Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Retrospective | Still A Masterpiece at 35

What makes Who Framed Roger Rabbit? so good? Is it the acting? Is it the animation? Is it the cameos of our favourite cartoon characters? Is it all of this and more? Let’s take a look at why this film, 35 years on, is so fondly remembered. 

Combining live action and animation, and released in 1988, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? feels as fresh when I first saw it on TV as a child. Although not the first crossover between real people and cartoons, there was and still is a charm to this fantasy comedy, looking at themes of prejudice throughout. The film stars Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd, both brilliantly playing their parts as a hero and villain respectively, and is a loose adaptation of the 1981 novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? written by Gary K. Wolf. It was directed by Robert Zemeckis, known for his Back to the Future trilogy among many other films. The CGI was created by ILM, using cels to create the combination of the two worlds in one, with optical compositing and rotoscoping also playing their part. 

The animation was something that could have proved to be challenging for the team, but Zemeckis and executive producer Steven Spielberg made the conscious decision to always have Roger Rabbit making contact with something real in order to reduce slipping of the character. Speaking of characters, this film managed to create a believable lived in world for Toontown, that allowed a bringing together of popular characters from Disney and Warner Bros. Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny appeared on screen together for the first time, opening doors for future animation crossovers and showing the possibility for rights acquisitions within the field.

Outside of its technically ground-breaking achievements, the film found a way to reach audiences both young and old with its cross-generational appeal. Although considered to be a family film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? explored darker, more complex themes than were often explored in animation of the time, ending the belief that animation was just for kids and showing the possibilities for the development of adult animation. It demonstrated the ability to tell more sophisticated tales, and looked at greed and corruption whilst diving deeply into the human condition.

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Many consider this film as influential for the animation industry, myself included, as it pushed the boat out on the possibility for technical storytelling. It allowed future animators to see what could be done beyond traditional 2D animation and set a standard for progression in the field, likely paving the way for developments in computer generated imagery and visual effects. A box office hit, it won best visual effects at the 1989 Oscars and has gone on to remain one of the most beloved and well recognised animated films of all time. It blended live action and animation in a way that felt fresh, full of life and cinematically powerful whilst exploring often untouched concepts in the animated medium.

In conclusion, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is a masterpiece of animation that every animator or fan of the genre needs to check out. With its look at loyalty and trust, identity and redemption, alongside discrimination and prejudice, it is a film that has so much going for it both in technical ability and storytelling. We see characters that shouldn’t be together, interact in a way that feels three-dimensional and we watch as two very different characters develop and form a bond. It is a weird movie, but it is one with a lot of heart, and one that shouldn’t be missed. 

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