Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and the books

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (there is no punctuation in the official title) won the 1988 Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation. Second place went to Beetlejuice and third to BigWillow and fifth to Alien NationWho Framed Roger Rabbit a respectable 8th place on both rankingsBig and Beetlejuice (and Willow on one system but not the other) are ranked ahead of it.

There's a couple of Oscar/Hugo crossovers, and even one with Doctor Who. Christopher Lloyd is Judge Doom here, having previously been Doc in Back to the Future three years ago and Taber in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Joanna Cassidy, Dolores here, was Zhora, the android with the snake, in Blade Runner.

This was Stubby Kaye's last featured role, as Marvin Acme, victim of the first murder. The previous year he was agent Weissmuller in the Doctor Who story Delta and the Bannermen.

Alan Tilvern, here R.K. Maroon, was rather less visibly one of the controllers in Superman.

Richard Le Parmentier, Lieutenant Santino here, was the higher ranked Admiral Motti in the first Star Wars film.

Betsy Brantley did the moves for Jessica Rabbit, and was the little boy's mother in The Princess Bride last year; Mike Edmonds is Stretch here and had, er, small parts in both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the JediReturn of the Jedi.

It should also be added that the film features a lot of classic voice actors returning to their original roles, notably Mel Blanc as Bugs Bunny and many others, and Mae Questel as Betty Boop, a role she had last performed almost fifty years earlier.

As usual, our old friends race and gender are not well served here. I saw one black actor, in a non-speaking role, Lindsay Holiday (who now lives in France and makes a living as a musician).

And it's impossible to look at the Toons – a visible minority with a vibrant musical culture, whose labour is essential to the industry, but who are subject to continual harassment, sexual exploitation and extrajudicial killing (Roger and Jessica are literally strung up by the villain) – without detecting a rather cack-handed resonance.

As for gender, well, Jessica Rabbit isn't bad, just drawn that way. (What way? Unpack that…) The animators deliberately made her breasts move in the opposite direction to real breasts – ie they bounce up when in real life they would bounce down.

What makes the film High Art is the quality of the animation. It is difficult for us now to comprehend that the Toons were hand drawn onto every single frame, in those days before CGI. We were racking our brains watching it to think of notable earlier examples – Bedknob and Broomstick and Fantasia both have live action mixed with animation, but neither for as long as this. Apparently animators still use the phrase "swinging the lamp" to describe scenes that took that crazy bit of extra effort for effects that most viewers won't even notice.

I squirmed with sympathy for Roger and Jessica, tied together and threatened with death by Dip, and I’m sure you did too.

Also a shout out to the actors, especially Bob Hoskins, reacting to empty space or place-holders of some kind, and doing it really well. (I once was Macbeth in a class production of the feast scene, and we played it both with and without a visible Banquo’s Ghost. It was much easier to get into it staring into the eyes of a spectral Banquo than reacting to an empty space.)

So, all in all, I’m putting it just above the halfway point in my ranking, ahead of Bambi but behind Soylent Green.

The film is based on a novel, Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, by Gary K. Wolf. The second paragraph of its third chapter is:

I picked up my pace, turned a corner, and ducked into a doorway.

There are broad plot similarities, but big differences: the book is set in the present day (ie 1981); the Toons are from comic strips rather than animated films; their speech is preserved in physical speech bubbles; the plot turns on a deus ex machina and the ability of Toons to create short-lived doppelgangers of themselves, and is generally less tidy than the film. One of those cases where the cinematic adaptation is a lot better than the original material.

I also got hold of the novelisation of the film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, by Martin Noble, based on the screenplay by Jeffrey Price & Peter Seaman. Noble wrote several other 1980s novelisations, for the Kenny Everett film Bloodbath at the House of Death, the TV shows Automan, Private Schulz, Cover Up, and the Danny de Vito fims Ruthless People and Tin Men. He is still open for business. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

‘Hmmph!’ she remarked and waddled past me.

Again, in the days before VCRs, the novelisation was the only way to re-experience the film, and this is a competent job, neither adding much to or subtracting much from the script.

The next Hugo-winning film was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but I’ve already watched that. (I might do Back to the Future 2, which lost that year.) So, in due course, on to Edward Scissorhands.

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