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Release Year: 1988
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Crime
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writer: Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman, Gary K. Wolf (novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit?)
If you were to ask us who our favorite celebrities are, we'd say Tina Fey, Channing Tatum, and SpongeBob SquarePants…not necessarily in that order. Sometimes we even gush about these stars without being asked, prompting people to back away slowly.
And the possibility of meeting/becoming best buds with/playing minigolf while laughing uproariously and drinking Slushies with two of those celebrities is within the realm of reality. (Sure, it's not likely, but it's not impossible either. Let us dream our dreams.)
But we'll never meet the third one: SpongeBob. He's a cartoon, and we're stuck out here in the real world, where pineapples a) are not able to flourish underwater and b) are never big enough to live in. Sigh.
Life is hard in the third dimension.
And we're not alone in our assertion that 3-D life would be way better if you could survive a falling anvil, chat with inanimate objects, or show someone they're a hottie by making your eyes turn into bulging hearts. Since the invention of cartoons—whether it's Betty Boop, Bugs Bunny, or Mickey Mouse—people have imagined what it would be like to interact with them and hang out in their world.
Disney tried blending live action and animation a few times in the 1940s, with The Three Caballeros (1945) and Song of the South (1946). They even forced Dick Van Dyke to dance with penguins in Mary Poppins (1964). But it wasn't until Who Framed Roger Rabbit? in 1988 that it felt like meeting a Toon might actually be possible.
Possible, and potentially terrifying.
Produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, Roger Rabbit used groundbreaking filmmaking and animation techniques to make it feel like its human characters were interacting with its not-so-human ones. Plus, it tells a mature story more in common withChinatown (1974) than the plot of a Merrie Melodies cartoon.
The plot tells the tale of Eddie Valiant: private detective to Toons and humans alike. He's mix of hard-boiled Humphrey Bogart and slapstick Oliver Hardy. Valiant's latest client is a cartoon rabbit named (you got it) Roger, who's been framed for the murder of Marvin Acme. Yes, that Acme, the one whose name is on all those crates Wile E. Coyote delivers.
Major suspects include Roger's sultry wife, Jessica, the fataliest femme ever put on screen, and Judge Doom, an unblinking crackpot who's invented a concoction that will rub Toons out…permanently.
Yup: this is a weird movie. Kids come to see Dumbo and Tweety Bird cameo in the same flick, adults stay for the noir-ish intrigue and mystery.
Roger Rabbit was one of the most expensive movies ever produced, with a budget of $70 million. But it handily made that back and then some, raking in over $320 million worldwide. That'll buy a lot of cartoon carrots.
The popularity of this film paved the way for future cartoon/live-action hybrids like Space Jam (1996) and countless Alvin and the Chipmunks movies. It also made English actor Bob Hoskins (Eddie Valiant) a household name in the U.S. He'd go on to star in American classics like Hook, Super Mario Bros. and Spice World. Villain Judge Doom was played by Christopher Lloyd, who continued a streak of playing ridiculous looking characters—after seeing him as Judge Doom, Doc Brown, and Uncle Fester, we're not sure if we even know what the man actually looks like.
Director Robert Zemeckis helmed many technologically impressive blockbusters. Death Becomes Her (1992) cooked up grisly ways to murder Meryl Streep and bring her back to life. He made Grendel's mom into a combination of Jessica Rabbit and Angelina Jolie in Beowulf (2007). And we're surprised he didn't direct the movie where David Hasselhoff meets SpongeBob, but in 2004, he was busy morphing Hanks into the cartoon conductor of The Polar Express.
Although Roger Rabbit was based on a novel called Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf, and Wolf has written two sequels, we have yet to see Roger return to the silver screen. It's one of those movies where sequel rumors resurface every few years, including one by The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams. (Source)
May we suggest our own sequel, which sees Roger Rabbit working at a nightclub with Channing Tatum while Jessica records a duet with Tina Fey? SpongeBob shows up when the gang hits the late night drive-thru at the Krusty Krab.
If you see this, Spielberg, call us.
Because you love movies.
That's kind of like saying "You love chocolate," or "You love sloth videos" or "You love the month of May." It's almost too obvious—if you have a pulse, you love movies.
But Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a movie-lover's dream. It's a film noir that gives The Maltese Falcon a run for its money in the hard-drinking P.I. department. It's a cartoon. And it's a movie with special effects that still look good, which is a rarity. (Have you seen The Phantom Menace recently? It doesn't hold up too well.)
