Tag Archives: touchstone

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

220px-Movie_poster_who_framed_roger_rabbitNormally, I don’t like doubling-up on posts in a single day on this blog, and ever since last fall Friday has belonged to Batman. Well, I’m breaking my own self-imposed rule today, but it’s for a very good reason. Today is the 30th anniversary of the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit. On this day in 1988, the then most expensive movie in film history was released to the general public with a lot of buzz and a lot of trepidation. It was a collaborative effort between some of Hollywood’s hottest names; Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, and Walt Disney Studios. Adapted from the Gary Wolf novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, there was a lot of fear that the movie would be too “out there” for a general audience. So uncertain about how the film was to be received, actress Kathleen Turner, who voiced Jessica Rabbit, declined to be credited for her role in the film. There was some fear this thing would be received about as well as Howard the Duck, a notorious flop at the time, but it ended up being so much more.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is the story of a rabbit named Roger (voiced by Charlie Fleischer) who is framed for a murder he did not commit. Aside from the fact that he’s a rabbit, the plot sounds rather pedestrian at face value. What sets the film apart is its world and the world it shares with the “real world.” Roger Rabbit is a toon. He is a literal cartoon character. In the world created by this work of fiction, cartoons are just as real as you and me. They go to work, make cartoons, and go home. The toons behave like golden era cartoons – they’re wacky, prone to accidents, and always on the lookout for a laugh. At one point in the film, Roger is handcuffed and needs to get himself out. He ends up simply removing his hand from the cuff at one point, then putting it back. When his partner, Eddie, notices and gets furious with him for not just doing that to begin with, Roger explains he could only remove his hand when it was funny.


Bob Hoskins stars alongside Robert as private eye Eddie Valiant.

Roger works for R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern) and is a star of Maroon Cartoons. Set in 1947, the film basically takes place during the waning days of the animated cartoon short. He is married to the impossibly attractive Jessica Rabbit, a buxom, hourglass figured toon who more or less resembles a human. The film starts out with Roger stressed out because there are rumors that Jessica has been up to no good with another man. Maroon wants private investigator Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) to do some digging to help his star out. The problem is, Eddie hates toons, but he loves money more. Eddie takes the job, and finds out that Jessica has actually been playing pat-a-cake with Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye), the owner of Toon Town. When shown the images of his wife playing such a lurid game with another man, Roger goes off the deep end and is plunged into a depression (pat-a-cake is serious business to a toon, apparently). Then things take a dark turn when Marvin Acme turns up dead, and Roger is suspect number 1. Roger proclaims his innocence to Eddie, and Eddie is forced to decide if he wants to help out the incredibly annoying, but likely innocent, Roger or just walk away from the whole thing.


Even humans are drawn to Jessica Rabbit.

The story unfolds like a classic mystery. You have the gruff detective, the innocent victim, and the femme fatale. Of course, nothing is ever truly what it seems. Shadowing the protagonists is the villainous Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) who too seems to have a hatred for toons. Eddie and Roger are going to have to do some sleuthing, and even take a trip to Toon Town where all of the toons reside, in order to solve this case.


Roger’s co-star, Baby Herman, is used sparingly, but he’s a scene-stealer.

The story is admittedly fairly simple. The character of Jessica Rabbit is the most intriguing, and not because of her figure, but because she is a femme fatale done well. She possesses an air of mystery and uncertainty, the fact that she is apparently the most attractive toon and is attached to the rather goofy Roger helps to play this up. What truly sets Who Framed Roger Rabbit apart is the presentation. Live actors mix with cartoon ones in truly spectacular ways. We’ve seen this before from Walt Disney with the likes of Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks, but not on this level. Those films merely feature a few sequences of cartoons and actors co-mingling, where as Who Framed Roger Rabbit is built around that dynamic, and it looks spectacular! When Eddie rides along in the toon cab, Benny, he looks like he’s really riding in it. When he wields a toon gun, it’s convincing. And the world of Toon Town is especially marvelous to look at with its impossible architecture and lavish color scheme. The movie is so visually stimulating that you could watch it in mute and still enjoy it.


