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The Rabbit Gets Some Justice
on March 15, 2003
Filmmakers have been combining animation and live action since the days of silent film--but 1988's WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT not only bested everything done previously, it set a standard that is unlikely to be surpassed. Although it has been available on VHS and in a mediocre DVD release for quite a few years, the film finally gets the star treatment in this "Vista Series" double DVD release, which includes the film in both pan-and-scan and letterbox formats and an assortment of extras, many of which are quite interesting.
The concept and story are well known: cartoon characters are not drawings, but are living entities who work in the film industry, and when Maroon Cartoon star Roger Rabbit is accused of murdering Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye), he turns to private detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) for help. Trouble is, Eddie hates "Toons." After all, one of them offed his brother, and Eddie hasn't been sober since. The concept is a clever one, and the story could have gone in any number of directions--but ROGER RABBIT hops down a completely unexpected trail. Set in 1947 Los Angeles, the film uses classic "noir" elements (and references everything from THE MALTESE FALCON to CHINATOWN); it also makes considerable sly social commentary on racism, with the "Toons" performing in a Cotton Club-like nightclub, literally working for peanuts at the studios, and more or less confined to living in "Toontown," which might easily be read as social ghettoization. And all of these sidelights are interesting and entertaining. But the most attractive thing about ROGER RABBIT is that it is just plain fun to watch.
Part of that fun comes from the marvelous performances of Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd (as the evil Judge Doom), and Joanna Cassidy (Valiant's sidekick Delores), who lead the live action cast. Another chunk of the fun is the way in which the film cameos a host of famous cartoon characters, ranging from Betty Boop to Bugs Bunny and the Warner Bro.s gang to Dumbo--and animation buffs will love the fact that Betty Boop and Bugs Bunny, to name but two, are voiced by the artists (Mae Questel and Mel Blanc) who created the character voices in the first place. But the big deal here is the extremely believable way in which the "Toons" fit into the real world. They rendered with astonishing detail and remarkable three dimensionality. It's just an amazing thing to watch.
The overall DVD package is a bit odd, for it offers less in the way of bonuses than one might expect. The first disk includes a pan-and-scan version of the film, three Roger Rabbit/Baby Herman shorts, a kid-friendly documentary, and a CD-ROM game; the second disk offers the letterbox film with extras that will appeal to more mature viewers, most particularly on-set shots and a nifty documentary called "Behind the Ears." The upshot is really a one-disk release that has been expanded to two by the trick of cramming both pan-and-scan and letterbox versions into a single package. That's annoying--but even so, this is easily the best release of this film to date. It at gives the rabbit some justice at last, and I give it five stars on that basis.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer