Who Framed Roger Rabbit

(USA 1988)

Let’s get this out up front: the appeal of Who Framed Roger Rabbit is not its outstanding narrative. Based on Gary K. Wolf’s novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman’s screenplay is competently written but it’s conventional if not downright pedestrian, a standard whodunnit complete with hiding, seeking, and a clock ticking. The situations are goofy, the characters are even goofier, and the jokes…well, they’re silly. The whole thing relies too heavily on farce and slapstick for my taste.

Los Angeles, 1947: alcoholic private investigator Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) is summoned to the studios of movie mogul R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern). Studio star Roger Rabbit (Charles Fleischer) is unraveling over romantic rumors involving his amply curvaceous toon wife Jessica (Kathleen Turner) and human Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye), the inventor and maker of the sundry gadgets used in cartoons. It’s affecting the studio’s bottom line, so Maroon hires Valiant to check it out.

After catching Jessica’s act at an underground club, Valiant spies on her and Acme in her dressing room. He takes pictures of them playing “patty-cake.” He turns them over to Maroon, who shows them to Roger. Assuming the worst, he promptly freaks.

The next morning, Acme is found dead — a cartoon safe crushing his head. Naturally, all signs point to Roger. Dastardly Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd), cloaked in a black cape and an evil hidden agenda, is following Roger’s tail. Valiant is unwillingly yanked into a crazy adventure to exonerate Roger, find a will, and stop Doom from selling Toontown, the appropriately named neighborhood where toons live, to a freeway developer.

Despite its shortcomings, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a technical marvel unlike much before it. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, it took awhile to make. It was a box office blockbuster, and it’s easy to see why. From the outset, it’s a dazzling mix of animated characters, or “toons,” interacting with real people. The look and technique are impeccable, with natural movement and even toons and humans touching that melds seamlessly without any jumps or visual hiccups. An ongoing gag with Roger handcuffed to Valiant, for example, is flawless. Clearly, this film was assembled with painstaking attention to timing. It is, in a word, neat.

Plus, the incorporation of classic cartoons — from Betty Boop to Woody Woodpecker to Droopy, to a scene with Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse to a piano duel between Daffy Duck and Donald Duck — is really, really fun. I’m sure this is the only place you’ll ever see Warner Brothers and Disney characters together, and it’s a hoot.

In 2016, the United States Library of Congress deemed Who Framed Roger Rabbit “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).

With Joanna Cassidy, Lou Hirsch, Mike Edmonds, Eugene Guirterrez, Mae Questel, Mel Blanc, Tony Anselmo, Mary T. Radford, Joe Alaskey, David Lander, Richard Williams, Wayne Allwine, Tony Pope, Peter Westy, Cherry Davis, Nancy Cartwright

Production: Touchstone Pictures, Amblin Entertainment

Distribution: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

104 minutes
Rated PG

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B-

Spirited Away [Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi] [千と千尋の神隠し]

(USA/Japan 2001)

Fandango’s short and sweet synopsis says all you need to know about the plot here: “Lost in a forest, a 10-year-old girl meets animals, ghosts, and weird creatures.” Weird, indeed. A twisted story with some grotesque imagery sure to stay with me forever, like Chihiro’s parents turning into pigs, that bizarre nose and wart on Yubaba, the coal-toting soot things, the stink ghost, and No Face. Charming in the way that only Japanimation is, I enjoyed this one, to a point. It lost me about two thirds in, and reminded me why I am not into epic fantasies or science fiction.

Hayao Miyazaki tells a good story and gives us really strong characters in Spirited Away, but I don’t need to see it again. Ever.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) C+

http://movies.disney.com/spirited-away

White God [Fehér isten]

(Hungary 2014)

Tara Fass of Huffington Post was right on the mark when she called Kornél Mundruczó’s White God “a thrilling and visceral fairy tale.” This particular fairy tale traces the parallel paths of Lili (Zsofia Psotta), a brooding teenager handed off to her father (Sandor Zsoter) for three months, and her dog, Hagen (switch hitters Body and Luke), after the two are separated when Lili’s father abandons Hagen on the street. The two main characters– girl and dog– become increasingly feral left on their own. They’re brought together again after a series of events culminating in a beautifully orchestrated over-the-top canine takeover of the city reminiscent of Hitchcock, Disney, and Tarantino. Think of Old Yeller on crack. Not what I expected, which is what drew me in and kept me watching.

Bonus: all of the dogs in the film were strays that reportedly were adopted after shooting ended.

(Music Box) B+

http://www.magpictures.com/whitegod/

Cinderella

(USA 2015)

What’s to say, really? Kenneth Branagh’s reboot of the classic cartoon was pretty much what I expected, Disney milquetoast and all. Lily James makes a good Cinderella, and Cate Blanchett makes an even better evil stepmother. Two things I enjoyed: the backstory the original did not tell and the prince’s (Richard Madden) junk showing through the white tights he wore in every scene. Helena Bonham Carter, downright magical as the fairy godmother, stole the show; her scene was by far the best if only for how giddy it made me.

(AMC 600 North Michigan) C

http://movies.disney.com/cinderella