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Featured Blu-ray Review: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

March 12th, 2013

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? - Blu-ray Combo Pack - Buy from Amazon

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? came out 25 years ago? I suddenly feel old. I loved this movie as a kid but I haven't seen the film in about a decade (not since it first came out on DVD). When it first hit theaters, it was a groundbreaking film. There's no way to deny that. However, the problem with groundbreaking films is that they tend to age. What was amazing 25 years ago tend to look archaic today. Unless there's a really solid story to back it up, the film will fall flat. Does this film have that solid story? Or was it a rather hollow technological marvel?

The Movie

The movie begins with a short film, Somethin' Cookin', which stars Baby Herman and Roger Rabbit. Unfortunately, Roger Rabbit screws up the ending, again, and they have to start the filming again. That's the main hook in the movie. In the movie, live action people live side-by-side with animated characters, called Toons.

Mr. Eddie Valiant is called in by the studio boss, R. K. Maroon, who is upset so much money is being wasted on the latest Roger Rabbit film. He claims Roger Rabbit is being distracted by his wife, Jessica Rabbit, who might be cheating on him. Maroon wants Eddie to snap a few pics to prove Jessica is no good, so Roger can dump her and move on. Eddie is not interested for two reasons. Firstly, while he's a P.I., this job is low, even for him. Secondly, Valiant hates Toons. On the other hand, he likes money and he likes booze, and he needs the money to buy booze. We quickly learn why he hates Toons. His brother was murdered by one. It hit him hard and he turned to booze as a result.

The job involves Eddie going to a local speakeasy, Toon Revue and the Ink and Paint Club, which has Toon performers, but it serves only humans. When he gets there, he falls victim to Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye) a prankster who sprays him with disappearing ink. Marvin Acme is also the owner of Toontown and is infatuated with Jessica Rabbit. When Eddie hears that (from Betty Boop) Eddie thinks Marvin's got a thing for rabbits. He doesn't realize while Jessica is a toon, she's very much a woman. After the show, Marvin heads to Jessica's dressing room... to play Patty-cake, and Eddie is able to take a few snapshots. Roger Rabbit doesn't take it too well; however, instead of leaving his wife, he's determined to stay together after a quick drink, he races off.

That night, Eddie looks over the roll of photographs he took, which included some vacation shots with Delores, and his late brother. This gets him drinking, more than usual, and the next morning, he's woken up by Lieutenant Santino (Richard Le Parmentier), who informs Eddie that Marvin Acme was murdered the night before. Santino takes Eddie to the crime scene, because maybe he will have some insight. No such luck. Eddie does get slapped by Jessica Rabbit, who blames him for this. Eddie also meets Judge Doom, and his henchmen, the Weasles. Judge Doom's jurisdiction includes Toontown. The judge is committed to his job, so much so that he's developed a way to kill a Toon, a concoction of chemicals he calls "The Dip", which he demonstrates on an innocent Toon shoe. Committed isn't the right word. Demented is.

After getting back to his office, Baby Herman tries to hire Eddie to look into the murder. Herman's convinced Roger Rabbit's innocent and is equally convinced Marvin Acme was murdered over his will. Baby Herman said Marvin was going to leave Toontown to the Toons, but the paper is reporting he didn't have a will. No will means anyone can come in and buy up Toontown. At first Herman is unable to convince Eddie to take the case, that is until Eddie sees the will in one of the pictures he took of Marvin Acme. Even so, he just doesn't want to get involved. He just wants to put down his Murphy Bed and take a nap. Unfortunately for him, Roger Rabbit is hiding in his Murphy Bed. Despite his best efforts, Eddie isn't able to get rid of Roger. In fact, the pair end up handcuffed together. Worse still, the Weasels show up.

Eddie is able to outsmart the weasels, but this is enough to get Eddie interested in the cracking the case.

Part of my worries about Who Framed Roger Rabbit? did come true. Some of the special effects don't look as good as I remembered them looking. The advances in technology over the past 25 years have been mind-blowing. We've gone from the barest of computerized graphics to being able to create photo-realistic characters. There are definitely some scenes in this film where the special effects haven't aged well and one or two times where it was actually distracting. There were also some scenes where the special effects held up well, as the longer the movie went on and the more I got into the film, the less I even noticed the special effects.

Fortunately, the film's story is as strong as I remembered. I think quite a few people know that this movie is inspired by a true story. In fact, it is inspired by the same story that inspired Chinatown. It has a very good film noir style mystery. It won't take a lot to remake this story as a serious film noir. That's not to say the cartoons are superfluous in this movie, as they are very well integrated into the plot. There are also a ton of one-liners and more than a few cameos. Actually, it's probably closer to a few dozen cameos. If you grew up on these cartoons, then this film will likely hold a special place in your heart thanks to all of the nostalgia. If you are a fan of these cartoons and of film noir, like I am, then it is a must have.

The Extras

First the bad news. The Blu-ray is shovelware. Here's the good news. The 2003 DVD was loaded with extras. There's an audio commentary track, feature-length making of featurette, deleted scenes, before and after on the special effects, etc. The closest we have to a new extra is the trio of Roger Rabbit short films. They were part of the 2003 release, but here they've been upgraded to high definition.

The technical presentation is good, but not great. The movie is 25 years old and relied a lot of special effects that were cutting-edge for its day. As I've already stated, not all of them have aged well, and the high definition video sometimes emphasizes these problems. Then again, you can't blame the transfer for that. There are some issues where blacks are not as black as they should be, and there are some scenes with a bit too much grain, but overall it is a good transfer. Likewise, the audio is good, but not great. Again, some of this has to do with age and the surround sound speakers are not as active as they would have been had the film been made today and not 25 years ago. It is still active enough to be very enjoyable.

There are some reports that some Blu-ray combo packs were shipped with the old Pan & Scan version, and that is the case with the screener I received. I've also read reports that the studio is already working on plans to fix this problem.

The Verdict

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is a must have. If you don't own the film already, there's no reason not to get the Blu-ray Combo Pack. If you do own the previous DVD, the upgraded video and audio quality are enough to make the $17 price tag worth it.

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Filed under: Video Review, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Joanna Cassidy, Charles Fleischer, Lou Hirsch, Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Mae Questel, Kathleen Turner