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Roger Zemeckis
Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy, Charles Fleischer, Stubby Kaye, Alan Tilvern, Richard LeParmentier
Writing Credits:
Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman, based on the novel by Gary K. Wolf

It's the story of a man, a woman, and a rabbit in a triangle of trouble.
Rated PG.

Academy Awards: Won for Special Achievement Award-Richard Williams, Best Visual Effects, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Effects.
Nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Sound.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Standard 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1 (Widescreen version only)
French Dolby Surround
Spanish Dolby Surround

Runtime: 104 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 3/25/2003

DVD One:
• Three Roger Rabbit Shorts (Tummy Trouble, Rollercoaster Rabbit and Trail Mix-Up)
• “Who Made Roger Rabbit” Mini-Documentary
• “Trouble In Toontown” Set-Top DVD Game
• THX Optimizer
• Sneak Peeks

DVD Two:
• Audio Commentary With Director Robert Zemeckis, Frank Marshall, Jeffrey Price, Peter Seaman, Steve Starkey and Ken Ralston
• “Toontown Confidential” Trivia Track
• Deleted Scene
• “Before and After” Split-Screen Animation Comparison
• “Behind the Ears: The True Story of Roger Rabbit” Documentary
• “Toon Stand-Ins” Featurette
• “On Set! Benny the Cab” Featurette
• “The Valiant Files” Interactive Set-Top Gallery
• THX Optimizer
• Companion Booklet
• 2 Collectible Glossies

Score soundtrack

Search Products:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Vista Series (1988)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 4, 2003)

While I'll never claim that Who Framed Roger Rabbit is one of the all-time great movies, it is a very good one, and more than that, it stands as one of the finest technical achievements in motion picture history. Plus, Rabbit started the revitalization of Disney's animation studio, an area of the business that had almost been left for dead. Not bad for a movie about a cartoon bunny, huh?

Previous films attempted to integrate live action and animation, probably most notably in Disney's own Mary Poppins and Gene Kelly's Anchors Aweigh. These films used the cartoons more as a brief novelty, though; no one really tried to mix animation with real-life action until Rabbit, in which the filmmakers attempted to make us believe that Toons and humans actually coexisted on a day-to-day basis.

Overall, director Robert Zemeckis and his crew succeeded at this, though I could never really suspend my disbelief; I often remained too conscious of the trickery that occurred to allow the Toons to "interact" with the live action environment. Nonetheless, I thought they did a pretty terrific job. I always felt conscious that Roger and the others were indeed cartoons. However, many of us have become so accustomed to caring about animated characters that the differentiation between cartoon and real seems virtually insignificant. As demonstrated by Disney films from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs through Lilo & Stitch, it's the quality of the characters that matters, not whether or not we see a real person on screen. Just because we know that the image displays drawn matter instead of photographed humans makes the content no less exciting or emotional to me.

As such, I didn't care less or more about Roger and his cohorts because of the fact that they didn't actually exist. The characters worked because they're well written, neatly animated, and nicely acted by the voice talent. Not that voice alone even matters; probably the scariest and saddest moment in the film occurs when Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) "dips" a cute little Toon shoe. Man, that scene's almost shocking. It's amusing just to see that we react so emotionally to what we know is a cartoon, but it's also a little scarier to see a Toon "die" in a real-life setting, especially since Toons never perish in most animated fare.

While the technical wizardry in Rabbit remains excellent and hasn't dated a bit over the last 15 years, none of that would matter if the content and the performances didn't work. Happily, they did. While I admit that I've never loved the film to the degree I always felt I should, I still see that it functions well on virtually all levels.

The plot didn’t seem special, but it was functional and the writers added a high degree of cleverness and wit. It's a spoof, but not one of the broad Naked Gun variety; the filmmakers tossed in a great deal of material but they did so with a subtle touch. We're never hammered over the head with self-consciously clever bits. Instead, the viewer had to seek out many of them. For example, when Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) snapped out of his alcohol-induced funk and got out his gun before he ventured into Toontown, we saw an inscription from Yosemite Sam on the inside of the case. Many - if not most - filmmakers would zoom in to highlight the note, but Zemeckis demonstrated restraint. If the viewer saw it, great, but he didn't belabor the gag. I found that made the bits that much more entertaining, since they weren't telegraphed.

