Release Date(s)1988 (March 12, 2013)
Studio(s)Buena Vista/Touchstone Home Entertainment (Disney)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B+
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a terrific film from Robert Zemeckis, as well as one of the greatest films from the 1980’s. Unfortunately, it’s one of those films that doesn’t stand the test of time as far as the special effects go, but like Zemeckis’ Back to the Future, the effects aren’t the whole ballgame. The film holds up well because of its story and characters. It’s also a film I tend to point to as an example when talking about real filmmaking. That is, the kind of filmmaking where you have to role up your sleeves, work hard and be inventive. Today, it’s all about who voices the characters, making the film appeal to as many different ages and groups of people as possible, slapping on a hip hop/bubblegum soundtrack, or just shamelessly plugging in geek references for pop culture appeal (I’m looking at you Wreck-It Ralph).
None of those things were given any thought in 1988 when Who Framed Roger Rabbit was being made. It was more about how magical it was to have cartoon characters in the same scene as the live action actors, props and environments, and having them interact. Today’s audiences take movies like this for granted, because they’re now seen as mundane. I used Wreck-It Ralph as an example because it’s a film that did feel a bit like a cliché to me. It wasn’t something that wowed me, yet most other people tended to have no problems with it. Yes, the animation was amazing, that’s a given, but where was the compelling story and characters? It felt like it was just trying to replicate the formula of previous films like it, especially with the story dynamics. Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past twenty years or so (or you’ve never seen a Pixar movie), you should know instinctively how these films are going to play out without really thinking much about it. In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the story keeps you guessing, and characters (even the animated ones) are always in some type of real danger. Can you imagine a modern-day animated film having something equivalent to The Dip in it, killing off a very sweet character so horribly? To be fair, it wasn’t a character that had any bearing on the plot itself, but to a six-year old me, that was pretty awful. My point is that movies are so sanitized now that a film like Who Framed Roger Rabbit wouldn’t be able to exist now, and if it did, it would be so watered down that you wouldn’t be able to take it completely seriously. Times have certainly changed, in that regard, and not for the better.
As for the film itself, it’s probably one of my favorites, and one that I continually come back to for inspiration and entertainment value. The performances are great, and I really enjoy Bob Hoskins in the film. Oddly enough, Eddie Valiant reminds me of Harold Shand from The Long Good Friday, but in a more laid back sort of way. Both the intensity and thoughtfulness of that character is inherent in Bob Hoskins as a person and as an actor, so it comes across strong in his performance. All of the voice performances are great too, especially Kathleen Turner. The crown jewel of all the performances though is Christopher Lloyd, who is both creepy and menacing, and a far cry from the lovable Dr. Emmett Brown we’ve all come to know. The story itself is told very well, with plenty of setup and pay off, and enough characterization to make us care. It leaves you wanting more, which is a good thing for a film of this type. All of the imagination and craftsmanship that went into it make this film a masterpiece, no matter what decade you’re living in.
One thing that you have to remember when watching this Blu-ray is that the film’s look is inherently flawed because of the technology at the time. What was hi-tech and groundbreaking in 1988 doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny when looking at it today, especially with the digital technology that we have now. The amount of compositing shots is one thing, but so is the animation itself. It can be somewhat translucent at times, and not entirely smooth or stable either. In past reviews, I’ve noted that Disney usually chooses to digitally correct the drawings and colors in their animated films during the Blu-ray transfer process, and it’s never bothered me that they do that. But Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a different beast altogether. With its combination of live action and animation, improving the look of the animated characters is equivalent to the Star Wars: Special Edition digital enhancements. They don’t improve the film at all, they just attempt to make it look better and less dated. Thankfully that’s not the case with this film. This was always going to be an inherently flawed-looking presentation from the very beginning. That being said, I’m happy to report that Disney has managed to leave the image on this release pretty much as is, with all of its flaws left intact. Some I already mentioned, but there are others, like the fact that grain levels are never consistent, but always film-like. The same can be said of the colors, except for the skin tones. They look nearly perfect to me. Blacks aren’t always the deepest that they could be, but then again, the image itself isn’t bright enough anyway. I think they could have dialed up the contrast a few more degrees and brightened it slightly to get more out of the image. Regardless, this is the best that the film has ever looked on home video, censored Jessica Rabbit shots and all. The audio is much of the same, not perfect but noticeably good. This package carries a very good English 5.1 DTS-HD track with additional French and Russian 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks. While it’s mostly a front-heavy presentation when it comes to most of the dialogue, it’s the music, ambience and sound effects that put the rear speakers to work. Anytime we get a close-up of a character screaming (for example, Jessica screaming in horror about The Dip), envelopment excels. The track won’t be rocking your speakers for the entire duration, but there’s plenty here to be satisfied with aurally. There are also subtitles in English SDH, French, Spanish, Russian and Portuguese for those who might need them.
