Friday, 13 January 2012

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)

Although described as a "Noir Parody", Who Framed Roger Rabbit? seldom resorts to simple parody of Noir cliches and conventions.  Instead, it is played more like a strait "Noir" film, but a Noir film made in an alternative reality where cartoons are "real".  Part of the effectiveness of the film is the way that the characters in the film (both human and "toon") play this situation straight; this goes a long way to help convince the audience of the reality of the film world.

The main characters in the film are basic Noir archetypes:  The hardnosed wisecracking private detective whose partner was killed; The vaguely hopeless client who gets framed for a crime he insists he didn't commit; The femme fatale who's right at the center of the plot; and the ruthless authority figure who is determined to close the case against the client as quickly as possible.  It's interesting to note that of these archetypes, the two that are "toons" are the client and the femme fatale; in both cases, the freedom offered by this is used to almost charicature the archetype.  The client, Roger Rabbit, is a rabbit who makes his living from acting the clown in childrens cartoons; he wears an oversized polka-dot bow tie, has long floppy ears, and his big floppy rabbits feet are remeniscent of clown shoes.  The femme fatale, Jessica Rabbit, is an exagerated 40's pinup with an impossible physique and sultry voice.
Fig 1.  Roger Rabbit [Still]
Fig 2.  Jessica Rabbit [Still]
The film is set in late 1947 Los Angeles, a classic Noir setting and time period, and uses the techniques of light and shadow that Noir is synonymous with, although the film does contain significantly more light and colour than a traditional Noir film (in the real-world scenes as well as the animated toon-town scenes).  However, this just serves to accentuate the contrast between the bright, make-believe world of hollywood films and the darker reality of late 40s LA as exemplified by the seedy back-alley "Ink and Paint Club".

An important aspect of the film is the special effects, as almost half of the cast are not physically present.  Although inserting 2D animated characters into film of real people had been done before, even interaction between actors and animated characters (Mary Poppins being a good example), previous films restricted the amount of camera movement in order to make the job of animation easier.  In contrast, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? features the same type of camera moves as a normal live-action film - Roger Ebert noting that "the camera moves around like it's in a 1940s thriller" (Ebert, 1988).  Another feature of the animated effects is the way they interact with the environmental lighting - they are not cel-shaded (with the exception of the opening sequence during the "filming" of a Baby Herman cartoon; presumably cel shading is achieved using special studio lighting rigs) and also realistic shadows, heightening the illusion of them actually being present.

 Film Clip 1.  Who Framed Roger Rabbit part 1

List of Illustrations

Figure 1.  Roger Rabbit (1988) In: Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Directed by: Robert Zemeckis [Film Still] USA: Amblin Entertainment [Online] At: (Accessed on 09/01/2012)

Figure 2.  Jessica Rabbit (1988) In: Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Directed by: Robert Zemeckis [Film Still] USA: Amblin Entertainment [Online] At: (Accessed on 09/01/2012)


Film Clip 1.  Who Framed Roger Rabbit part 1 At: (Accessed on 12/01/2012)


Ebert, R (1988) Who Framed Roger Rabbit? In: [Online] At: (Accessed on 12/01/2012)

Film4 Staff (2012) Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) In: [Online] At: (Accessed on 13/01/2012) (2012) Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) In: [Online] At:  (Accessed on 12/01/2012)

Maslin, J (1988) Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) In: The New York Times [Online] At: (Accessed on 12/01/2012)

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