Christopher Lloyd is appropriately sinister as Judge Doom.

Even with the flashy presentation, the film still needed true chemistry between its real-life lead Eddie, and it’s toon co-lead Roger. Hoskins is fantastic at playing the straight-man Eddie. He takes everything seriously and has explosive reactions to all of the nonsense around him, but not in such a manner that would break the film. Helping to make sure he was able to form good chemistry with Roger, voice actor Charlie Fleischer dressed up as the character and would voice it off-camera. Seth McFarlane utilized a similar method when filming the more recent Ted to similar effect. I suppose it’s impossible to say if this truly worked or did not, but the results speak for themselves.


Eddie and Roger go for a ride in Benny the Cab.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a unique looking film that was impossible to ignore when it was released, but it was still relying on a lead that had never been seen before in Roger. That’s why to help spruce up the film, Spielberg and Zemeckis wanted to make sure that Roger’s world was inhabited by recognizable cartoon characters. That ended up being the film’s strongest selling point as it promised, for the first time ever, that characters from both Disney and Warner Bros. would share scenes together. This leads to the wild team-up between Donald Duck (Tony Anselmo, with some archivable Clarence Nash) and Daffy Duck (Mel Blanc, in one of his last performances) who have a dueling pianos scene where the more outlandish Daffy seems to get on Donald’s nerves more and more as the scene goes on. Mickey Mouse (Wayne Allwine) and Bugs Bunny (Blanc) also get to share a brief scene, which contains an easter egg of Bugs flipping Mickey the bird (apparently, Disney was a bit of a pain to work with concerning how the characters could be portrayed and this was one way for the animators to have a little fun at their expense). Those represent the biggest cameos, but there are many, many more throughout the film from both companies, both major and minor. Part of the fun of watching the film is looking out for them and there’s always a chance that on re-watch you’ll see another you may have missed.


Toon Town is a rather chaotic place.

There are so many things to pick out of Who Framed Roger Rabbit that it’s way too much for me to cover here. Suffice to say, if you’ve never seen this baby then you owe it to yourself to check it out. Much of the effects still stand up today, and much of the credit is owed to animation director Richard Williams. The toons are two-dimensional, but a lot of effort is made to make sure they look like they’re really inhabiting this world in the manner in which lighting is utilized and how often the camera moves. Working on this film must have been exhausting, but oh so rewarding in the end. Due to the nature of the license rights, the complexity of it shots, and incredible of expense of animating over live-action, a sequel has never truly got off the ground. Author Gary West has returned to the character for his novels, and Disney and Spielberg would probably both love to cash-in on the brand, but there are just too many hurdles to clear. Zemeckis has campaigned for a sequel on multiple occasions, but he’s been less vocal about it in recent years. Additional Maroon Cartoon shorts of Roger Rabbit were produced after the film, but even that was a touchy subject as Spielberg wanted to run them alongside his films while Disney wanted them for theirs. And supposedly Disney wanted to create a television show starring Roger Rabbit for their Disney Afternoon block, but Spielberg who was working on televised cartoons of his own (Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, etc) wouldn’t allow Roger to be utilized forcing Disney to create the character Bonkers the Bobcat. Roger has at least been allowed to live on in Disneyland’s Toon Town where he still has a dark ride to this day. Given that Disney has been replacing a lot of older dark rides to make way for more current franchises, one has to wonder if Roger’s days there could be numbered.


One of the more character-packed shots in the whole film.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is likely one of the most popular and successful films to never get a sequel. It took in around $330M in 1988 dollars, a pretty substantial haul, which more than covered its estimated $50M cost. Its story and presentation are both timeless and also proof that Tex Avery styled humor and gags may never truly go out of style. The rather manic Roger Rabbit can appear off-putting to some, especially younger folks who may not have grown up on Looney Tunes, but apprehensions tend to fade away once the movie really gets going. I’ve introduced this film to a few people that weren’t enthusiastic about giving it a shot, only to see them won over in short order. It’s really one of the best things the Walt Disney Company has ever produced, even if it was released on their Touchstone label. I know it’s a Friday, but if you don’t have plans tonight, you could do a lot worse than settling in on the couch with your favorite snack and beverage for a showing of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

12 Films of Christmas #8: The Nightmare Before Christmas


The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Is it a Christmas movie? Is it a Halloween movie? Can a film be both? That seems to be the big question surrounding Tim Burton’s multi-holiday classic The Nightmare Before Christmas. Released on Disney’s Touchstone label (because the company was too scared to be directly associated with the film at first) around Halloween 1993, The Nightmare Before Christmas has been content to be accepted by both holidays, but lets not kid ourselves, it’s a Christmas movie.

