Who Framed Roger Rabbit review

On April 29, 2014, actor Bob Hoskins died at 71. He was a versatile character actor who could play both tough and sensitive and turn on a dime between the two. Although he has a long list of credits, he is best known for playing private detective Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which isn’t a bad legacy to leave behind.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Roger Rabbit wasn’t the first film to integrate animated characters with live action actors, but, it was the first to do it convincingly. As a technical achievement, “Roger Rabbit” was going to go down in film history, but it is also unique for the cartoon-human story it decided to tell.

In the film’s universe, cartoons are real and live in Hollywood in a place called Toontown. The plot is hardly kids’ stuff. At one point, Hoskins’ Valiant notes the unfolding plot is “a story of greed, sex and murder.”

Valiant is hired by cartoon mogul R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern) to take pictures of Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye) with Roger Rabbit’s wife, Jessica (voice of Kathleen Turner). The pictures show the two playing patty-cake — how’s that for a euphemism for sex? — and naturally upset Roger (voice of Charles Fleischer). When Acme is found dead, Roger is framed for the murder and he turns to Valiant for help.

The movie is set in in the late 1940s, the golden age of Warner Bros. and Disney cartoon shorts. Also during this period, the film noir was a prominent genre. It seems fitting, almost likely in a way, that if cartoons and humans were living side by side in the Hollywood of the 1940s they would become involved in a plot straight out of a film noir.

While Roger Rabbit is very funny, the film isn’t a parody, but in many respects an authentic film noir that just happens to feature cartoon characters and jokes. It was a bold, risky decision for what was, at the time, the most expensive film produced in the 1980s.

Much of the story and references will go over younger viewers’ heads, but director Robert Zemeckis and screenwriters Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman trusted that seeing cartoons and people interacting as well as characters like Donald and Daffy Duck sharing screen time together would be enough to appeal to children.

Hoskins, who was no stranger to playing hardened characters, having appeared as a gangster in 1980’s The Long Good Friday and in 1986’s neo-film noir Mona Lisa, is ultimately the glue that holds the film together.

Although he is often interacting with cartoons he plays his role straight. Even when Hoskins performs a comic song and dance routine he is still completely deadpan.

Valiant was a once great detective who became a drunk after the murder of his partner and brother by a sinister cartoon. Hoskins’ speech about how his brother was murdered is delivered so well that it easily could’ve appeared in a straightforward film noir and worked perfectly.

Hoskins plays Valiant as bitter, angry and cynical, but, in the end, he can’t hide his heart, even as he is drowning it in alcohol. A scene in which he is looking at photos of his brother is played sincerely and is genuinely affecting.

Alec Kerr