With Wreck-It Ralph having recently appeared in cinemas it was interesting to go back 25 years and take a look at Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a film that took cartoon characters into the cinema in a similar way Wreck-It Ralph did with video game characters, though with much more success.
What struck me most across the film was that, while the titular lead was created for the film, almost all of the other characters we see came from Hollywood’s golden era of animation. So we get to see Daffy and Donald delivering a piano duet and Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse sharing the screen along with many other cameos, including a great Porky Pig send off.
If nothing else this mix of characters goes to show the power directors like Steven Spielberg, a producer here, have over the studios, and particularly had in the 1980s when Hollywood was still settling into the post-studio, summer blockbuster, system we have now – and of course it’s also great fun to see these ‘cross-over’ moments.
Aside from the myriad of characters that appear we get a story that could be fairly run of the mill, private detective gets involved in something bigger than he anticipates in post-war Los Angeles, but thanks to the ‘toon’ conceit what we actually get is a real ride of a movie that plays with conventions to create what I can only describe as a minor classic.
As well as Roger Rabbit, voiced in suitably irritating fashion by Charles Fleischer, it is Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd who own the film, acting brilliantly alongside their animated co-stars, and in the case of Lloyd twisting this to great effect and a great demonstration of special effects wizardry from both the animators and ILM who did the post production work.
This post production work is, I think, what makes this film a real success. There had been previous attempts to mix live action with animation, but, generally, the effect was such that it was just too distracting to work for the duration of a feature film.
Here though the almost 3D (in a 2D film sense) feeling of the animated characters makes, with appropriate suspension of disbelief, for a combination that works and we believe, in the confines of this universe at least, that Hoskins, Lloyd et al are genuinely interacting with Roger, Jessica and their Toontown comrades.
So, in all, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is certainly a minor classic movie that has held up well 25 years on, despite advances in digital effects technology, by being both technically impressive, funny and, in its own way, charming while also acting as an homage of an essentially mythical (and here further mytholigised) period of Hollywood history in a way that the makers of any future Wreck-It Ralph sequels could really learn from.