But the movie-ness of Roger Rabbit doesn't stop there. It's also a movie about showbiz in L.A.—it's very much a movie about making movies. But unlike other movies-about-movies that focus on the history of Hollywood (The Artist) or the life-saving properties of making movies (Argo), Roger Rabbit is even more movie-ful than that.
Because it's also just a hilarious movie that's there to entertain you.
Self-referential, meta, and totally fun—not a combo you get every day.
And that's what we think is at the heart of Roger Rabbit's brilliance. Sure, it launched a zillion new special effects tactics. And sure, it harkens back to the days of hardboiled Bogies and sultry Bacalls. And yes, the cartoons are amazing.
But the true genius of this film is the fact that it does all this stuff without navel-gazing. It does it with a smirk and a tip of the hat and a grand piano dropped onto your head. It doesn't need to be somber to be listed as one of the greatest movies of all time.
Roger Rabbit proves that you don't have to be serious to be seriously amazing. You can just have an epic cast, amazing special effects…and maybe a subplot that involves psychotic weasels.
Did you see Bart Simpson as a cameo in Toontown? No, he isn't one of those blink-and-you-miss-him moments. In fact, if you blink, you might have a better shot at spotting him. Why is that? Because Bart Simpson isn't actually in the movie. But Nancy Cartwright, the voice of the iconic yellow brat, voices the poor cartoon shoe fated to be dipped to death by Judge Doom. (Source)
In an early version of Roger Rabbit, Judge Doom was the same Toon who killed Bambi's mother. Who knows why they changed it. (Source)
Roger may not have seen a feature-length sequel, but comic writer Bob Foster penned a graphic novel sequel called The Resurrection of Doom in 1989. In his original draft, Foster reveals that Doom played the roles of Disney villains over the years. He didn't mention the guy who killed Bambi's mom, but he did show Doom as the magic mirror in Snow White and as a demon in Fantasia. Disney changed it for the final draft. (Source)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? inspired many urban legends about alleged dirty Easter Eggs in the film. Some believe that Jessica goes commando, being exposed when she is thrown from the spinning taxi cab. Also, in the original version, Baby Herman extends what looks like his middle finger when looking up his nanny's dress. If any of these are actually true, these animators need to be let out into the fresh air more. (Source)
After Judge Doom's plot to takeover Toontown failed, it appears that Mickey Mouse bought it, and probably still had a lot of dough to spare. Disneyland features Mickey's Toontown. In this section of the park, you can take a ride on Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin. It's described as "dark," "loud," and "spinning," just like the film. (Source)
Roger Rabbit seems like the least likely character to inspire a dance craze, but he did. The Roger Rabbit is an iconic hip-hop dance. Emphasis on the hop. Because he's a rabbit. And he hops. Oh, just shut up and dance. (Source)
She's Just Drawn That Way
If you want more Jessica Rabbit (in a totally PG sense), check out her fan site.
Who Wrote Roger Rabbit?
Not only did Gary K. Wolf write the book the film was based on, he posed as Eddie Valiant on the cover of the book's paperback edition
She Has It All
Williams designed Jessica as the "ultimate male fantasy": a combo of Rita Hayworth, Veronica Lake, and Lauren Bacall. If she were drawn today, she'd have the face of Charlize Theron, the attitude of Jennifer Lawrence, and the butt of a Kardashian.
Ebert and Rabbit at the Movies
Roger Rabbit was the kind of movie even film critics paid to see twice.
Brit's Got Talent
The most convincing aspect of Bob Hoskins's performance might not be acting with invisible characters, but instead putting on a flawless American accent.
Animation director Richard Williams talks about giving his animated characters a sense of roundness. These Toons have more depth than a lot of flesh-and-blood actors today.
Roger Without the Rabbit
Even more impressive than the animation is seeing how the movie was made before the Toons were added.
He's Not Annoying, He Just Sounds That Way
Need a ringtone, reaction effect, or noise to annoy your friends. All the iconic smashes, sounds, and quips from Roger Rabbit are here.
A Valiant Career
Even Roger would have shut up during a moment of silence for Bob Hoskins, who died in 2014.
Roger Rabbit looked totally different in early test footage, but the trench coat is snazzy.
Mr. Bun Bun
Charles Fleischer dressed as Roger on the set, even though he was never on camera. He's the one in the bunny suit.
Who Filmed Roger Rabbit?
The original poster shows a silhouette of Roger…made of the film of Roger Rabbit. How artsy. And meta.