P-p-please, Eddie! Don’t throw me out. Don’t you realize you’re making a big mistake? I didn’t kill anybody. I swear! The whole thing’s a set up. A scam, a frame job. Ow! Eddie, I could never hurt anybody. Oow! My whole purpose in life is to make… people… laugh!– Roger Rabbit
Noir and crime movies are some of the most well-trod genres in American cinema. So what happens when such a movie is made, that also combines cartoon characters and makes them central to the plot? The answer is quite simple and that is Robert Zemeckis’ 1988 live-action/animated neo-noir masterpiece Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It has all the best elements of a classic noir story: a cynical private detective, a case that goes from simple to profoundly complicated and involves celebrities, the police, a MacGuffin object everyone wants to get their hands on, a femme fatale, all combined with some of the best cartoon characters of America’s Golden Age of Animation.
Before Zemeckis came along and made this hard-boiled hijinks-filled movie, there was a book first. Written by Gary K. Wolf, Who Censored Roger Rabbit came out a full eight years before the movie and is a far different animal entirely. Roger is instead a comic strip character who is murdered and his speech balloon made blank as way of him being “censored” to keep silent on the killer’s identity. Aside from Eddie Valiant, Roger’s wife Jessica and co-star Baby Herman, the book and movie differ greatly on plot and supporting characters, but it is those differences that have made the movie such a treasured part of the 1980’s.
Its cast is wide ranged, not just in terms of star power but also in terms of the characters themselves. The mix of real world persons and cartoons is vast, with Bob Hoskins as detective Eddie Valiant, Christopher Lloyd as the villainous Judge Doom, Joanna Cassidy as Eddie’s girlfriend Dolores, Stubby Kaye as gag-master Marvin Acme and Alan Tilvern as studio head R.K. Maroon. And that’s just the main human characters of the story, the animated side of the cast is a whole funnier ballpark.
Leading the pack is Charles Fleischer as the voice of Roger Rabbit, with Kathleen Turner in the unaccredited role of Jessica Rabbit. The entire animated cast is a smorgasbord of cartoon greats, from many of the major titans of the animation industry (that were around in the setting of 1947 Los Angeles). From Disney and Warner Bros to Columbia, Paramount, RKO, Universal and 20th Century Fox, there are plenty of well-known cartoon figures that show up. Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck, Daffy Duck, Dumbo, Woody Woodpecker, Droopy Dog and Felix the Cat, the list of animated stars goes on and on, making the movie a major who’s who of everyone’s favorite characters.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is famous for a lot of things besides its plot and casting. The movie served as a springboard for renewed interest in the classic cartoons of the Golden Age of American Animation and also paved the way for the Disney Renaissance as well as the modern age of animation.
Two additional pieces of fame attached to the movie should also be given notice. The first is that so far this is the only time that Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny have shared screen-time together in their combined 89 years of bringing laughter and joy to audiences everywhere. The second is that this was one of the final performances of Looney Tunes voice acting legend Mel Blanc (left) before his death in 1989. Mel voiced several of his most famous Looney Tunes roles, specifically Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester and Tweety. Even with these titans of Looney Tunes fame playing second fiddle to Roger and Jessica, they still provide bits of elemental humor bolstered by Mel’s multi-talented voice giving them life.
A lot can be said for this movie. It’s a piece of 80’s glory that like so many other films of the decade, brings fond memories to light for those who saw it in theaters. It keeps bringing laughs to people 29 years later. This story will never stop being old, nor will the performances of Bob Hoskins, Charles Fleischer, Kathleen Turner and Christopher Lloyd, not to mention the countless other actors/actresses and voice actors who gave so much to make the film possible. Its legacy is one of giggles and grins, laughs and yuks, suspense and thrills, not to mention funny songs and dances. There’s a lot to be said for a movie that puts a private detective and a cartoon rabbit together as an unlikely duo working to solve a murder and save the day from greed, corruption and outright evil. So the next time there’s a craving for an 80’s movie that will bring laughs, sit down and enjoy Who Framed Roger Rabbit again. In the words of Roger, “A laugh can be a very powerful thing. Why, sometimes in life, it’s the only weapon we have.”
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is currently available to stream on Netflix.