Rabbit also contained an incredible roster of vintage animated characters who appeared within the film. Even if you've heard of all of them, it'll probably take you many viewings to identify them all. I certainly haven't tried, but if you're game, you may want to check out the terrific book Encyclopedia of Walt Disney's Animated Characters by John Grant; it provides what seems to be a comprehensive listing of all the Disney Toons who show up in the movie.

While the Toons lent Rabbit its novelty and its uniqueness, it's up to the human actors to ground the project, and they did so admirably. Notably, to a one, the humans performed their roles without irony. This was crucial to the success of the film, since if they'd added some of that "wink wink, nudge nudge" quality to their work, it would have seemed less "real" to the audience. If we will believe that Toons actually interacted with real people, we had to feel that the humans onscreen believed it as well.

The actors didn't play it completely straight, of course; there's a slight tone of hamminess to the performances that one expects in a period spoof. Actually, "hamminess" may not be the correct description; the actors portrayed their roles with a degree of almost over-seriousness that seemed to match the detective films of the era.

Whatever it was, it worked. Bob Hoskins was absolutely splendid as Valiant. He's onscreen for virtually the entire film and he offered the viewer a nice entry into the world of the Toons. Hey, if this gruff badass believed that Toons were real, who am I to argue? Hoskins maintained that high degree of believability from start to finish through what must have been a difficult part. Hoskins spent much of his time interacting with characters who didn't actually exist when he filmed his parts, and he did so virtually flawlessly.

In a crucial supporting role, Christopher Lloyd had a less challenging time of it, but that shouldn't diminish how terrific he was here. Even though I've seen this movie upwards of ten times now, I still delight in the nuances of Lloyd's acting. One of the most subtly amusing parts of the film came when Doom searches for Roger in the bar. The quietly rude way in which he intimidated the barflies - using an armless vet's empty sleeve to erase a chalkboard, for example – seemed simply wonderful.

Joanna Cassidy filled out the roster of main actors as Valiant's somewhat-estranged honey Dolores. Cassidy seemed fine in the role, but the more I watch the movie, the more I realize that she exists mainly as a symbol for Eddie. She's there to remind him - and us - of the happy world he left behind when he became a bitter drunk. She also lets the audience know that no matter how much of a bastard he may appear to be, Eddie's really a good guy and she still has faith that he'll come through in the end.

Interestingly, I think the filmmakers used color in conjunction with Dolores' scripted part to convey this impression. Much of the time, Rabbit offered a fairly monotone film; other than the scenes in Toontown, the image displayed an almost sepia-tone cast to much of the movie. Almost to a one, the human participants and the locations showed little color.

I understood the logic to this; it makes the Technicolor extravagance of Toontown standout that much more when Eddie headed over there during the film's third act. What I also found notable was that we got an exception to this "colorless human" rule: Dolores. No, she didn't wear fantastically hued outfits or makeup, but there was enough there to communicate to us that something seemed different about her. I think that this influenced the symbolism of her role; we connected her colorfulness with the Toons, which again reminded us of the happier times that Eddie abandoned but can still recapture.

Or something like that. Enough pseudo-film school blather - suffice it to say that Who Framed Roger Rabbit offered a fun and entertaining film, one that audiences will continue to watch for years to come. A terrific technological achievement as well as an amusing and likable piece, Rabbit worked well overall.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+ / Audio B- / Bonus A

Who Framed Roger Rabbit appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. Although the original DVD from 1999 seemed decent, the new version definitely improved upon it.

Sharpness generally looked solid. Some slight softness appeared at times, but as with most of the image’s minor issues, this seemed related to concerns inherent in some of the visual effects. Rabbit relied heavily on composite shots to meld live-action and animation, and those came across as a little fuzzy at times. However, the movie mostly appeared accurate and distinct.

