A drink to the man who drew the cartoon bunny for Zemeckis
Richard Williams, the animation director behind “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” has sadly passed away. He was the one who helped bring the Disney rabbit to life one of Robert Zemeckis’ most iconic, original, and daring films. Their teamwork (with Steven Spielberg as the executive prouder) has redefined the animated genre, by combining live-action with animation.
This universe, set in the 1940s, has cartoons crafted with wires, rubber dummies, machines, and camera angles, in order for us to be given the illusion that humans are communicating with toons. Yes, “Song of the South,” “Mary Poppins,” and “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” has been them to it, but there’s something unique inside this movie that makes it a classic.
Another aspect of the movie, based on novel “Who Censored Roger Rabbit,” is the plot involving an alcoholic detective named Eddie Valient (the late Bob Hoskins) investing the murder of cartoon genius Marvin Acme (you know what I mean), and Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleisher) being framed for it. Their chemistry is like no other, because its tough guy and soft guy routine has a certain kind of vibe and magic, that makes us eager. Today, it’s often formulaic, but not this connection.
And we have a menacing villain and a femme fatale in the loop. The villain would be Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd), who has found a way to obliterate toon-by dipping them in acid, which he calls “The Dip.” And the femme fatale would be Roger’s red-headed, sexy, and human wife Jessica Rabbit (voiced by Kathleen Turner).
And since this is a movie about a toon, we have a cavalcade of cameos. We have Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse sky diving, Donald Duck and Daffy Duck having a Hungarian Rhapsody battle, Droopy Dog as a bellhop, and Betty Boop selling smokes at a night club. They all come from Toon Town, and whether we see them in the animated or live-action worlds, they are not only visually stunning, but just a lot of fun.
The thing that makes Roger Rabbit so wonderful is the way he’s designed by Richard Williams, the way he talks, the way he’s emotional, and they way he follows every cartoon cliche in the book. He’s just a wonderful character.
The humans, particular Hoskins and Lloyd, are also fabulous. I love they ways they’re written, as one has grown disgruntled by toons after this brother was murdered by one, and the other is a psychopath. And their final showdown is one of the very best I’ve seen on film.
“Who Framed Roger Rabbit” has taken many risks, many challenges, and strong ambitions; and it all pays off tremendously. Basically every sequences in the movie is worth watching over and over again. The screenplay by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman allows the movie to also have a story, and not just a special effects program. There is a delicate balance of that here. You’re interested and dazzled at the same time.
Again, this is a tribute to Williams, who also voices Droopy here, and designed titles for “What’s New Pussycat” and “The Pink Panther Strikes Again.” His drawings here are something to behold, and with Zemeckis’s unique team morphing the animation with the live-action universe, you really need to see it to believe.