Who Framed Roger Rabbit

(Robert Zemeckis, USA, 1988)


Robert Zemeckis' inventive, often hilarious comedy is made for one of the highest and most cultured human species: those who grew up watching the great animated cartoons of the 1930s, '40s and '50s.

An almost encyclopedic array of famous characters (from Fleischer's Betty Boop to Disney's Dumbo) is presented, but the film's deepest gratitude clearly goes to the wild, frenetic creations of Tex Avery and Robert Clampett at Warner Brothers.

Many recent movies begin with a trick film-within-a-film segment (a trick because the audience may not realise at first what they are seeing), but few as intricate as "Somethin's Cookin", the cartoon that introduces the plight of beleaguered Roger Rabbit.

Roger hires Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) to follow his wandering sex-bomb wife Jessica, but Eddie soon starts uncovering a conspiracy of Chinatown proportions, involving the birth of the American freeway, the phasing out of cartoon stars, and the fate of "Toontown".

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is superb entertainment. It is also, like the best cartoons, built on brilliantly conceived logical paradoxes. 2D Toons and 3D humans matter-of-factly interrelate in a surreal space. The Toons are merrily trapped within comic logic; they can bend time and space – but only when it is funny.

Yet these Toons are "real", not fabricated. As such, they become nostalgic, populist heroes in a Frank Capra-type scenario, opposed to the nasty, twentieth century capitalism embodied by Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd).

Although it has strained and flat moments, Zemeckis' daring mixture of cartoons with the private-detective film noir remains one of the most dazzling experiments of contemporary popular cinema – and, pleasantly, a one-off without a sequel in sight.

MORE Zemeckis: Contact, Forrest Gump, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Back to the Future

© Adrian Martin July 1992

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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