Based on a now all but forgotten novel, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is one of those films which, quite simply, everyone must see. For fans of the Golden Age of animation this goes double, since it features cameos from dozens of classic cartoon characters from both the Warner Bros and Disney stables, and seeing traditionally hand-drawn characters interacting with live-action people is still as stunning as it was back when the film was first released. And it’s still the only time Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse have appeared on screen together.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit takes place in an alternate 1947 Hollywood in which cartoons are real and the Toons are an accepted part of everyday life. Bob Hoskins stars as Eddie Valiant, a private investigator who bears a considerable grudge towards the Toons because one of them murdered his brother. He is hired by cartoon producer R.K. Maroon to investigate rumours that the wife of Roger Rabbit, one of his stars, is having an affair. After encountering the voluptuous Jessica Rabbit (Kathleen Turner), Valiant is drawn into a conspiracy which threatens the Toons’ very existence.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is, at its most basic, a hardboiled detective story where half the characters are cartoons, and if that doesn’t make you want to see it then nothing will. It plays all the cliches of the genre for laughs, from the needlessly complicated plot to the hilariously over the top villain, Judge Doom (a genuinely unnerving Christopher Lloyd). The script is wonderful, thoroughly self aware and very, very funny. In classic Looney Tunes tradition, much of the humour comes in the form of extreme physical violence towards the Toons and brilliantly terrible puns. It’s often marketed as a kids’ film, and while children will doubtless enjoy it, the countless double entendres (nice booby trap) ensure that it’s very much a film for adults too. There’s genuine joy to be had from watching cartoons interact with real people, a visual effect which hasn’t aged at all in the almost 25 years since the film’s release.
Particular credit must go to Bob Hoskins, who has to spend the most time acting with and reacting to characters who aren’t actually there, more than a decade before CGI and performance capture made this an accepted fact of filmmaking. His expression of baffled awe on first seeing Jessica, expecting her to be a rabbit and instead finding perhaps the sexiest cartoon character ever, is truly something to behold. The rest of the cast is likewise on fantastic form; Charles Fleischer continues the tradition of cartoon characters with inexplicable speech impediments, and Roger is so convincing a creation that you almost forget he never existed before this film. Kathleen Turner, sadly uncredited in her role, provides a stunning voice for Jessica, a key component in making her such a great parody of film noir femmes fatales.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a joy from start to finish, and it’s impossible to walk away from it without a smile on your face. An unashamed nostalgia trip, it relies on the audience’s familiarity with classic cartoons, but it’s great fun even for those who aren’t familiar with the Golden Age of animation. Essentially, if you enjoy Looney Tunes, you will enjoy Who Framed Roger Rabbit; and if you don’t enjoy Looney Tunes, there’s probably something wrong with you.