It’s right there in the title! The Nightmare Before Christmas! The tale about how the fictional residents of Halloweentown usurped the Christmas holiday from Santa Claus for their very own. It’s a Christmas movie that looks like a halloween one, and it’s been charming audiences for decades now through its unique visual style and stop-motion animation. And that animation, even that screams “Christmas” thanks to holiday classics synonymous with the genre like Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The Henry Selick directed picture (which can’t be said enough since so many still mistakenly attribute the film’s direction to Tim Burton) leans heavy on its visual and theatrical elements so much that I can’t help but wonder if it was traditionally animated if it would have the same impact.


The one and only, Jack the Pumpkin King!

The stop-motion style proves ideal in crafting a character such as Jack Skellington, the spindly skeleton suffering a severe case of seasonal depression, or midlife crisis if that’s possible for someone undead. His movements aren’t always fluid, but still seem appropriate given how we can practically see his various joints. Some creative liberties were taken with his head-sculpt which is soft, and round as opposed to resembling an actual skull. Some of the denizens of Halloweentown are rather unremarkable to behold, but all fit into the film’s visual style.

The film is a unique and visual treat, and the very Burton voice cast (featuring frequent collaborators like Paul Reubens, Catherine O’Hara, and Danny Elfman) is more than up for the challenge of bringing these characters to like. The film’s score, provided by Elfman, is fantastic and manages to capture the feeling of both Halloween and Christmas all in one. The broadway styled bits are where the film falters slightly, and what holds it back from being ranked alongside some of the Disney films from the same decade. Still, The Nightmare Before Christmas has its share of memorable tunes and can easily be sung along to.


Everyone’s favorite trick or treaters. Or least favorite since they are little punks.

I did a full review of this film a few years ago, which is why this entry has chosen to focus on what makes the film unique among other Christmas films. Don’t fret too much over which holiday the film best aligns itself with, just use that as an excuse to watch the film around both holidays. It’s always worked in my household.

The Wind Rises

Kaze_Tachinu_poster“The wind is rising!  We must try to live!” – Paul Valéry

The above quote opens the latest release from Studio Ghibli and director Hayao Miyazaki; The Wind Rises.  It’s a quote that is suitable for the film as it implies that change is coming, but we must carry on.  The Wind Rises is to be the last directorial effort from Miyazaki, Japan’s most celebrated director of animated films, and it is an appropriate piece for him to go out on.  The Wind Rises tells the tale of Jiro Horikoshi and his dream to design what he calls beautiful airplanes.  Jiro is based on the airplane designer of the same name who is famous for creating Japan’s Mitsubishi A5M and A6M Zero and the basis for the film was derived from a quote he once gave:  “All I wanted to do was make something beautiful.”  The film has two sides to it with one being a mostly faithful account of Horikoshi’s challenge in developing his first successful airplane and the entirely fictional account of his personal life.  The end result is a tale of hope, triumph, love and life and is perhaps Miyazaki’s finest piece since My Neighbor Totoro.

The film opens with a young Jiro dreaming of flying a plane.  The opening sequence is perhaps the most fun for the animators as Jiro’s dreams are filled with nightmare creatures seemingly stemming from his despondence over his imperfect vision.  The character admits early on to himself that he will never fly because of his eyes, but in a dream meets with Italian airplane designer Giovanni Caprone, who will be a recurring visitor amongst Jiro’s dreams throughout the film offering him guidance on how to be a great engineer.  It’s these dreams that inspire Jiro to be an airplane engineer and the film advances time to show us his journey to become an engineer.

