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Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday Matinee: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?


In our lifetimes, we'll likely experience millions of different combinations of various items, household gadgets, and nutritional items.  Different combinations that can have different reactions, based on how they are paired together.

There are some combinations that have been paired together for decades.  Peanut butter and jelly, for example.  Peanut butter is delicious on its own (well, unless you have a nut allergy).  Jelly is just as tasty on its own (well, provided it's a fruit you enjoy).  But put them together, and...

Same deal with salt and pepper.  You put them together, and you not only have seasoning for your food, but also a female rap group from the late 1980s.

There's lots of combinations that seem to work.  And, well, there's some combinations that don't.

Peanut butter and mustard for example.  Sure, both are tasty by themselves, but could you imagine chomping down on a peanut butter and mustard sandwich?  I mean, yeah, I love mustard.  When I was a kid, I used to squirt mustard on mashed potatoes (and do not judge, I liked it).  Would I mix mustard up with peanut butter?  Yeah, that I would find gross.  Maybe there are a few of you that like the mustard/peanut butter combo, but rest assured, I am not one.

Same deal with combining water and electricity.  Both of these items by themselves are very essential to day to day living.  We of course need water to live, and electricity makes our lives a little easier (unless you happen to shun electricity, that is).  But you try throwing a live electrical current in a swimming pool filled with people and it can be deadly.  Literally.

Then there are those combinations that on paper look as if they would never work at all, but when put into theory turn out to be a pleasant surprise.

I never would have expected pretzels dipped in chocolate to be all that delicious when I first heard about them.  In fact, they sounded quite disgusting.  But when I sampled one at a grocery store demo a few years ago, I ended up buying a bag of them because they were addictive.  And those Pretzel M&M's that they have now are outstanding.

But, enough talking about food.  For one, I'm beginning to get hungry typing this out.  For another, this blog isn't meant to be about food.  It's meant to be about a movie.

And this movie is one that deals specifically in taking two completely unrelated things and combining them together to form a surprising and entertaining film.

In fact, this film happens to do this twice.

The first instance is combining a children's movie with...a murder mystery?  A very unlikely combo indeed.  Taking the children's movie for instance.  While there are some notable exceptions (Bambi, for instance), most children's films don't usually have people dying in them.  They most certainly don't show people getting murdered.  On the flipside, you never have a murder mystery that has singing, dancing, and people getting cartoon anvils dropped on their heads.

That brings us to our second unlikely combo.  In all the years of movie making, very rarely did we see humans and cartoons interacting with each other.  We may have seen humans being turned into cartoons, or cartoons becoming human, but in motion pictures, such a practice simply wasn't done all that much.

Until June 22, 1988.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit was one of those movies that could have done one of two things.  Either it would be so quirky that moviegoers would check it out to see what all the hoopla was about, and become a success, or it would crash and burn.  Fortunately for Amblin Entertainment and Disney, it turned out to be a worldwide smash.

The movie starred Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, and Joanna Cassidy in live-action roles, and Charles Fleischer, Kathleen Turner, and Mel Blanc in the animated roles.  (This movie is noted for being Mel Blanc's last appearance as a voice artist before his death in July 1989.)

The movie was set in Los Angeles, California, circa 1947.  When the movie first begins, we're introduced to a Baby Herman cartoon.

This is where the story begins.  Roger Rabbit (Fleischer) and Baby Herman (who is really a fifty year old little person), are both stars of the Maroon Cartoon Studios.  Maroon is one of the many workplaces of the people who live in the city of Toontown (an animated city just outside of Hollywood, California).  Roger Rabbit is one of the biggest stars of the studio, and he enjoys a life filled with luxury, fame, and a beautiful wife named Jessica (Turner). 

Jessica's appearance was that of a 1940's sultry film noir type starlet.  Buxom, leggy, dressed in red sequins, nice husky voice.  She was every cartoon character's fantasy woman.  Ironically enough, when the movie was released on laserdisc (side note, does anyone remember laserdiscs at all?) Jessica seemed to attract some male human fans, who swore that they could see Jessica flash a bit of nudity if they froze it at just the right moment.

Silly fans.

Anyway, back to the story.

R.K. Maroon, the owner of Maroon Cartoons, is concerned that Jessica Rabbit might be having an affair with someone else within the company.  He is worried that such news could impact the company negatively.  So he hires Eddie Valiant (Hoskins), a detective, to investigate these rumours to see if they can be proven true.

Valiant takes on the case, but deep down inside has a deep hate for the Toontown community.  Initially, he used to be a friend to the toon community along with his brother, Teddy.  But when Teddy was murdered by a toon a few years back, it soured Eddie on toons forever.  As a result of Teddy's death, Eddie began to drink heavily, and he became but a shadow of his former jovial self.

Regardless, Eddie finds the evidence that he needed to prove that Jessica was playing patty-cake with the owner of Toontown and the Acme company, Marvin Acme.

(Quite literally, they were actually playing patty-cake, patty-cake, baker's man, bake me a cake as fast as you can.  Guess they had to clean it up a bit since the movie was marketed towards the younger demographic.)

