The Quarantine Stream: 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' Still Works Like Gangbusters

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they've been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)The Movie: Who Framed Roger RabbitWhere You Can Stream It: Disney+The Pitch: You know those Saturday morning cartoons you used to watch as a kid? In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, all those cartoons actually happened and were shot on sound stages with cartoon actors who occupy the same world as live-action humans. That's the backdrop for this movie, which is basically a comedic riff on Chinatown that features plenty of fun twists and surprises along the way.Why It's Essential Viewing: Two words: Bob Hoskins. We've devoted lots of love to Hoskins' incredible work in this movie at /Film over the years, and rightly so – he single-handedly created the template for the modern blockbuster performance by convincingly interacting with a character who would be inserted into the film in post-production. The film itself is wonderful and still holds up beautifully, but watching the movie today, it's Hoskins' performance that stands out above everything else. And it's all the more miraculous when you remember he shot this movie in 1988, years before fully CG characters would become commonplace. (For even more context: at a special screening for the movie's 25th anniversary back in 2013, I remember producer Don Hahn talking about how he finally got a fax machine halfway through the production.)

I first saw this movie at a very young age, when most of the jokes and references went over my head. But watching it again, I was struck by how delightfully weird this movie is. It's a family film that parodies Roman Polanski's decidedly not-family-friendly Chinatown, features tons of sexual innuendo, and includes, among other things, a scarring sequence featuring an innocent cute cartoon shoe being brutally murdered. It's the type of movie Disney would absolutely never make today. (Can you even imagine the thinkpiece cycle about the design of Jessica Rabbit?) But somehow, because the live-action actors feel like they stepped out of a 1940s noir film and because they play everything seriously, the film's tone manages to work, striking a balance between hard-boiled and totally zany.

More than thirty years after it premiered, the blend of live-action and animation still looks seamless. It's still a total thrill to think about how director Robert Zemeckis and his team accomplished moments like an animated character splashing a live-action human with real water, or a toon walking through a room and interacting with props which react as if a character were really there.

I know this is not an original observation, but: what on Earth happened to this version of Zemeckis? Back to the Future was his first major experimentation with visual effects, and three years later, Who Framed Roger Rabbit put him even deeper into that rabbit hole, fueling an obsession with technology that would come to define his later work as a filmmaker. But even now, decades later, no film he's made has worked better than this one in terms of representing that particular obsession on screen. He hadn't gone off the digital deep end yet; Roger Rabbit still has enough practical effects for the film to feel tactile in a way that his later movies would rarely, if ever, achieve again.

There are so many little grace notes in this movie that I love. A janitor playing a saxophone on a film studio backlot while the brooms from Fantasia sweep and clean up the area. Christopher Lloyd's performance as the villainous Judge Doom, which swings between genuinely threatening and wildly over-the-top. The way the movie uses the game of "patty cake" as a stand-in for sexual impropriety. Roger valuing comedic timing more than his own safety. ("You mean to tell me that you could have taken your hand out of that cuff at any time?" "No, not at any time. Only when it was funny!") Seeing Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse on screen at the same time, and thinking about how many conversations must have gone into making that happen.

All these years later, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is still pure movie magic. Pro tip: program this film alongside Chinatown and Rango for a triple feature about corruption and shady deals in the service of power.