Jiro leading one of his designs to the testing grounds.

Jiro leading one of his designs to the testing grounds.

Jiro is portrayed as a sweet and good-natured man.  He is willing to help those in need, and a chance encounter with a young woman and her maid on a train plays a pivotal role in the film later on.  During the train ride the great earthquake of 1923 strikes and Jiro carries the maid to safety after she breaks a leg.  He seeks nothing in return and doesn’t even share his name with the women before departing.

Jiro lands a job out of school and his employment takes him to Germany where he is introduced to pre World War 2 Germany’s policies.  Being Japanese, he is not trusted by the soldiers as he seeks to learn about Germany’s engineering when it comes to aeronautical design.  Despite this, he is able to learn some techniques and apply them to a new aircraft, which unfortunately crashes during the test run.  To clear his head, his company sends him on a retreat for some rest and relaxation which is where he encounters the young woman he met years earlier on the train, Naoko.  The two fall in love, and though it seems predictable, their scenes are handled with such tenderness and care that the audience is left to root for them, even if it seems as if they’re destined to fall for each other.  Jiro learns there is a dark side to his budding romance as Naoko is afflicted with tuberculosis.  This forces them to move quickly with their life together.  Naoko insists on getting better before discussing marriage, but in time relents once Jiro has to leave for work.

Jiro must deal with failure throughout the film.

Jiro must deal with failure throughout the film.

The last act of the movie involves Jiro and his attempt to finally build a worthy aircraft that his company can sell to the Japanese military, while Naoko wages a silent battle at their home with her illness.  I don’t want to get into too much detail about the film’s plot, but suffice to say it’s a bittersweet tale that includes ups and downs with the story refusing to linger on anything for too long.  In that, it mirrors life which is a constant push and pull.  There are many themes the film likes to go back to.  Early on a supporting character mentions the importance of having a family to go home to, crediting it with helping a man work harder at the office, which is shown later in the film once Jiro is married.  In his dreams, Caproni asks Jiro if he prefers to live in a world with pyramids, or with no pyramids, using this as an explanation for why he would design airplanes that will eventually be used for war.  And all throughout the film, the wind acts as a character itself playing a pivotal role in one of the film’s final scenes.

As this is a work from Studio Ghibli, it hardly needs stating but deserves to be anyways, that this film is gorgeous.  The animation is predominantly hand-drawn, but some computer generated imagery is used for some of the film’s effects.  The film has a bright palette though Jiro is often garbed in white, gray, or a very light lavender, which serves to isolate him from his surroundings.  This suits the character as he is often oblivious to his surroundings, so consumed in his work and willing to overlook the fact that his designs are made for war.  The country-side settings are sure to evoke memories of Totoro, and the film’s whimsical feel and care-free pace further serves to draw comparisons to Miyazaki’s old masterpiece.

The wind is a character of its own, its actions often directly influencing the lives of the human characters in the film.

The wind is a character of its own, its actions often directly influencing the lives of the human characters in the film.

The sound design is excellent, with great use of natural sounding effects and an excellent score from Joe Hisaishi.  The english dub was handled by Disney and the film distributed in North America on their Touschstone label.  The dub is the usual high quality that viewers have come to expect from Disney as the company has handled the majority of Studio Ghibli’s dubs.  Serving as Jiro is Joseph Gordon-Levitt with supporting roles from the likes of Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, and Martin Short, the latter serving as the scene-stealing character Kurokawa, Jiro’s boss throughout the film.

The Wind Rises may be an animated movie, but it’s not for children.  The film’s pace is too slow and plot is too mature to entertain most children.  The film is best described as a drama and should appeal to older fans of Miyazaki’s works.  That said, it’s a wonderful piece of film with fantastic visuals, a compelling plot, and terrific performances.  Hayao Miyazaki may never get the recognition he deserves from international audiences, but anyone involved with film appreciates and respects the work he does.  It’s both wonderful and sad that this movie exists, knowing it is to be the last written and directed by Miyazaki, but in that sense it mirrors the film superbly.  What a truly awesome way to cap off a career!

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