A Enduring Homage to Hollywood And The Film Industry: ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’
*Who Framed Roger Rabbit is turning 30 this year, here’s a quick piece on the many ways it was a love letter to the film industry and the Hollywood of yesteryear*
Robert Zemeckis’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) proved to be an almost seamless marriage of animation and live action after being released in the very late 1980’s. Set in 1947, the film eases into a crime noir genre yet evolves into a hybrid genre offering by way of: a comedy, adventure and even with a touch of a musical. According to the film’s IMDB webpage: it managed to pull off over 20 awards including a few Oscars (Best Film Editing, Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing) and even a Annie for Best Individual Achievement: Technical Achievement. Who Framed Roger Rabbit helped rework the wheel by playing homage to Hollywood and to the film industry as a whole.
This entire film serves as a collective of homages to Hollywood and the film industry from introductions of certain characters to smaller, easier to miss things like objects found in plain view. From the first scene in, of Roger Rabbit, (voiced by Charles Fleischer also voiced the Benny The Cab, Greasy, Psycho characters) opens the film messing up a take at the very end much to the irritation of his costar and the crew. The first scene moves from animation to the mix of live action smoothly spilling out into a studio, revealing a myriad of behind the scenes crew. In R.K. Marron’s (Alan Tilvern) office he consults with a film editor cutting film strips effectively there on the spot.
When detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) comes to the studio and is startled by the appearance of an animated Dumbo outside, Maroon chuckles and tells him that Dumbo is on ‘loan from Disney’, name dropping a major real life studio and touching on the contacts system used by stars from studios.
There are a few more subtle homages as well: when Valiant goes to the club to scope out the infamous Jessica Rabbit (voiced by Kathleen Turner, her singing by Amy Irvine, who was uncredited at time of film’s release? ) he is spoken to by black and white cartoon royalty character Betty Boop (voiced by Mae Questel).
When Valiant questions where she’s been, she laments that there isn’t much work for her once color cartoons came around: speaking to the transition of technology and what audiences preferred as color television and animation rolled into the industry. In the very next scene Jessica Rabbit graces the audiences with her presence, mesmerizing all and instantly making us all forget Betty. Jessica Rabbit, herself is a subversive take on the femme fatale trope found in films but especially in the crime noir genre films of the time period this film is set in. (Speaking of crime noir, Harrison Ford was a first pick for Valiant but he was too expensive. Shame it would have reunited him with his Blade Runner co-star Joanna Cassidy who is cast as Dolores in this film.)
When Roger rapidly flips through photos of his wife’s supposed infidelity shot by Valiant, he unconsciously starts flipping through the photos rapidly, animating a scene with a scene. One could consider it animation inception yet it is a basic animating technique: making a flipbook of sorts with different image to loop a scene of action.
Other homages include nods to beloved films in Hollywood including a nod to the original Star Wars film (Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope) where Roger channels a Princess Leia’s line of “Help me Obi-wan, you’re my only hope” pitifully to Valiant with his “You’re my only hope!” Towards the end, the villain of the film: Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) who is revealed to be a toon himself screams in a hilarious and high pitched voice as he expires in puddle of drip a chemical that kills toons: “I’m Melting!”. This is of course, a nod to how the witch died in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz.
I believe a zoetrope or a similar device from film’s earlier days can be seen briefly in a scene in the final arc of the film when Valiant revisits R.K. Maroon’s office. When Valiant and Dolores (Joanna Cassidy) go to a movie theater they talk while the scheduled block of content plays including some nickelodeons and a news reel which was a common thing back in the earlier days of movie theaters.
Lastly Who Framed Roger Rabbit throws in voice acting easter eggs for those who are old enough to remember them or at least schooled in animation and film history of yesteryear: Mel Blanc, known as “The Man of Thousand Voices” is included in this cast most whose last role among many was the voice as Porky Pig that closes out the film. On the topic of all the wonderful characters present on screen, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is significant in marking the first time that Warner Bros. and Disney characters had appeared on screen together as noted here with over one hundred beloved characters appearing on screen.
The voice of Betty Boop, Mae Questel has a brief cameo yet she is also known as the voice of the lesser known Olive Oyl from the Popeye cartoons among a host of smaller voices in the industry. There is even a nod someone else, to a more modern voice actress of our time: the anthropomorphic cartoon shoe that dies a death to drip, the toon killing substance is Nancy Cartwright whom many of us would come to know and love as Bart Simpson.
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