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WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT
Vista Series

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Bob Hoskins, Joanna Cassidy, Christopher Lloyd, voice of Charles Fleischer
Director:  Robert Zemeckis
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1, Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Touchstone
Features:  See Review
Length:  104 Minutes
Release Date:  March 25, 2003

"Gruesome...isn't it, folks?"

Film ****

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is pure cinematic joy.  Every frame of the movie reverberates with the love of the art of filmmaking, and with a real sense of wonder and delight at the possibilities that film has to offer.

It opens with a cartoon featuring the characters of Roger Rabbit and Baby Herman…a wild and funny throwback to the early days of animation when cartoon shorts were loony and unbridled.  But then, a director yells cut, the baby walks off the set swearing, and we see that these cartoon characters actually exist in our own real world.  They take up physical space.  They interact with people and objects that aren’t animated.  In short, this kind of film has come a long way since Gene Kelly danced with Jerry the Mouse decades earlier. 

The plot is not quite so important, but here it is:  a down and out detective, Eddie Valiant (Hoskins) finds himself involved in a mystery involving Roger, who gets framed for the murder of a gag king.  In the course of trying to prove the rabbit’s innocent, he stumbles on to a mystery that could spell the end of the toons. 

One of the aspects that makes the movie so much fun is the many cameos by famous cartoon stars throughout the story.  The Disney characters are there, including Mickey, Donald, and Dumbo, as well as the Warner favorites like Bugs, Daffy, and Yosemite Sam.  You’re also going to see Max Fleischer’s Betty Boop, and even Droopy, who has my favorite cameo in the picture.

And once the film has thoroughly explored all the visual and comedic possibilities of toons existing in our real world, it changes gears to allow Valiant to enter Toontown, where he becomes the only real object in a cartoon world.  It reminded me of Disney’s own early Alice cartoons, where a live action girl seemed to exist in a fully animated world. 

To call this film an extraordinary visual achievement would be an understatement.  One can only imagine when watching the film just how much work and dedication it took to create illusions that are this seamless.  It’s no wonder the film took home Oscars for its visual effects, and a special achievement statue to recognize the accomplishment.

But I would be remiss not to point out how well the humans perform in the movie.  All were given the responsibility of maintaining the illusions, and had to act with characters that weren’t actually there.  It couldn’t have been easy, but it was crucial.  Hoskins and Cassidy both rise to the challenge and maintain the energy and believability.  Oh, and Christopher Lloyd makes a great Judge Doom.

In short, this film is pure movie magic, and pure cinematic entertainment.  It’s a visually enthralling and funny imaginative romp through a world where cartoons and people exist and work side by side.

Video ****

Now THIS is more like it...a stunning improvement over the former non-anamorphic issue!  With a brand new transfer struck, this movie finally looks the way it should, with bright, vivid colors, remarkable detail and texture, and one of the most film-like images of any offering I've seen.  A full frame version is on Disc One, while the anamorphic rendering is on Disc Two. 

Audio ***1/2 (DTS ****)

The new DTS soundtrack is amazing...from the first few orchestral notes, I think I looked like Roger Rabbit, with my eyes popping out and my jaw on the floor.  While both Dolby Digital and DTS tracks use the surround capabilities for full, dynamic, open arrangements, the DTS has such a clarity that you can just about pick out every instrument distinctly.  Both offer good, clean dialogue and plenty of zany punch from all corners as the action gets chaotic.

The DTS track is only present on the anamorphic widescreen disc.

Features ****

This Vista Series offering from Disney earns it's moniker...I hope I don't overlook anything!

Disc One, in addition to the full frame title, includes the "Family Friendly" features.  The kids (or you) negotiate a map to get to certain extras, which include the three post-movie Roger Rabbit shorts "Tummy Trouble", "Roller Coaster Rabbit" and "Trail Mix-Up", all fast paced throwbacks to early Warner (not Disney) animation.  There is a mini-documentary "Who Made Roger Rabbit" hosted by Charles Fleischer, a "Trouble in Toontown" interactive game, plus the Acme Warehouse, which is a 3D bit of fun for the little ones as they open boxes to reveal various gags.

Disc Two, the anamorphic widescreen version, contains features for the "Enthusiast".  A terrific audio commentary lets you hear the thoughts of Robert Zemeckis, Frank Marshall, Jeffrey Price, Peter Seaman, Steve Starkey and Ken Ralston.  "Toontown Confidential" lets you watch the movie as fun facts and trivia pop up on the screen.  The famous "Pig Head" deleted sequence is here in full, along with an introduction by the filmmakers.  The before-and-after feature is a very cool one, showing a side by side comparison of the original film where Bob Hoskins acts to nothing against a blue screen, and how it looked as a finished product.  Learning how some of the shots were constructed was a trip!  

A more extensive "Behind the Ears" documentary gives you a remarkably close look at the production, including new and vintage interview footage, the original animation/live action test, and more.  "Toon Stand-Ins" shows how models were used on set to help the actors perform to their later-animated cartoon counterparts.  A making-of scene is included, as well as "The Valiant Files", an interactive 3D desktop that leads you to even more features, like gags, test drawings and more...but if you don't have the patience to negotiate Eddie's office to find them, don't worry...a menu screen brings them all to you at the touch of a fingertip.

The menu screens are a hoot, as you ride with Bennie the Cab throughout Maroon's studios...as you pick your features, he takes you there, while screaming at unfortunate passersby and such...very cleverly done!  The package also includes a couple of "autographed" glossies for Roger and Jessica Rabbit, a companion booklet, and a coupon good for tokens at Chuck E. Cheese...overall, one of the year's most generous packages of extras!

One note, though...on both discs, for some reason, the movies started with the English subtitles defaulted on.  I don't know if that was just my copy or not, but you might want to keep an eye out for that.  It's easily fixed, though, so no big deal.

Summary:

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a terrific time at the movies…one that makes you laugh while constantly amazing you.  This is a terrific film that definitely can be enjoyed time and time again, and one of the most fun DVD packages of the year.