I noticed no issues related to jagged edges or moiré effects, but a hint of edge enhancement showed up at times. As for print flaws, I detected some light grain on occasion, and a few specks appeared. These issues cropped up above and beyond the problems inherent in the composite shots. Nonetheless, the picture seemed noticeably cleaner than that of the original DVD, which displayed a moderate amount of defects.

Colors looked positive across the board. I noticed a little messiness during shots with red lighting, but overall, the tones appeared tight and bright. The hues especially worked well during the Toontown shots, which displayed nice vivid and bold colors. Black levels also came across as dense and deep, and shadow detail looked appropriately opaque but not too thick and impenetrable. Overall, the picture quality of Who Framed Roger Rabbit seemed quite pleasing.

One note about the image: it fixes a "censored" bit from the old disc - sort of. Early in the original movie, Baby Herman gooses a woman under whose skirt he walks. For the prior DVD, the character's arm was redrawn to appear at his side. Happily, the VISTA version restores Herman's arm to its appropriately crude placement. However, the new DVD digitally removes Herman's finger as it pointed toward the woman's privates.

The DVD still appears to lose the shots of Jessica without her panties after she flies out of the cab. As those elements were only visible via freeze-frame in the first place, I don’t object to their alteration, especially since they were only included as an inside joke anyway. The Herman gag offered a change obvious without slowed playback, and it never should have been altered.

Another change from the original DVD, the VISTA series Who Framed Roger Rabbit offered both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks; the prior release only included the Dolby mix. Though the DTS one sounded a little louder, I couldn’t detect any substantial differences between the two in other ways. They appeared virtually identical to my ears.

The soundfield of Rabbit seemed decent but unspectacular. The front speakers dominated. Music showed good stereo separation, and the forward soundstage came across as reasonably broad and engaging. Effects popped up in logical locations and usually blended together nicely. Surround usage tended to do little more than reinforce the front. Music dominated the track, as a great deal of score emanated from the rear. This actually seemed a little distracting at times, as the music appeared slightly delayed between the front and rear; the effect wasn’t a real problem, but I thought the surrounds featured more music than they should. Other material appeared in the rear speakers occasionally, but little unique audio cropped up in the surrounds; mostly those channels just echoed the front ones.

Audio quality was acceptable but not better than that, even given the age of the material. Speech seemed crisp and intelligible but could sound a little thin at times. I noticed no issues related to intelligibility, but I felt the dialogue failed to come across as terribly natural. Music seemed bright and lively but lacked much range, as the score didn’t sound very warm. Low-end also failed to complement effects. They seemed clear and accurate but they didn’t display much bass, so they appeared somewhat trebly and tinny. Ultimately, the audio of Who Framed Roger Rabbit was strong enough to merit a “B-“ but it didn’t do a whole lot for me.

The original Rabbit DVD included absolutely no extras. More than three years later, Disney finally rectifies this problem with this feature-rich VISTA series release of the film. The package spreads its materials across the set’s two discs. In addition to the fullframe version of the movie, DVD One includes The Roger Rabbit Shorts. These include “Tummy Trouble” (seven minutes, 45 seconds), “Rollercoaster Rabbit” (seven minutes, 50 seconds), and “Trail Mix-Up” (eight minutes, 52 seconds). Although all three use the same “Roger tries to keep Baby Herman out of trouble” theme, they seemed quite amusing and entertaining. They definitely add a lot to this package.

In a nice touch, all three shorts appear with anamorphic 1.85:1 transfers and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The soundtracks seem surprisingly involving, and each one works better than the audio for the main film. In particular, “Rollercoaster” presents some excellent sound, especially during the tunnel sequence; that section offers some fine split-surround material.

Next we get Who Made Roger Rabbit, a new featurette hosted by voice actor Charles Fleischer. During this 10-minute and 57-second program, Fleischer leads us through the film’s production and gives us the basics about its creation. The piece seems cute but superficial. Some good behind the scenes materials appear, but the show won’t be very useful for folks who already understand the animation processes. However, since it seems meant for kids and neophytes, it provides a decent little introduction.

DVD One continues with Trouble in Toontown, a new “set-top” game. This involves some simple activities like shooting pies at weasels. It seems bland but mildly enjoyable, though it includes no reward for successful completion.

Next we find the THX Optimizer. It purports to help you set up your home theater to best present the movie on the disc in question. Apparently the Optimizer is unique for each DVD on which it’s included; unlike programs such as Video Essentials, the Optimizer should tweak your set-up differently every time. Frankly, I’ve been very happy with my already-established calibration and I’m afraid to muck with it, so I’ve never tried the Optimizer. If you lack calibration from Video Essentials or a similar program, or if you’re just more adventurous than I, the Optimizer could be a helpful addition. Note that the Optimizer appears on both DVDs One and Two.

Lastly, DVD One provides some Sneak Peeks. Here we find ads for Schoolhouse Rock and Ultimate X.

DVD One features some cute and clever menus, but these make the disc tough to navigate. For example, who would know that “Valiant’s Office” equals the DVD set-up screen? Thankfully, DVD Two doesn’t saddle the viewer with such odd menus.

As we move to DVD Two, we get the widescreen edition of the film along with an audio commentary from director Robert Zemeckis, producer/2nd unit director Frank Marshall, associate producer Steve Starkey, visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston, and screenwriters Peter S. Seaman and Jeffrey Price. All six were recorded together for this running, screen-specific piece. Originally taped for a 1998 laserdisc release, the commentary covers a lot of ground and provides a useful experience.

All facets of the production receive attention here. We get notes about the project’s origins and different script issues/changes that occurred along the way. Of course, lots of technical information crops up as well, as we learn of all Rabbit’s challenges and the solutions for these. At times, the gang just watch the movie and laugh, and the occasional empty spot appears as well. However, overall the Rabbit commentary seems lively and informative.

In addition, we get a text commentary called Toontown Confidential. This piece spans the whole movie and offers a pretty good little addition. It covers a variety of topics. We get biographical notes about many participants and technical details about the production. A great deal of movie-related trivia appears as well, and some of these bits seem very interesting; for example, we learn about a number of actors considered for the role of Eddie. Though not quite as good as the terrific text commentaries that accompany the Star Trek films, “Confidential” offers a lot of useful information.

Next we move to a new 36-minute and 36-second documentary called Behind the Ears. This piece combines movie clips, behind the scenes material and new interviews with director Robert Zemeckis, producer/2nd unit director Frank Marshall, associate producer Don Hahn, director of animation Richard Williams, film editor Arthur Schmidt, screenwriter Peter S. Seaman, associate producer Steve Starkey, visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston, director of photography Dean Cundey, animator Dave Spafford, supervising animator Phil Nibbelink, supervising animator Andreas Deja, voice actor Lou Hirsch, animator Nik Ranieri, actor Bob Hoskins, supervising animator Simon Wells, voice actor Charles Fleischer, special effects supervisor Michael Lantieri, chief puppeteer David Alan Barclay, chief executive and supervising animator Dale Baer, optical camera operator Jon Alexander, optical photography supervisor Ed Jones, and composer Alan Silvestri. In addition, we find archival interview snippets from 1987 with Fleischer, executive producer Steven Spielberg, and mechanical effects supervisor George Gibbs.

Whew – that’s a long list of participants, but “Ears” packs them in neatly and offers a terrific look at the film. The program follows many facets of the production and nicely illustrates the different issues. Mostly these focus on technical concerns, and we see all of the methods used to meld toons and humans. Of particular interest is the human/toon composite test, but we also find a great deal of interesting material from the set; for example, we check out the puppets used to help with actor eyelines. The speakers all contribute depth to these pieces, as they go over all of the various issues they faced. “Ears” gives us a great examination of the creation of a difficult film.

After this we locate a deleted scene. Called the “Pig Head Sequence”, this area starts with a 97 second introduction from Zemeckis, Ralston, and supervising animator Simon Wells. They discuss the creation of the sequence, where it would have occurred in the film, and why it got the boot. We then watch the entire three-minute and 54-second clip. Though Zemeckis regrets its omission, I’m glad it was cut. It’s entertaining, but I like it better when Eddie’s first visit to Toontown in the movie occurs toward the end. Given his history, that means the sequence has more punch. Anyway, it’s still very cool to see this unused footage.

