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Who Framed Roger Rabbit: 25th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray Review)

28 Mar, 2013 By: John Latchem

$26.50 BD/DVD combo
Rated PG.
Stars Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy, voice of Charles Fleischer.

Looking back, Who Framed Roger Rabbit represents something of a turning point in the history of animation.

By 1988, Disney’s animation division was starting to flounder. Filmmakers at other studios, influenced by the Disney classics of the 1930s through the 1960s, were putting out animated hits that performed better. The industry was in transition, soon to give rise to CGI and the Disney renaissance of the 1990s. And right there at the dividing line was Roger Rabbit, a perfect tribute to the glory days of Hollywood and the Golden Age of animation.

Director Robert Zemekis summed it up thusly: a combination of the artistry of the Disney animation style, the wit of the Warner Bros. characters and the slapstick fun of Tex Avery.

As discussed in the Waking Sleeping Beauty documentary released in 2010, the mix of styles helped Roger Rabbit became a magnet for the world’s top animators, who would go on to infuse other projects at the Disney studios, breathing new life into the animation department with such modern classics as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King.

And the involvement of the Warner stable provided one last chance for Mel Blanc to voice his most famous characters before his death in 1989.

Based on Gary K. Wolf’s 1981 novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, the film (which, in classic cinema tradition, ditched the question mark) was an enormous undertaking that took more than two years to complete because it combined live-action and animation to a degree never before seen. Zemekis shot the film traditionally, with on-set effects to mimic interaction with the cartoon characters, who were drawn in later frame by frame (without the use of computers).

The story is a twist on the classic noir structure, involving a detective (Bob Hoskins) helping a cartoon rabbit (Charles Fleischer) who has been framed for murder as part of a plot to demolish Toontown, a suburb of Hollywood that is home to all the lovable toons. The premise allows for pairings that will likely never be seen again, such as the classic piano duel between ducks Donald and Daffy, or the dream teaming of Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. The last shot of the film is basically the animation equivalent of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band cover, and the melding of different studios’ cartoon characters really helps make this version of Hollywood seem believable. Also worthy of singular praise is Hoskins, whose ability to react to characters who weren’t really there helps sell the film more than anything.

The Blu-ray conversion does a good job preserving the texture of the film, without seeming overly processed. The complexity of the visual effects was going to make any high-def upgrade tricky, but I think it does a nice job presenting the film how it was meant to look, flaws and all.

Also given an HD upgrade are the three “Roger Rabbit” shorts produced after the film: 1989’s Tummy Trouble, 1990’s Roller Coaster Rabbit and 1993’s Trail Mix-Up, the latter of which looks the sharpest in 1080p.

The Blu-ray supplements consist entirely of material ported from the 2003 DVD, including several making-of featurettes and a thorough filmmaker commentary loaded with fun tidbits about the film, such as how the villainous Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) was going to be revealed as the one who killed Bambi’s mom.

Some versions of the combo pack mistakenly included a DVD with the full-frame rather than widescreen version of the film. Anyone who received the incorrect version can contact Disney through its www.disneystudioshelp.com site to request a replacement.

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