Every few years at the movies a film will be released that advances the bar when it comes to technical marvel. In 1977 it was Star Wars. Eleven years later on June 22, 1988, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” took the baton and, in my opinion, is the greatest technical achievement in film for the 1980s.
Not only did it break ground in combining live action with animation, it was also a surprise box office hit. The movie placed second behind “Rain Man” for the year raking in more than $156 million and was the summer’s top grossing film. It was a surprise because it beat Rambo III, Willow and Crocodile Dundee II, all considered box office sure-things.
The surprise is also in the fact that the film was a risky venture to take. Here was a movie set in the 1940s featuring an unconventional lead actor, alcoholism, adult humor and situations marketed to children, a film noir tone, and cartoon characters that evolved into corporate icons. Not exactly a recipe for summer blockbuster.
But what eventually sold the film was the gimmick of cartoons coinciding with humans and the historic meeting of Disney and Looney Tunes characters. Cartoon characters that pre-date television found their way back onto the big screen along side new characters like Roger and Jessica Rabbit, Baby Herman and Benny the Cab. My personal favorites are the animated bullets Eddie uses for his revolver.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis, hot off “Back to the Future,” the film is an adaptation of a novel titled “Who Censored Roger Rabbit?” by Gary K. Wolf. The story in a nutshell is human private detective Eddie Valiant is hired to investigate Roger Rabbit’s wife, Jessica, and to find out of she is having an extramarital affair. This leads the detective to eventually trying to clear Roger of murder after the head of Acme Corporation and owner of Toontown is found dead.
A hit movie can’t be ignored by licensees. “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” sparked a cavalcade of merchandise in 1988 ranging from apparel, fast food tie-ins, plush dolls, backpacks, video games, pins and figures. Macy’s, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola were a few of the companies caught up in the success of the movie.
“Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” is among the rare blockbuster film that doesn’t have a sequel. That doesn’t mean one hasn’t been considered or even hit the pre-planning stages. One of the main snags is how to present the animated characters. Since 2D animation in film isn’t the norm anymore, the big question is can Roger and his cohorts exist as computer graphics or are they a product of their time?
The film did spawn three theatrical cartoon shorts starring Roger Rabbit. “Tummy Trouble” appeared before “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” the following summer. In 1990, “Roller Coaster Rabbit” was shown before “Dick Tracy.” And “Trail Mix-Up” was paired with “A Far Off Place” in 1993.
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