Bunny falling from the sky together, along with Goofy, Woody Woodpecker, and Betty Boop. For me, my favorite cameo scene features Donald Duck and Daffy Duck playing separate pianos in a musical rivalry. This scene is funny because both animated ducks have somewhat incomprehensible speech patterns. As a kid, I once wanted to see Donald and Daffy together in the same cartoon, so it was quite amusing for me to watch this scene.
Overall, this is a film that I could easily describe in two words: wonderfully imaginative. As a movie for the audience, there's a great story to follow and plenty of humor to go with it. As a movie for filmmakers and animators, it can inspire them to create new ways to entertain the audience, which can simply involve combining elements of different genres and media, as Who Framed Roger Rabbit has demonstrated. There are films that mark milestones in live-action and animation. Who Framed Roger Rabbit certainly belongs in that list. It really is, in my book, a landmark in film.
Anthony's Rating: 9/10
(Review originally published at http://www.anthonysfilmreview.com/Film/W/Who_Framed_Roger_Rabbit.htm)