At 25: “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”

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June 22, 2013 by billysparrow

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Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Released: June 22, 1988

Starring: Bob Hoskins, Charles Fleischer, Christopher Lloyd, Kathleen Turner, and Joanna Cassidy

For all the joy that the release of “The Great Outdoors” brought, it was not the Summer Movie of 1988 for me. That would be “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (that missing question mark still rankles me a bit), a movie that one-upped the massive feat that was bringing John Candy and Dan Aykroyd together by combining live action and animation. Plus it would feature cartoon characters from different worlds (Warner Brothers, Disney, etc.) interacting with each other. What’s not to get excited about?

“Who Framed Roger Rabbit” was also likely helped along in its quest to be James Sigman’s Summer Movie Obsession over “The Great Outdoors” by the immense marketing push it got as a Disney (via Touchstone) production (but, oh, how I wish there were “Great Outdoors” action figures). The malls were flooded with Roger Rabbit-related items, and I was happy to spend my parents’ money securing said items. I’m pretty sure I had a T-shirt, but I know I had a series of three pencils that all had twirling tops where the erasers would be. One was Baby Herman in his carriage, another was Benny the Cab, and the third was Roger Rabbit twirling away from a can of The Dip (the only way to kill a toon, in case this fact has slipped your mind in the last 20 years). I dared not sharpen these pencils, lest they lose their value. These were collectors’ items. They are currently either shoved inside a box in my mom’s house or in a landfill somewhere. So much for my million-dollar pencil collection. And I’ve also misplaced my McDonald’s collector’s cup. I’m so bad at this collecting thing.

I do, however, still have one of my all-time favorite mugs, derived from one of Roger’s lines in the movie.

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No, you can’t have it.

I likely bought all of these after seeing the movie a second time, at the UA in Staten Island (during which my sister fell asleep…apparently she was not as swept up in the fever). I first saw it at the legendary Fairview Cinema in Hudson, NY, at which I’m pretty sure I saw only three movies: “Dragnet,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” and “My Blue Heaven.” All three of those are classics to me (though “WFRR” is a distant third behind “Dragnet”), so the Fairview will always hold a special place in my heart. (In decidedly more embarrassing news, the Strawberries two doors down from the Fairview is where I bought my first and only piece of Grateful Dead music, the grey 45 of “Touch of Grey” I’m sure I have told you this already, but I need to unburden myself of this information on a regular basis.)

I also remember pre-ordering my VHS copy of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” which I think was the second and last time I did that (actually, it might technically be the only; I think the pre-order of “Good Morning, Vietnam” was mainly my dad’s doing). And I bought the book the movie was based on, “Who Censored Roger Rabbit?” (rejoice, for there is a question mark!), though I must admit I never made it through that.

All of that is to say I was a pretty huge “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” fan in 1988. I’ve seen the movie a few times since, but it’s been awhile, so I was a little hesitant to watch it again, for fear that I would think it was so stupid that I would have no other choice but to hurl my mug against the wall in a blind rage.

Well, the mug survived. And I still think it’s a good movie.

Aside from its pro–public transit plot (Judge Doom, played by Christopher Lloyd, vows to dismantle the LA transit system in favor of his plans for a freeway), the acting work by both Bob Hoskins (as drunken detective Eddie Valiant) and Christopher Lloyd is still pretty impressive. In fact, I’d be so bold as to say that Lloyd is better as Judge Doom than he was as Doc Brown in “Back to the Future.” Yeah, I said it. You want to fight over it? OK, OK. I was just kidding about the fighting thing. We don’t need to fight. But, c’mon, he’s really good as Judge Doom.

Hoskins, while not quite as good as Lloyd, is still pretty damn good. Of course, his shining moment comes at the end, as he sings to save his pals Roger and Jessica from getting a lethal spray of The Dip. (Also note David Lander–aka Squiggy from “Laverne and Shirley”–as the voice of Smart Ass, the head of the Toon Patrol weasels.)

And special kudos should also go to Charles Fleischer, the voice of Roger and several other characters in the movie, including Benny the Cab, who might be my favorite. It’s always been a close race between Benny and Baby Herman (voiced by Lou Hirsch). It changes with any given day. So feel free to ask me the next time you see me to find out how I’m feeling that day. It’ll give us something to talk about. In the meantime, here’s Benny’s big scene.

And here’s my favorite Roger scene, foreshadowing Eddie’s song and dance at the end. The skipping record bit…a classic.

Now I suppose it’s time for the scene all you perverts have been waiting for: Jessica Rabbit’s performance at the Ink and Paint Club. I have to say I think all the sexuality went well over my precious, little head in 1988. I mean, I recognized it, but I don’t know that it actually registered–though, as I’ve mentioned before, Jessica Rabbit might have sparked my later, ahem, interest in Kathleen Turner (despite the fact that Amy Irving is actually doing the singing in the scene). I’d also like to give a hearty Trifle Further shoutout to the work of Mae Questel as the voice of Betty Boop. She is, of course, most beloved to me as Aunt Bethany in “Christmas Vacation,” though it’s nice to hear her as Ms. Boop one more time.

I’d also like to point out two cool little sight gags that escaped my notice as an 11-year-old: the cows practicing their moos next to a sign that reads “Cattle Call” outside of Maroon Studios and the graffiti on the bathroom wall in Toon Town that reads “For a good time, call Allyson Wonderland. The best is yet to be.” Nice little touches to keep a 36-year-old man entertained while watching a cartoon movie on a Friday evening.

After watching the movie, I wondered if your average kid today would like it. The interaction of cartoons with human actors hasn’t been completely overdone, so I suspect the novelty would still be sort of appealing. Then again, with CGI so prevalent, maybe effects have to be much more special these days to get kids’ attention.

More troubling to me is the thought that a kid today might not even know who most of these cartoon characters are. Disney’s stranglehold on the minds and hearts of children ensures that they know who Mickey Mouse (we can agree he’s the most annoying cartoon character ever, right?) and Donald Duck are, but do kids today know who Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck are? On the one hand, it seems impossible that they wouldn’t, but on the other hand, well, how would they? The Warner Brothers cartoons aren’t, to the best of my knowledge, shown on a regular basis anywhere, and I don’t know how readily available they are on DVD, so unless parents are force-feeding Bugs and Daffy to their kids, they probably don’t know who that rabbit is in the scene with Mickey Mouse, or what the deal is with the duck playing piano with Donald Duck.

And there’s no way they know who Woody Woodpecker is, right? My God, what have we done? We’re raising (well, you’re raising; you can’t pin this on me) children who will never know the awesomeness of Droopy Dog. How sad.

Alas, time marches on, leaving old cartoon characters abandoned and forgotten in its wake. It’s stupid to believe otherwise.

And, as we know, I may be idiotic, but I’m not stupid.

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