|Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Vista Series)|
|Written by Tara O'Shea|
|Monday, 24 March 2003|
"Who Framed Roger Rabbit" is not just an entertaining movie, it's a technical marvel.
I was a teenager when I first saw “Roger Rabbit” in a theatre, and didn't have the first clue how extraordinary on every level this picture was. At the time, I didn't really appreciate the melding of hardboiled detective film noir with zany Tex Avery-style animation. I didn't quite understand how the hand-drawn animation of Hollywood's golden age was on the verge of extinction, and how
the technical mastery and polish of the Disney studio compared with the wacky charismatic characters of Warner Bros. Looney Tunes, or how rare it would be to see both styles of animation melded so seamlessly, adding dozens of other characters from 1940s Americana to the mix.
In short, I saw the movie, liked it, filed it away under "yeah, that movie with the toons," and never really revisited it. Today, in the world of digital compositing, computerized paint, motion-capture and the rest, "Roger Rabbit" wouldn't have taken years of post-production work, with animators hand-drawing every single frame of film, combining layer upon layers of mattes to create three-dimensional lighting effects on flat animation to seamlessly blend live-action elements with cartoons in a way that Jerry Mouse dancing with Gene Kelly never really could.
And you know what? It wouldn't be the same. The fact that "Roger" celebrates that tradition, as well as breathes new life into it, that has lead to almost every cartoon I've loved since. I never realized before how Amblin Entertainment's "Animaniacs!" had its seeds in the basic conceit of this film -- that in 1947, 'toons shot their movies the exact same way human actors did, on sound stages for all-powerful studio heads, and they lived in their own Los Angeles right alongside the Bogarts and Cagneys of the world.
The plot is classic noir: alcoholic shamus Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) is hired by R.K. Maroon, a 'toon studio head, to take incriminating photos of Jessica Rabbit, the wife of Maroon Studios star Roger Rabbit, with Marvin Acme. Valiant thinks it’s harmless to wise the rabbit up regarding his va-va-va-voom ink and paint spouse's infidelity. However, when Acme shows up dead, his will missing, and Roger goes on the run from murder charges, Valiant and his best gal Dolores (Joanna Cassidy) are drawn into a conspiracy that exposes the seedy underbelly of Toontown corruption in Hollywood's golden age.
Visually, the widescreen animorphic transfer is excellent, with sharp vibrant colors that leap off the screen, particularly in the Toontown segments. Black levels and fleshtones are consistent throughout, and while there is some small degree of graininess in the transfer, it is barely
noticeable and doesn't take away from the final image. The level of detail is impressive, particularly the depth of the backgrounds in many shots. The fullscreen presentation is better than most pan-and-scan efforts, but to truly enjoy the film, widescreen viewing is a must.
In terms of sound, the 5.1 mix is fairly center-focused in terms of presenting the dialogue and sound effects, with only some use of the surrounds. The rears only truly get a workout in reproducing Alan Silvestri's stunning score, which is reminiscent of the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes shorts of Hollywood's golden age, as well as the film's noir forefathers. Dialogue comes through clear and comprehensive, and while the mix is a bit lackluster, the sound itself is clean and bright, suiting the brightly-colored world of Toontown.
Like the entire Vista series, the two-disc “Roger Rabbit” set is packed with extras. In addition to an entertaining feature-length commentary from director Robert Zemeckis and a large chunk of the production staff which sheds an enormous amount of light on the technical challenges of such a groundbreaking film, the discs also contain the three Roger Rabbit animated shorts produced by Disney in the years after the film's release, as well as a slew of documentary-style featurettes which detail every aspect of the production. "The Valiant Files" is a trivia-packed screen tour of Eddie's office, which offers up model sheets and concept art, as well as production stills and other goodies. The "Before and After" special effects featurette shows a side-by-side comparison between footage of Bob Hoskins on a stage against a green screen, and the finished sequence as Eddie enters Toontown. In addition to being geek-heaven for special effects aficionados, such sequences also highlight exactly what makes this film work: Hoskins performance. The sheer
physicality of the role -- which required Hoskins, a former circus variety performer, to undergo mime training -- is beautifully displayed in both this segment and the 40-minute making-of special, “Behind the Ears.”
For fans of the original film, as well as animation buffs, this two-disc set is a must-own. The kid-friendly extras, full-screen presentation, and cartoon shorts also make this an excellent addition to a family DVD collection to introduce “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” to a new generation of fans.