I’m a sucker for neo noir movies (noir movies too) and it feels like I’ve just always enjoyed them. If I had to guess, I would say it probably stems from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. At the time, watching it as a kid in the theater, I had no idea about film noir. However, I’d bet that it was this movie that planted the seed in my head.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is one of those movies that gets everything right. It’s greatest success was not only implementing cartoons into the real world, but making it incredibly enjoyable for kids and adults. Of course the adult humor was mostly lost on me as a kid. I had no idea why Eddy Valiant would change his name to Jack Daniels for instance. Watching it as an adult, everything clicks, including the humor that’s made more for kids, but that’s probably mostly nostalgia.
The backdrop for Who Framed Roger Rabbit is the mixture of live action with animation. The idea being that cartoon characters (referred to as “toons”) are real living entities, just like humans. A lot of the humor comes from situations were humans are playing it straight, while toons are… well silly.
For instance there’s a scene in a night club with Donald Duck and Daffy Duck playing dueling pianos. As the show goes on, the more silly and crazy it gets. The humans in the audience is watching like it’s a pretty normal thing for them. It’s fun scene and it’s made more hilarious because of how insane they get like toons would and humans are watching it unfold. In real life it’s something just kids would enjoy, meanwhile in this movie, adults are paying money to watch it at a night club.
That’s also what makes this movie unique, Who Framed Roger Rabbit was the first movie to have cartoon characters from competing companies in the same movie together. Something that was unheard of and actually pretty special. I doubt you’d see it happen again.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is not at all the first movie to mix live action and animation, probably King Kong from 1933 is the first technically, being it has stop motion animation. Others have done animation much like we see here, like Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. However, I think it’s one of the first to play on the idea of the toons being real. They’re all basically actors, but cheaper. Some work for peanuts.
The main plot is about a toon named Roger Rabbit, who gets gets framed for murder, hence the title of the movie. He’s voiced by Charles Fleischer, who also did the voices of multiple characters, like Benny the cab and some of the weasels. The weasels being the henchmen in the movie. In doing the voice of Roger, Fleischer had one condition, they give him a costume of Roger Rabbit to wear while on set. Maybe he’s into furries.
When he has nowhere to turn, Roger Rabbit ends up at the office of the aforementioned Eddie Valiant. Valiant use to be a police officer that started a private detective agency with his brother. That’s until his brother is murdered by a toon. Now Valiant is an alcoholic that’s reduced to taking blackmail photos to earn a living. This means he’s no fan of toons, which makes the partnership between him and Roger Rabbit a rough one.
Valiant took pictures of Roger’s wife, Jessica Rabbit playing patty-cake with With Marvin Acme, the owner of Toontown. There’s a lot to unpack in that one sentence. Jessica is a toon, but she’s not a rabbit to say the least. Patty-cake is apparently toons way to have sex. It’s not at all explained, but it’s heavily implied. It’s funny, but what does that mean for the actual game of patty-cake? Do kids still play it? This is something we should never think about.
Toontown isn’t a real city and toons happen to come from there. No, it’s a cartoon city. None of it’s explained, but really doesn’t need it, it changes nothing and doesn’t add to the plot. It’s a lot of fun though when Valiant is forced to go there. It’s as whacky and silly as you’d expect from a cartoon city.
Valiant is basically made a patsy in all of this, as the pictures were taken not to show Roger his wife was cheating, but to make it look like he committed murder out of jealousy. That’s when Judge Doom enters. Now I’d like to be vague here about Doom, but from the moment he’s on screen, it’s obvious that he’s the main villain. There might as well be a neon sign over his saying “here’s the main bad guy!”
I still say Judge Doom should have made our top 10 best bad guys list. His entire plan is to wipe out Toontown in order to put in a freeway. Something that wasn’t invented until the 1950s. It’s actually a clever idea for a villain’s plan. That’s what makes him so evil, he wanted to genocide all the toons, just for a road. If you ask me, that makes him a pretty evil bad guy. Doom is played by Christopher Lloyd, which I didn’t even realize until years later.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit gets all tied up in being a mystery, blackmail, evil over the top baddies and rich tycoons, just like the great noir movies. Part of the movies charm is being neo noir and it helps that for a kids movie, it has a taste of dark comedy too. Which is something else I’m a sucker for. Those things and it hits perfectly on all levels makes it one of my favorite movies of all time.