The extras are pretty good too, and they’ve managed to carry over most of them from the impressive Vista Series DVD release of the film. There’s the audio commentary with Robert Zemeckis, Frank Marshall, Jeffrey Price, Peter Seamen, Steve Starkey and Ken Ralston; the Who Made Roger Rabbit featurette; the Toontown Confidential interactive trivia track; the deleted Pig-Head sequence with the intro; the Before and After split-screen comparison; the Toon Stand-Ins segment; the Behind the Ears: The True Story of Roger Rabbit documentary; and the On Set segment, which is a fly on the wall behind-the-scenes look at filming the scene wherein Eddie and Roger escape from the Weasels in Benny the Cab. The only things that count as new extras are all of the previously-seen Roger Rabbit shorts (Tummy Trouble, Roller Coaster Rabbit and Trail Mix-Up), but now digitally restored. The bonus DVD that’s included is, oddly, a carbon copy of the first disc from the Vista Series DVD, which contains interactive environments from the film for the disc’s menu. In these environments, you’ll find the full screen version of the film; audio in English 5.1 and French & Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital; and subtitles in English SDH, French & Spanish. There’s also a THX Optimizer, all of the Roger Rabbit shorts, the Who Made Roger Rabbit featurette and a Trouble in Toontown interactive game, as well as sneak peeks of Schoolhouse Rock and Ultimate X.
That’s pretty much everything, but there’s also some bonus material that you won’t find on this release, or any other release, for that matter. And I guess I’ll just go ahead and treat the booklet and “autographed” pictures from the previous DVD release as missing, although the packaging and overall value of that set was pretty stellar and probably not replicable cost-wise (depending on the Blu-ray producers’ budget). According to the back of the Blu-ray box, the DVD ports over the Valiant Files interactive gallery from the previous release, but in fact, it doesn’t. I’m not sure what happened there, except that maybe the people putting this set together got things a little mixed up, but it’s not present here. And it’s really the only thing that hasn’t been carried over from the previous DVD. It’s slightly minor in nature compared to what HAS been carried over, but it was a nice addition with some valuable stills and other artifacts from the film. Also not present is the Roger Rabbit & the Secrets of the Making of Toontown documentary, which is nearly an hour in length and was made for and shown on TV during the film’s original theatrical run. It also features some valuable material and has never been made available on any home video release, but you’ll be able to find it on Youtube (albeit in poor quality, but at least it’s there). There was also more footage that was ultimately cut from the final film that hasn’t seen the light of the day, including an alternate version of Eddie breaking into Jessica’s dressing room and an extended fight sequence between Eddie and Judge Doom at the end of the film (the latter of which is mentioned in the commentary).
So instead of the producers of the Blu-ray either digging up or making some new material for this release, we get what’s already been available without anything new to supplement it further. It’s a shame too, because the previous DVD was so well put together that a definitive release would have been necessary to outdo it. Oh well, at least they had the decency to carry nearly everything over. Maybe someday we’ll see some of this stuff in a 30th or even 35th anniversary re-release of the film. Who knows, right? Despite these minor flaws, this is still a very good release of the film on Blu-ray. If you don’t already have the previous DVD release or were hesitant about dipping into the home video well again for this film, have no fear. It’s definitely worth your time.
- Tim Salmons