They say it's rough for an actor to keep center-stage when a child or an animal is the co-star. Consider how rough it is, then, for Bob Hoskins to co-star with a screenful of animated characters in 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit.'
As a matter of fact, he, Christopher Lloyd and Joanna Cassidy do wonderfully as the humans sharing billing with Roger Rabbit, Jessica (who speaks with the voice of Kathleen Turner), and every cartoon character to grace the movie screen since Betty Boop. Directed by 'Robert Zemeckis, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' is a murder mystery turned on its (very long rabbit) ears, and a spirited tribute to the magic of animation and laughter.
Hoskins -- acting, and even looking a bit cartoonish himself in this film -- plays Eddie Valiant, a down-and-out gumshoe in 1947 who used to be private detective to the 'stars' of Toon Town -- the cartoon characters who not only enchanted the screens in the late 1940s, but, in this film, maintained their own town just beyond the big movie studios in California. With the murder of his brother, Eddie hits the booze and nurses a burning hatred for the 'Toons,' since it was one of them who killed his much-loved brother and business partner.
Toon star Roger Rabbit (the voice of Charles Fleischer) becomes a No.1 murder suspect after a Toon Town bigshot turns up dead. The same bigshot has allegedly been flirting with Roger's seductive wife. As Valiant falls deeper into the case despite himself, he uncovers the real murder plot devised by the evil Judge Doom, played by Lloyd, involving a cynical plan to turn Toon Town into a freeway.
But these mundane explanations completely miss the point and fun of 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit,' because it is both a completely original movie as well as one that is funny, kidlike and adult all at the same time. From the very beginning of the film -- about the best cartoon I've seen since the sixth grade -- director Zemeckis paces this movie like it was 'Chinatown Meets Walt Disney.' The film is literally crowded with cartoon gags and sound effects; they come at you with dizzying pace, and leave you breathless, and like a kid in a candy store, eager to devour it all.
It's a tribute to Zemeckis and his animated cartooning and editing team that they came up with a film so thoroughly original by going back some 40 years. Sound like a contradiction? It isn't really. Because it was during those golden years of cartoons, during the late 1940s, that the legend of cartoon looniness was born. And with the 1980s movie technology, the pairing of loony and slick seems perfectly appropriate - certainly more so than today's animated fare, which consists largely of fanciful variations of adult car-chase movies.
'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' reminds us that cartoons are first and foremost fun, designed to flood you with laughter, gags and impossible situations that somehow always work out. How animators got so far away from that ideal is perhaps less important than the fact that the moviemakers of 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' seemed to believe that it's time to bring the business of animated fun back -- even if the cartoons have to share the stage with some humans. Actually, the mix seems to match quite well.
This movie is rated PG. The film contains some sexual innuendo.