It’s hard to believe that Who Framed Roger Rabbit is twenty-five years old! The film hit the big screen in 1988. I was eight when I saw the film. Three of my cousins and I along with our Papa went to see the film. An amazing thing to see at the time on the big screen. These actors and animated characters sharing real space with one another.
The film is set in 1947 Hollywood, where Marvin Acme, the gag-gift king of town and owner of Toon Town, is murdered. The police come after animation film star Roger Rabbit as their main suspect. Private Investigator Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) gets caught up in the middle of it, and eventually figures out that Roger is being framed. But by whom? And why?
Everything about this film – the plot, the dialogue, the look, the feel—is a 1940’s crime film. Everything, that is, except the Toons. Roger Rabbit is the first film that flawlessly combined real actors and animated cartoon characters. Walt Disney studios collaborated with Steven Spielberg (a known lover of animation) to make this flawless presentation possible. With direction by Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) and animation by Richard Williams, we get a film that presents the animation in such a convincing way that it doesn’t distract from the plot. And that is the brilliance of this film. On the surface, it has a pretty seamless plot, but combined with new technology, it is nothing short of a masterpiece. The cartoon characters appear on screen occupying real space, just as the human actors do. And we are not talking about computer animated cartoon characters, these are hand drawn cartoon characters. The real deal.
Toon Town is a ghetto. When Eddie visits a club, where is going to snap some pictures of Acme and Roger’s wife, Jessica. There is sense that the toons who are working there are doing so for the humans. In fact, Toons are not allowed to patronize the club, though they serve drinks and provide the entertainment. R. K. Maroon tells Eddie at one point that Dumbo is working for him, on loan from Disney, and he works for peanuts, as he throws peanuts out the window. There is a certain level of prejudice and injustice directed towards the Toons. In fact, Acme is the one who owns Toon Town.
Eddie has had a strong dislike for Toon Town and its residents, holding on to his own bit of prejudice. It all stems from his brother being killed by a toon. You can see Eddie’s discomfort in the mere fact of Roger’s presence, not to mention working with him. But as the film continues, Roger grows on Eddie. Eddie learns that he cannot continue to hold a grudge against a whole population of “people” because of the act of one. Where grief had left him bitter and angry, his developing friendship with Roger helps Eddie learn to smile again, to enjoy life, and to see individuals—human or toon—for who they really are. In the course of it all, Eddie is finally able to make peace with his brother’s death.
It is through spending time and getting to know a Toon, that Eddie’s prejudice is curbed. Eddie’s own perspective of Roger and Toon Town changes, and he helps them assure the rights to Toon Town. Eddie is a lot like Jesus. Jesus spent a lot of time in his earthly ministry with sinners, outcasts, and the poor. Jesus spent time with and got to know the people that nobody cared about. Jesus saw past the social labels of individuals and saw the person. Eddie’s journey with Roger Rabbit empowers him to do the same.
Who have we restricted to a ghetto? Who do we need to spend more time with and get to know?