USA, 1988, 104 minutes

It had been a long while since I'd caught up with Who Framed Roger Rabbit and there is something to be said for catching up on a film with hindsight on what happened in the 30 years since. When I first saw it, I remember that chill going up my spine of venturing into a universe nobody had ever experienced before. When Bob Hoskins, as private eye Eddie Valiant in an alternate 1947 Hollywood where cartoon characters actually co-exist with real humans, drives into the tunnel and comes out the other side inside the gravity-defying Toontown, I remember the butterflies in my stomach I had felt when I first saw Tron or, later, The Congress - that sense of suddenly losing all landmarks and tethers to normality.

And yet. all these years later, it's the rest of the film that sticks with me - the extraordinarily perfect melding of Richard Williams' traditional, hand-crafted animation with the three-dimensional settings and human actors, the way Who Framed Roger Rabbit cleverly combines the tropes of hardboiled detective stories and the anything-goes anarchy of classic cartoons. By comparison, Mr. Hoskins' Toontown interlude seems haphazard and forced, a somewhat unsuccessful experience that seems to have been salvaged in the editing room from a longer setpiece - it's as if the film only works in the "twilight zone" where animation meets the real world, rather than the other way around.

For all its flaws, the film remains a treasure of technical and creative ingenuity, though I ask myself how much comes from Mr. Zemeckis, who never scaled these peaks again, and how much from master animator Williams (whom the production accomodated at length), exec producer Steven Spielberg and then Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg. What I'm even more struck about, though, is just how much Who Framed Roger Rabbit mirrors the plot of the ultimate modern noir, Roman Polanski's Chinatown, in its mix of the personal and the social (the plot hinges on a shady corporation's attempt to wrest control of L. A.'s traffic system, to which our hero is the only obstacle). Let it go, Eddie. It's Chinatoon.

CAST Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Charles Fleischer, Stubby Kaye, Joanna Cassidy
DIR Robert Zemeckis; ANIM DIR Richard Williams; SCR Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman, based on the novel by Gary K. Wolf Who Censored Roger Rabbit; DP Dean Cundey; MUS Alan Silvestri; PROD DES Elliot Scott, Roger Cain; COST DES Joanna Johnston; VFX SUP Ken Ralston, George Gibbs; ED Arthur Schmidt; PROD Robert Watts, Frank Marshall; a Touchstone Pictures, Amblin Entertainment production in association with Silver Screen Partners III


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