Inside the “Valiant Files” domain, we locate scads of still galleries. Character Development covers six areas via thumbnails: “Roger Rabbit” (18 frames), “Jessica Rabbit” (9 images), “Baby Herman” (6), “Benny the Cab” (11), “the Weasels” (12), and “Judge Doom” (10). These offer a mix of conceptual designs, character model sheets, and maquettes. (Note that the “Doom” section includes shots of miscellaneous others as well.)

Art of Roger Rabbit splits into six smaller subjects. “Development” shows 36 images of storyboards and conceptual drawings. “Chuck Jones Artwork” shows six drawings of Donald Duck. “’Somethin’s Cookin’” gives us seven bits related to the short that opens the movie; it includes posters and backgrounds. “Toontown” features 18 conceptual drawings of that realm. “Deleted Ideas” provides some interesting tidbits as it shows 16 sketches for bits that didn’t materialize such as Acme’s funeral. Lastly, “Deleted Titles” presents 13 unused ideas for the credits, many of which depict rejected names for the film like Toon.

The Production area divides into three subdomains. “Production” features lots of great shots in its 46 stills. We see examples of the way the crew didn’t want the animation to meld into the live-action, and we also get photos from the set, production stills, and close-ups of materials that go by quickly in the film. “Special Effects” gives us 14 images from behind the scenes, while “Set Decoration Posters” lets us examine five Roger Rabbit ads seen briefly in the flick.

In the Promotional domain, we get a nice collection of 25 frames. This area includes some publicity photos as well as poster concepts and drawings meant for PR purposes. Lastly, Theme Parks includes three smaller areas. “Designing Toontown at Disneyland” provides four images related to that realm’s development. “Disneyland” then offers seven photos from the final result. “Walt Disney World” presents seven shots of Rabbit-related bits from the Florida park. (Disney World includes no Toontown, unlike Disneyland.)

That finishes the “Valiant Files”. Before and After provides glimpses of shots that include animation. This segment follows Eddie’s first few minutes in Toontown and lasts three minutes and eight seconds. On the top part of the split screen, we see the completed scenes. On the bottom, we watch the actors as they perform without the added animation. This offers a very cool look at the source material, and it further helps us appreciate all the work the actors – especially Hoskins – had to do to make us buy the existence of the toons.

We find similar materials via Toon Stand-Ins. After a quick introductory comment from Ken Ralston, this three-minute and 15-second piece shows more pre-animation footage. However, these shots include the stand-in puppets and dolls used for actor eyelines; we see a mix of clips from the final flick plus a few rehearsal bits. In addition to Ralston’s remark, we also get a few notes from Steve Starkey, Richard Williams and Robert Zemeckis. I love this sort of raw footage, and these scenes offer a lot of fun.

A final batch of archival footage appears in On Set!. This four-minute and 51-second piece includes more material from the set. We see behind the scenes interactions, with an emphasis on shots of Zemeckis as he worked with the actors. This offers yet another great view of the production – I only wish we found more of this stuff here.

To complete the Rabbit set, the package presents some physical materials. Inside the case you’ll find a companion booklet. This lists the movie chapters and supplements as part of Eddie’s notebook, which makes it a cuter version of the usual insert. Finally, we get two Collectible Glossies. These offer “signed” publicity shots of Roger and Jessica.

If nothing else, Who Framed Roger Rabbit would go into the cinematic history books as a terrific technological achievement. Happily, the movie deserves attention as more than just a smooth marriage of live-action and animation. After 15 years and many screenings, I continue to enjoy Rabbit, as it provides a creative and amusing experience. The DVD presents very good picture with serviceable sound and a splendid roster of extras. The VISTA Rabbit gets a high recommendation across the board. Even if you already own the old release, you’ll want to upgrade to this one, as it provides a substantial improvement on the original DVD.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3867 Stars Number of Votes: 106
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