Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * ½

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In a strange 1947 Hollywood, where cartoon characters exist as living beings, a hard drinking private detective, Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins), presents one such "toon," Roger Rabbit, with evidence that his voluptuous wife Jessica is cheating on him. When the man with whom this animated vixen has apparently been having an affair is subsequently found dead, the villainous Baron von Rotton (Christopher Lloyd), who is better known as "Judge Doom," suspects Roger. The beleaguered rabbit, fleeing from the law, then turns to Eddie, pleads his innocence, and asks that man to find out who is actually responsible for the murder.

Robert Zemeckis' Who Framed Roger Rabbit, although far from perfect, is enlivened with so much energy and such visual flare that it is a real delight to watch.

The film's narrative, with its various developments, including complex machinations, corrupt land deals, a secret will, red herrings, hidden identities, and the like, is a competently realized if unmemorable parody of those found in countless other detective movies. Even though this story is, as a whole, predictable and uninspired, many of the individual scenes of which it is composed are, nonetheless, delights. Some are invigorated by playful references to the conventions of film noir. Others bring to life a distinctive fictional universe populated by cartoon characters who act like such, and still others abound with a goofy, vibrant energy. In one, for example, the moviegoer is shown how the sexy but possibly traitorous Jessica Rabbit is caught not having sex with another man but playing patty-cake with him. In a second, Eddie, while handcuffed to Roger, hides the latter in a sink filled with soapy water, in which he is washing his laundry, when cruel weasels employed by Judge Doom arrive to search for the rabbit, and, in a third, Roger entertains the patrons of a bar by dancing about and destroying everything around him. Fortunately, these routines are far more frequent than are the duller scenes developing the movie's plot.

As fun as these are, however, the plethora of cartoon characters who appear in Who Framed Roger Rabbit are even more entertaining. Some are new to the movie, but others are well known from different animated features. Over the course of the narrative, the moviegoer is thus treated to cameos by Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam, Tweety Bird, Daffy Duck, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Betty Boop, and many others besides these. It is a real pleasure both to see these characters moving about in Zemeckis' fictional world as though they actually lived there and to watch those from Warner Brothers talking to or competing with those from Disney. In one particularly well done scene, for instance, the viewer is shown Daffy and Donald Duck dueling with one another while playing pianos, and, in another, he is presented with Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse skydiving and simultaneously playing pranks on Eddie as he plunges towards the ground.

What is more, the interactions of these characters with the human actors, and with their physical environment, as well as the interactions of the latter with various animated environments, are, in themselves, enthralling. The moviegoer is, at different times, shown Roger and Eddie running about and struggling with one another while handcuffed together, Eddie travelling through a completely animated cityscape, Jessica apparently seducing that detective, and so on and so on. There is hardly one such sequence that is not so marvelously realized that the viewer will not find himself mesmerized by it.

Although hardly a masterpiece, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a visually captivating, joyously fun, and consistently well made movie.

Review by Keith Allen

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