The photos drive Roger Rabbit into a deep emotional breakdown and takes off for a while.  But this ends up being the worst thing that Roger could have done.  When Roger went AWOL, someone murders Marvin Acme.  As a result of Roger's disappearance, and given that he knew of the patty-cake scandal between Marvin and Jessica, Roger became prime suspect number one.

Valiant is called to the scene of the crime to investigate the murder, and it is here that he meets the Toon Patrol, lead by the mysterious figure known as Judge Doom.

Judge Doom is a figure cloaked completely in black, and he seems to have a disposition as colourful as his fashion sense.  Valiant doesn't seem to get much information at the crime scene, but does find out about an invention that Doom has come up with called 'Dip'.  Apparently, 'Dip' is a toxic substance to the cartoon people.  While cartoons are invincible to physical abuse (such as punches to the face or kicks to the gut), 'Dip' works as a dissolvent, turning perfectly healthy cartoons into splotches of paint, essentially eradicating them from the world forever.  Why the substance was created isn't known at first, but as the movie progresses, the answer becomes clear.

Somehow, Roger Rabbit finds out that he is a wanted toon, and sneaks into Eddie's office in an attempt to convince Eddie that he did not kill Acme, and that he is absolutely innocent.  Of course, the way he tries to convince Eddie of this fact doesn't exactly go as planned, and he ends up being more of an annoyance to Eddie than a help.  Regardless, Eddie decides to keep Roger hidden from the Toon Patrol until he can find a way to clear his name.  To make matters worse, Baby Herman reveals that Toontown is in danger of being sold now that Marvin Acme is dead.  Reportedly, Acme left behind a last will and testament, which stated that upon his death, that Toontown be bequeathed to the citizens of Toontown.  Unfortunately, the will went missing around the same time as the murder.  If the will isn't found by a certain time, the land where Toontown sits will be sold to Cloverleaf Industries, a company that recently purchased the electric car system within Los Angeles.

With help from Eddie's girlfriend Dolores, Eddie starts to put the pieces together.  By interviewing Jessica, he learns that she was blackmailed into compromising Acme (hence the patty-cake scandal).  Eddie also learns that Cloverleaf Industries is planning on purchasing the Maroon studios, with the deal being orchestrated by R.K. Maroon himself.  Maroon later told Eddie that the only way that Cloverleaf would buy the studios is if they can also buy Acme's gag-making factory.  It's a nice little story filled with lots of juicy bits of information, but before Eddie can wrap up everything in a nice red bow, Maroon is shot dead by an assassin.

Eddie notes that seconds after Maroon dies, he spots Jessica Rabbit fleeing the scene.  He decides to follow her, and when he does, he makes his way into Toontown.

So, this scene illustrates my point about weird combinations that may seem very unlikely to work together, and the end result makes something beautiful. 

I mean, did you really expect Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny to actually feature in a scene?  Together?  At the same time?  Not I.  Mickey was all about the Disney vibe, while Bugs Bunny was a Warner Brothers creation.  Yet, the scene that featured both of them was probably one of the more memorable ones present.  If anything, I'd like to say that this is a nice little appendix to what the point of today's blog was all about.

More importantly, did you happen to see the end of that above video where Doom catches Eddie and Jessica and takes them prisoner?  Well, it's there that you see the mighty power of 'Dip' in action, as the 'Dip' melts Benny the cab's wheels on the spot.  Luckily, the rest of the car survives, but nevertheless, in the wrong hands, that green goo could be deadly.

You'll also have heard Jessica say that Doom was responsible for the deaths of both Maroon and Acme.  This is fact.  He was the perpetrator.  But, there's so much more to this story, and true to form of all my Monday entries, the ending will remain unspoiled.  But, just a few points to ponder here just in case you haven't seen this wonderful movie yet.

Notice how as much as Doom is surrounded by 'Dip', he never seems to want to get too close to it?  And notice how he acts as though he is unstoppable?  Very curious indeed.
Remember Eddie's brother who was killed by a toon all those years ago?  That cold case is resolved in the last twenty minutes of the film.
'Dip' isn't the only way that toons can fade away.  Ironically enough, the stodgiest character discovers the second way purely by accident, and goes with it.
That blank page that Jessica talks about?  Well...nah...I'll leave it be for now.

That's about all I have to say about this movie.  The movie was a huge success, and part of it had to do with the number of risky combinations and blendings that turned out to be the perfect mix. 

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is proof that some combos, as peculiar and strange as they initially sound, can work out, and work out well.

One last thing.  They made a NES video game based on this movie (a game that looks simple, but is actually a lot harder than one lets on), and while it wasn't the best, it was fairly decent.  One of the things that made the video game unique was that in the screen where you visit Jessica at the Ink And Paint Club, if you give her a rose, she gives you a phone number.  Back in 1989, when the game hit store shelves, if you dialed that number on your touchtone phone, it played a pre-recorded message from Jessica Rabbit.  On the message, she tells you some information on how to get into Doom's factory, as well as some tips for overcoming obstacles along the way (such as crossing a building with a mad dog or a rabid cat).  The number has long been disconnected, but I thought it was a neat idea.

And another example of a combination that didn't seem likely, but worked.  In this case, combining a box office smash movie with a video game cartridge with a dash of telephone hotline for seasoning.

No wonder this franchise turned out to be a recipe for success!

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