You just knew this one was going to get the full DVD treatment sooner or later. It deserves it, because there's a lot to explain via special features. The careful references to pre-1949 Hollywood animation, film noir and even the classic film Chinatown come so fast and furious that you can't be expected to catch them all in one viewing. Trouble is, Roger Rabbit is so loud and annoying, more than one viewing can be a chore.
Still, there's a lot to recommend about this movie. Executive-produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Cast Away), it has impeccable credentials. And when you learn that no computers were harmed in the creation of the film's special effects, the accomplishment appears even greater -- perhaps even enough to overcome the few moments when the animation and live action don't quite match up. And what filmmakers other than Spielberg and Zemeckis would have the confidence to pick indie film star Bob Hoskins (who carries this film) over Harrison Ford? Hoskins plays Eddie Valiant, a detective hired by R.K. Maroon, owner of Maroon Studios. Eddie gets sent to investigate the marriage of Maroon's biggest cartoon star, Roger Rabbit, to Jessica Rabbit, whose gravity-defying shape would delegate even the computer-generated likes of Lara Croft to wallflower status.
The characters from the good old days are fun to see -- especially ducks named Daffy and Donald in a dueling-pianos sequence. (Spielberg personally secured the rights to Warner Bros. characters for this Touchstone/Disney film, guaranteeing them equal time with their Disney counterparts.)
The added features are fun, especially the three additional Roger Rabbit cartoons. But best of all is the Pop Up Video-inspired feature, in which you can watch the film while subtitles pop up explaining bits of trivia. I'm sure it's not the first DVD to take this approach, but it's the first I've seen, and I prefer it much more than the usual voice-overs from the guy who held the boom mike.
When asked about a sequel, Zemeckis nixed the idea, saying the film, like E.T., was too much a part of its time (it came out in 1988). Again, Zemeckis shows his wisdom. Rather than ruin a perfectly good movie with a series of ill-advised sequels, he let it stand on its own. Trouble is, as competently done as it was, it resides in a celluloid no man's land -- too adult for kids, too frantic and silly for grown-ups. It's a classic, sure, but it's got no constituency.
Publication date: 04/17/03