Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (Robert Zemeckis, 1988)

“Back in those days, me and Teddy liked working Toontown, thought it was a lot of laughs.”


Right, this was a request from friends and I thought – rather than continue on a more in depth (ultimately time-consuming) critique of Watchmen or beginning the epic analysis of each Saw movie prior to the release of Saw 6 I thought it would be good to give a little insight into a few of the facets of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Turns out it has alot more references that the adult – rather than the child – would see … especially if you know your movies. I am positive there are many, many more that I am completely oblivious to because the film is rooted in American film history. The background of the director is a pretty big deal too – no other than Robert Zemeckis post-Back to the Future (Though I think its before he filmed the back-to-back filming of the sequels). Nevertheless, its the same man behind Forrest Gump and What Lies Beneath … so clearly we are not too far from the Brat Pack directors of the late seventies and early eighties.

What I reckon …

The start is incredible – as we see a cartoon being made – only for it to be revealed that the cartoon is filmed in live-action. The cartoons are living, breathing creatures that roam theearth amongst us humans. Not only that, but the cute baby is not cute at all – he sounds like an old man and with the attitude to go with it!

The more adult themes reside in its choice of context – 1947, Film-Noir. The same era as Singin’ in the Rain whereby rather than a problem arising between talkies and silent movies it is the ‘toons’ that are the problem – personified by Bob Hoskins ‘Eddie Valiant’ who claims ‘doesn’t work for toons’. We are revealed why … a ‘toon killed his brother with a, sob sob, piano. (!!) I have to admit this strange black-humour seems to be scattered across these eighties movies – awkward ‘I-think-thats-funny-and-it-is-but-were-talking-about-death’. The sequence it brings to mind is in Gremlins whereby a character reveals that their father killed themself by getting stuck in a chimney dressed as Santa Clause. Ha ha … oooh.

Valiant, as straight as his performance is against the ‘wacky’ toons is a tragic figure. He’s a drunk (quite a dark subject…) and has no money – clearly having trouble getting business. The whole Roger Rabbit-Eddie Valiant combo is up against a an interesting character who rings bells … Christopher Lloyd’s Judge Doom. This links to two previous posts of mine: The Public Enemy and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Raiders was seven years prior – so I am sure that Zemeckis’ buddy Spielberg may have assisted here because, as the bad guy in Raiders, Christopher is suitably dressed like the Jimmy Cagney criminal at the end of The Public Enemy. In the rain – black hat, black jacket …

Interestingly enough, another link to the film is the Smile, Darn Ya, Smile sequence – the swap-over whereby Hoskins becomes the human in a cartoon world, opposed to Roger – who for the majority of the film – has been the cartoon stuck in the human world. Nevertheless, on the DVD of The Public Enemy the original Smile, Darn Ya, Smile is featured as part of the ‘Warners Night at the Movies’. I couldn’t find any information as to whether this was orginally the case back in 1931 … so, if you know, please do tell.

We also have Jessica Rabbit – the ‘New Woman’, a new cartoon to replace the Betty Boops of the world. I felt when I watched the movie that maybe there was a point deep down in all this – that maybe the innocence and playfulness of cartoons of the forties is being lost. It times nicely to the time when graphic-novels began – with their sinister, darker stories. No innocence – just real pain. Jessica Rabbit is bad – she double crosses and then is good and then bad and then good again (should she be trusted?) to suit some sort of finale. Maybe a little research into cartoons of the eighties might reveal the point trying to be made – the sinister edge to cartoons perhaps. Viz magazine began in 1979 for one …

Interesting little factoids to recall are how this is the first time that both Disney and Warner Bros characters appear together – the first and, apparently, only time. Its nice to think that in such a business age they forgot their differences and worked together for comedy (and alot of money I imagine was gained from this production…)

I love the movie myself – and the message is probably one of the most important ones. Don’t take life too seriously. See the funny side. Laugh things off. Its completely true. One of my younger teenage memories was a time when, having attempted to go to bed early, I wore some stretched Lion King pyjamas when asnwering the door to my friend Pete – I was incredibly embarressed and, consequently was mocked relentlessly by Pete. My older brother told me that I should have just shrugged it off – just laughed it off – and then Pete probably wouldn’t have found it so funny because he wouldn’t have seen how emabarressed I was about the situation. I reckon’ he would have still mocked me. Inevitably. But the alternative possibility links to the message of good ol’ Roger Rabbit: Having a sense of humour is the most important thing.

Next Stop … Space Jam


  1. Hey! As far as I remember I wasn't the one mocking you, I liked the lion king.

    Anywho, I’ve always liked this film as a big fan of the detective genre, comedy, and bob Hoskins getting hit by stuff (ya gotta love him.) I do think it has the message you mentioned, 'laugh it off, because it’s all good', but I also think some of it comes down to the 'don't blame a whole group for a single action' thing. i.e He's not meant to laugh off his partners death, just not blame all ‘toons for it (even though it turns out to have been a ‘toon that killed him – that’s not a spoiler is it?)

    The Judge Doom character was always particularly creepy to me, maybe because I watch this as a kid and in a way he became one of my first 'boogie-men.' But speaking of adult content…the Judge Doom self hate thing – ‘toon who hates ‘toons – is awfully twisted in an adult type way I’ve always thought. But I might just dement him this way because he is buried deep in my childhood as a quintessential 'bad guy.' Who knows.

    Either way's good.

  2. I watched this with Gemma at the weekend and we were both surprised by how well it's aged, certainly a lot better than many of the films from this era. Interesting it's the only time Disney and Warner Bros have mixed as well… I didn't know that. It's also the most sinister I've seen Christopher Lloyd, though it's obvious that tongue is firmly in cheek throughout. A great film though, and a great review.

    And I'd forgotten about those pyjamas…

  3. Regarding the whole Public Enemy link to judge Doom, having quickly scanned the pictures, I fear it may be incorrect. Don't get me wrong, possibly linked to the bad dude in Raiders, but Public Enemy – no. A malgamation of sinister personas i reckon. A type of quasi-death role perhaps.

    Its pretty sinister for Chris lloyd though for sure – I don't think he has played such a creepy character.

    Have you seen him in 'One flew over the cuckoo's nest' – brilliant!

  4. There's a dance version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest being performed at Sadler's Wells called Insane in the Brain. I have fond memories of the ballet Edward Scissorhands.

    Bruits excitant, un intérêt?

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