The Film Noir Features of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

It’s the story of a man, a woman, and a rabbit in a triangle of trouble.

A detective with a hard look and a difficult fate, an innocent victim, a femme fatale, an unexpected villain—we all know the main characters of this classic film noir. A tale of twisted intrigue, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, released in 1988, combines animation and live action. It’s directed by Robert Zemeckis. Let’s look closer at its characters.

Scotch on the rocks. And I mean ice!

The film takes place in Los Angeles in 1947, where animated characters (referred to as “Toons”) live and work alongside humans in the real world, most of them as actors in animated cartoons. Private detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) by chance becomes a participant in events which will lead him on the trail of the mystery of his brother’s death. Eddie and his brother Teddy once worked closely with the “toons” on several famous cases, but after a “toon” killed Teddy, Eddie has not stopped blaming himself. Eddie has become an alcoholic without a sense of humor who despises “toons.” He still has to deal with them, though, and winds up on the case of a “toon,” Roger Rabbit, who has been accused of killing a man. At first, Eddie doesn’t want to help the cartoon bunny but once he analyzes the case, he realizes the rabbit may be innocent. Untwisting this case gradually leads Eddie to the secret of his brother’s death. His hat and cloak complete his noir detective look.

My whole purpose in life is to… make… people… laugh!

Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer) is a fictional animated anthropomorphic rabbit character. He is also an adorable and absent-minded rabbit. Roger loves his cartoon job, adores his wife Jessica, and has a kind heart. He is humorous, energetic, and naïve. Roger loves to make others laugh and is good friends with the other toons, but also loves people. He believes making a person laugh is a cartoon’s primary job in life. Roger is also possessive over his attractive wife, the “toon” bombshell Jessica. When he finds out Jessica is romantically involved with businessman Marvin Acme, owner of the Acme Corporation and Toontown, this news ruins him. And he becomes the prime suspect in a murder… or an innocent victim, the classic film noir requirement.

You don’t know how hard it is being a woman looking the way I do.

She is a real femme fatale. A tall and beautiful feisty-redheadin in a long slit dress, Jessica looks like a Hollywood star (Veronica Lake or Lauren Bacall) and speaks in the voice of Kathleen Turner. She knows what impression she makes on men and uses it. She is a “human toon” whose figure makes men ready for anything. Even her name sounds like poetry. Jessica deeply loves her husband, Roger Rabbit. She even calls him her “honey-bunny” and “darling.” She claims Roger makes her laugh. As proof of her love, she tells Eddie she’ll pay any price for Roger and she helps prove him innocent by helping in the investigation. Jessica owns the iconic phrase: “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.” She’s our required femme fatale.

No, Sergeant. Disassembling the place won’t be necessary. The rabbit is going to come right to me.

What’s a noir detective without a cold and calculating antagonist? Well, Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) fits perfectly into the movie noir puzzle. Doom is the much feared, cruel and nefarious judge of Toontown, and an “evil toon” mastermind. Doom hates Toontown and wants to destroy it (not only for commercial reasons). He created some invention that combines a chemical vat of turpentine, acetone and benzene (paint thinners) he dubs “The Dip.” “The Dip” could “kill” (dissolve) any “toon”. For instance, an animated anthropomorphic shoe he dissolves in front of Eddie. Roger realizes he is in a big trouble, since Judge Doom will want to execute him as soon as he catches him, so he turns to Eddie for help. Doom, like any decent villain, has a huge and unsightly secret (maybe even two). Many viewrs rank the film’s plot twist about Doom as the scariest scene in the film. Thus, we have our charismatic and sinister noir villain.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit contains all the characteristics of a film noir. In 2016, the Library of Congres selected Who Framed Roger Rabbit for the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” At long last, Roger Rabbit made his spectators laugh.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marianna Kaplun was born in Moscow. She is candidate of philological sciences specializing in the first Russian drama and theatre of XVIIth century. She’s also a film and TV critic by calling. You can find her essays on her Lumiere page and on her blog.

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