Ahhh, the 25th anniversary edition. There’s no quicker way to crush us under the wheels of time. The quarter century mark is usually the first really legitimate proof that a film or album is going to stand the test of time for someone – and this week, someone’s certainly going to be happy over the release of a 25th anniversary edition of the modern classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit, making its debut on Blu-Ray.
Based on a wacky pulp novel by Gary K. Wolf, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is the story of a hard-boiled Hollywood private eye assigned to investigate some strange behavior around Maroon Studios’ most famous movie star, the titular animated bunny with a speech impediment and a propensity for slapstick. Roger and Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) discover a foul plot to frame Roger for murder and erase Toontown – the equally animated home of Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny and a slew of film legends – off the map for good.
At the time, audiences and critics raved over Roger for its groundbreaking blend of live-action photography and traditional hand-drawn animation. Today, even when a computer can create literally any kind of landscape a director might want, Roger Rabbit stands head and shoulders above other films with twice as much innovation.
The “Toons,” be they original creations (the cigar-chomping Baby Herman, the voluptuous Jessica Rabbit) or familiar faces (Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Droopy Dog), have never looked better thanks to an immense attention to detail. Characters are realistically lit and shadowed, and manipulate real props and objects on-set. Director Robert Zemeckis, no stranger to great technical feats on film (Back to the Future, Cast Away), is a master at blurring the lines between the film’s fantasy and reality worlds – one minute you’re marveling as the human Valiant and the hand-drawn Roger navigate being handcuffed together, the next you’re realizing what bold story moves this “kids’ film” makes (essentially, the plot reads like a junior novelization of Chinatown).
Zemeckis’ gifts also extend to never letting the Toons outshine their human counterparts. Hoskins was a British TV and stage actor; with his receding hairline and stout figure, he was far from Hollywood’s idea of a leading man. Yet he conveys the troubled Valiant flawlessly, allowing himself to play (and be played) off of his manic rabbit partner. Christopher Lloyd, best known as the wild but friendly Doc Brown in Zemeckis’ Back to the Future series, plays the villainous Judge Doom with panache, adding much to the film with his clipped diction and subtly horrifying makeup (as the film progresses, it’s clear that much of his familiar face is enhanced with prosthetics!).
As befits the technical brilliance of Roger Rabbit, the high-definition Blu-Ray transfer is a thing of beauty, eclipsing even the quality transfer the film enjoyed on DVD a decade ago. If there’s any demerit to the package, though, it’s that there’s little new to offer for the die-hard fan; the last DVD release’s generous bonus features (including three great Roger Rabbit short cartoons that were exhibited theatrically in the late ’80s and early ’90s) are all you get on Blu-Ray. And while they provide a fascinating insight into this complex picture, fanatics are likely going to be left wanting more. (Surely, as the tide turns more and more toward fancy CGI effects, someone is raring to revive Roger Rabbit for a new short cartoon or something.)
But if it’s been awhile since you’ve rediscovered the pure movie magic of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, this Blu-Ray release is the perfect opportunity to hop to the occasion.
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