Viking Night: Who Framed Roger Rabbit
By Bruce Hall
March 3, 2016
Robert Zemeckis has worked on a lot of ambitious projects. They haven't all been successful (or good), but whether sending Michael J. Fox into the past to save his mother, or Jodie Foster across the universe to get punked by her dead father, Zemeckis has consistently proven himself willing to take risks throughout his career. One of his most fascinating risks was the time he directed a movie that was weird enough for Terry Gilliam to turn it down. But the technical challenges involved in making cartoon characters appear to interact with reality are obvious. Do you know what you really need if you want to get Bugs Bunny and Donald Duck on the same screen?
Lawyers. Lots and lots of lawyers.
When you look at Who Framed Roger Rabbit today, the visual effects probably look a little quaint. The idea of animated characters sharing the screen with live actors seems almost mundane. But it was kind of a big deal at the time, and not just because there were no computers and no Michael Bay. The combination of characters from different animation studios required the stewardship of Steven Spielberg, and presumably enough legal talent to fill the LA Coliseum. It’s the present day equivalent of putting Batman in the Avengers, and that alone is enough to warrant its own Oscar category.
But wait, that’s not all. If you ever wanted to see Yosemite Sam and Tinkerbell in the same movie, Roger Rabbit’s got you covered. But the story was written as a fairly straightforward 1940s style noir thriller. You know, the kind of movie where there’s a detective, and he drinks a lot because he’s got a lot of demons? And he gets reluctantly ensnared into a web of sex, lies and murder? And there’s a gorgeous woman involved? And a cartoon rabbit? Yeah, it’s the movie your grandfather falls asleep watching on the Turner Classic Channel every Sunday night at 6:30.
Only in this version, the hard living private eye is Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins). Valiant is a poor, spent soul who grew up in a world where kids lend cigarettes to adults and Wild Turkey is what you drink on Thanksgiving. The once successful business he ran with his brother has fallen on hard times, thanks to said brother getting a piano dropped on his head by a renegade Toon (a fact revealed to the audience with pinpoint irony). So you see, Eddie Valiant now has a character arc. He drinks for a reason - which of course makes it less disgusting - and his hatred of Toons is almost as debilitating. If only there were some way for him to conveniently overcome both of these problems at once!
Enter cartoon mogul R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern), who needs someone to do a little marital recon for one of his stars, Roger Rabbit (think a less intelligent cross between Bugs Bunny and Woody Allen). Valiant’s investigation is short and sweet, but Roger ends up with sour grapes when his beautiful wife Jessica (Kim Basinger) is caught in a compromising position. The idea was for Roger to get some closure and move on with his career, and for Valiant to take home enough scratch to pay his massive, citywide bar tab. Instead someone ends up dead, Valiant ends up looking like an insensitive goon, and poor Roger is accused of the murder.