I’d been toying around with an idea for an occasional blog feature called #Rediscovered where I’d sit with Mertmas and we’d watch films that I loved when I was around his age but I haven’t watched in years, sometimes decades – possibly even unearthing forgotten gems I’d never even seen the first time round. I’d even drafted the first couple and was compiling a list of potential future titles. I was intending to launch the #Rediscovered feature after I’d wrapped up “Craggus’ Trek Trek” but in light of today’s sad news about Bob Hoskins, it feels right and proper to launch it now, because the first, already written edition covered one of his best movies…
I’m kind of ashamed to say I’d forgotten about this movie – it literally slipped my mind and I haven’t thought about it in years. It’s only because I stumbled across it on Netflix that I remembered it and thought it would be a great way to keep The Mertmas entertained one day.
You probably remember the story better than I do: the films opens with a Maroon Cartoon starring Roger Rabbit and Baby Herman but unfortunately Roger keeps flubbing a crucial scene to the exasperation of the director and cast. It turns out he can’t keep his mind on his work because of troubles at home. To help Roger regain some focus, R K Maroon, the owner and head of Maroon Cartoons hires washed-up alcoholic detective Eddie Valiant to tail Roger’s wife to find out once and for all what’s going on. There’s only one problem: Eddie hates Toons.
The opening of the film as a traditional cartoon, steeped in the influence of “Tom & Jerry” is a great idea and when the director (a cameoing Joel Silver) yells cut and the camera pulls back to reveal a physical set, it’s just delightful. Although I’d seen it many times when it first came out and hit video, there were still details in the background I hadn’t noticed in all those viewings; delightful little touches showing just how much love went into making this picture.
The crazy cross-over world of late 1940’s Hollywood and Toon Town is wonderfully realised and fells alive, vibrant and – most importantly – real. Although often prone to putting the filmmaking technology ahead of the story, Director Robert Zemeckis gets the balance here absolutely spot on, even managing to overcome some of the natural obstacles of having two dimensional characters interact convincingly with a physical, three dimensional environment. The variety and inventiveness of the special effects on show is amazing and the results terrific. It’s marginally more successful in placing cartoons into a real world environment than placing the actors in a predominantly animated environment but even when it doesn’t quite hit the mark, the sheer joy and energy of the film will carry it through.
The character design is terrific and while Roger gets most of the screen time, it’s the lasciviously drawn Jessica Rabbit who you’ll remember most, thanks to a sultry (and uncredited) vocal performance by Kathleen Turner and, of course, the killer line “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way”.
What surprised me the most is how well this works as a noir detective story. The Toon trappings and slapstick antics aside, the story of a grand real estate swindle, blackmail, betrayal and revenge would work as the basis for a film starring any of the greats of the genre. Christopher Lloyd here is chilling as Judge Doom and dials back his usual craziness while simultaneously cranking up the menace. He really brings the villainy and it’s a good job his performance is often partially eclipsed by the zany chaos of the Weasel Gang otherwise his performance might have overly darkened this family-friendly adventure.
At the core of the whole affair, and holding it all together is Bob Hoskins’ Eddie Valiant. Hoskins plays the role with such world weary sincerity you immediately buy into the more preposterous elements of the world on show. His gradual journey from embittered, drunken Toon hater to reinvigorated seeker of justice is perfectly judged, as is his rekindled romance with long suffering sweetheart Dolores (Joanna Cassidy). Make no mistake, the flashy and still impressive special effects and cavalcade of cartoon cameos are great, but this picture belongs to Hoskins and it’s hard to think of anyone else being better in the role.
What did The Mertmas make of it? He loved it. He’s particularly keen on the character of Roger and his larking about but he’s hooked on the whole shebang. For him, it’s the perfect mix of action, excitement, comedy and cartoons. Having it available to stream just isn’t enough so we’ve had to go out and buy a copy on DVD (I can’t believe there’s no BluRay of this film) just to keep up with the demand for repeated watchings.
This #Rediscovered journey has made a cracking start and I can only hope all the films we’ll (re)watch from this point forward will be as good as this one is.
If you have a movie you think is ripe to be #Rediscovered, please suggest it in the comments below and we’ll add it to our list. Remember, The Mertmas is only 8 so make sure they’re not rated more than a 12A/ PG13.