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review added: 8/11/03



Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Vista Series- 1988 (2003) - Touchstone (Buena Vista)

review by Brad Pilcher of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital SurroundTHX-certified

Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Vista Series Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A-/A-

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): B/B+

Specs and Features

Disc One: Full Frame Version
104 mins, PG, full frame (1.33:1), THX-certified, Digipak packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ??), booklet, 3 animated shorts (Tummy Trouble, Rollercoaster Rabbit & Trail Mix-Up), Who Made Roger Rabbit featurette, Trouble in Toontown interactive game, sneak peek trailers (for Schoolhouse Rock & Ultimate X), Easter eggs, THX Optimizer, animated film-themed menus with sound and music, scene access (18 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), French and Spanish (DD 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English (for the hearing impaired), Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Widescreen Version
104 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, THX-certified, Digipak packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ??), booklet, audio commentary (with Robert Zemeckis, Frank Marshall, Jeffrey Price, Peter Seaman, Steve Starkey and Ken Ralston), deleted scene, Valiant Files photo and art galleries, Before & After special effects comparison featurette, Toon Stand-Ins featurette, Behind the Ears documentary, On Set! featurette, Toontown Confidential interactive viewing option, Easter eggs, THX Optimizer, animated film-themed menus with sound and music, scene access (18 chapters), languages: English (DD & DTS 5.1), French and Spanish (DD 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English (for the hearing impaired), Closed Captioned


Fifteen years after the fact, it may be difficult to remember just how much of a technical marvel Who Framed Roger Rabbit really was when it was released in 1988. Merging live-action film with cartoon characters in a seamless piece of cinematic craftsmanship required Herculean efforts from both the actors and animators. Actors had to play opposite invisible characters that hadn't been drawn yet. Animators had to draw and shade thousands of frames without computer-generated effects. In an historic blessing, the filmmakers found themselves combining the creative properties of Disney and Warner Brothers.

Children of today likely won't recognize the true significance of seeing Donald Duck and Daffy Duck doing a piano duet. The closing frame, where Porky Pig says yet again, "That's all folks" and then gets the wand treatment from Tinker Bell, a creative blend of Disney and Warner themes, may lose a bit of the marvel a decade and a half after it first sparkled on screen. But it did sparkle. It was a feat of technical mastery and a moment for the animated history books. It was also a great film. Forget the textbook directing and animation. Ignore the historical implications of the movie. The Vista Series DVD version of the film will let you explore those, but more than anything else it will bring you a magical piece of cinema that will entertain you and your children. The classics always do.

Here, we see a world where Toons aren't just drawings in the imaginations of men, but real live beings who walk amongst us. The setting is 1947 Hollywood, a seedy little dive straight out of a dime novel crime drama. There's Eddie Valiant, the washed up private eye down a little too deep in the bottle. There's also the sultry, but just a bit trashy, songstress in Jessica Rabbit, who is married to the title character. When Roger is accused of the murder of Marvin Acme, only Valiant can save his furry little hide.

There's more depth than that, of course. Valiant's brother was bumped off by a Toon, so he's not too fond of them. There's a plot to destroy Toontown, home of the beloved drawings. There's even Christopher Lloyd, playing the appropriately cliché Judge Doom. It all seems a bit campy, but the film is beautiful because of it. Along the way we get all the cute laughs and cheap thrills we've come to expect from Hollywood films, but somehow they're all a bit more magical, and a bit less cheap.

This film was one of the hardest to make back in those days. Animating characters alongside live action wasn't easy when it was up to hand drawn animation, but it all looks beautiful. You can appreciate Mel Blanc's voice work in so many of the characters, and you might notice that Mae Questel, the original herself, voices Betty Boop. This is history. This is homage. And it's wonderful to behold.

In its Vista Series release, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is also a fine DVD. It's broken down into two discs, with a pan and scan version of the film included on a "family friendly" Disc One, while Disc Two, for the enthusiast, includes an 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation and the bulk of the extras. Both are of good quality, but the widescreen is where the film truly shows its stuff. The colors are rich and accurate, almost too much so. From time to time, they almost seem to jump off the screen. Don't take that as a complaint. Meanwhile, black levels are near perfect and film grain is just visible without being distracting.

The sound is equally solid, though not quite as stunning. A 5.1 Dolby Digital track accompanies the pan and scan version, and it's quite nice, with the necessary expansiveness but little in the way of dynamic effects. There's little use of rear channels, and you can notice some distortion when a high-pitched shriek comes across. Other than that, the dialogue is solid and the score is nicely integrated into the environment. The widescreen version also includes a DTS track, which improves just a little - but not dramatically - on the Dolby mix.

Both discs have been crammed with extras. The family friendly Disc One includes three short films based on the Roger Rabbit and Baby Herman duo. These opened in front of other films following the release of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, so they add a bit to the mystique of the film. Next up is a mini-documentary on the making of the film, hosted by the ever-odd Charles Fleisher, who voiced Roger Rabbit. This is quite basic, taking you through how animation works and what storyboards are. There's some nice behind the scenes footage here and an interview or two to boot. A childish "Trouble in Toontown" game rounds out this disc, officially. Look around a bit and you'll stumble across an Easter egg that shows the wonderfully imagined original trailer.

Disc Two is where the serious extras come out to play. A feature length commentary with director Robert Zemeckis, producer Frank Marshall, screenwriters Jeffery Price and Peter Seaman, associate producer Steve Starkey, and visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston is a romp of a listen. These guys truly enjoy each other's company and reminiscing about this project, and they're full of insights. They discuss the Joel Silver cameo, though don't let on that it was a gag on Disney head Michael Eisner (he and Silver don't exactly like each other). Also discussed is the film as commentary on civil rights, Spielberg's role in securing the cooperation of Disney and Warner Bros., and much more.

One deleted scene (with commentary) is also included. It's the infamous "pig head" sequence, and Zemeckis talks about wishing he'd left it in. It's a nice little scene, elaborating our view of Toontown, for one thing. If you'd like to see more of that design and concept, check out the Valiant Files, which feature sketches, background paintings, promos, and photographs from the film. It's a nice way to get into the production design, but it pales in comparison to Before and After. In this three minute featurette, a split-frame presentation shows us the finished film in comparison to storyboards and blue-screen elements that went into the making of the film.

On Set! and Toon Stand-Ins are two more very brief featurettes that explore the making of the film via discussions of the "Benny the Cab" sequences and the use of rubber stand-ins so the actors could have something to reference. Toontown Confidential is a trivia track that runs along the film, and it's a source of great history. The true gem of the second disc is the thirty-six minute Behind the Ears documentary. In it, virtually everybody involved with the making of the movie delves into the arduous task of animating and directing such a gargantuan technical achievement. The mime training given to the actors, the influence of Tex Avery, the difficulty of a non-stationary camera on animation - all of it is discussed and more.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a wonderfully fun and entertaining film. It pushed the boundaries of animation in new ways, and paid homage to the rich tradition and history of American animation. As a film, and now a great DVD, it's absolutely required viewing.

Brad Pilcher
bradpilcher@thedigitalbits.com




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