As a long-time fan of old cartoons, especially the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies and the like, you can imagine how I felt when I first heard the news that Disney/Touchstone was coming out with Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and that it would feature all sorts of cartoon characters appearing on the same screen together! Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse sharing screen time? Daffy and Donald Duck having a piano duel? It was a no-brainer that I'd go to see this movie when it came out.
Initially, I didn't even care about what the story was going to be like, or even who Roger Rabbit was. Oh, I'd heard about the source material, Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, and even knew that the original book dealt with comic strip characters, and not cartoons. I got more interested as I saw some previews for the movie, as well as some of the other promotional features that were done to promote the movie.
I have to say, I fell in love with this movie from the first frames, with the Maroon Cartoon opening with Roger and Baby Herman, in the pseudo-Looney Tunes style. It was obvious that I was in for a treat, and I was not disappointed.
In case you're one of the few people underprivileged enough to have ever seen this movie, the basic conceit of it is that cartoons aren't actually drawn on cels and shot frame by frame, but rather the cartoon characters, or "Toons," live in a part of Hollywood called Toon Town, and they all work for various studios, being filmed live. All the gag items are the product of Marvin Acme, and include all the standard toon gags familiar to all of us.
Anyway, the initial cartoon gets interrupted when a refrigerator lands on poor Roger Rabbit, and he's supposed to react by seeing stars, but instead he's got little birdies circling his noggin. Certainly Roger's heart is in the right place, he just can't seem to perform on cue with some of the effects. Baby Herman (who's actually a much more mature person than he appears on screen) leaves the set in a huff, and things go on from there.
It's a murder mystery, with Roger set up as the fall guy for the murder of Marvin Acme. Roger's the chief suspect because his wife, Jessica Rabbit (who's not a rabbit, but rather probably the sexiest toon babe ever brought to the screen, even moreso than the legendary Red Hot Riding Hood) has been literally playing pat-a-cake with Marvin, and Marvin was killed in a way that would suggest a toon has done the crime.
Maroon Studios hires Eddie Valiant, a down on his luck private detective, to look into the matter. Eddie hates working with toons. He and his brother used to work almost exclusively for toons, but since a toon killed his brother, Eddie's taken to the bottle and doesn't want to be near them. You can imagine how he feels when he's stuck with Roger, who tries desperately to get Eddie to laugh!
Roger's being pursued by Judge Doom, who has figured out the one way to kill a Toon -- dip! It's basically a very powerful paint solvent, and can kill a Toon almost instantly. Judge Doom is determined to arrest and execute Roger for his crime, but there's more to him than meets the eye!
We also meet Eddie's girlfriend, Dolores, who works at a gin joint. Initially, she's jealous of Jessica, who appears to be trying to put the moves on Eddie (who was completely unprepared for her), but Dolores has nothing to worry about.
The plot takes several twists and turns, and there are cameos galore of characters from Warner Brothers, Disney, MGM, Fleischer and others (no Popeye, but Betty Boop is there, as is Koko the Clown). Even the Harveytoons jack-in-the-box makes an appearance towards the end (but not so Casper)! Just about every classic cartoon gag is fit in there one way or another.
Along with the murder mystery, the movie's also very much about Eddie's finding his way back to the person he used to be, and of all the characters, he's the only one who really experiences real growth as a character.
The special effects for the movie were miles ahead of anything that had ever been done before in the realm of combining live action and animated characters. Certainly the work could be done better (or at least, more easily today), but at the time, it was state of the art, and it still holds up very well (later movies like this, such as Space Jam or Looney Tunes Back in Action, don't look quite as good).
The movie did very well financially, and inspired a new wave of interest in old-school animation. It's easy to see how WFRR? led to the later Spielberg-produced Tiny Toon Adventures and even more so the later Animaniacs. In the years since, there's been a lot of talk about doing a sequel or prequel, but concepts have been thought up and discarded over and over again. Several Roger Rabbit shorts were produced, however, being featured with other Disney/Touchstone movies, and there was even a short-lived Roger Rabbit comic book, teaming Roger with a different human detective, as they couldn't use Eddie Valiant in the comic book. I bought every issue of the comic, and was sad to see it go away.
It's sad that the only way to see the movie these days is on the small screen, because I think it looked amazing on the big screen!