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Who Framed Roger Rabbit (DVD)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Rated PG

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is an ambitious marriage of live action with classic hand-drawn animation. Set in 1947, the movie tells the sordid tale of murder, corporate intrigue, bad drinking habits, voluptuous babes, romance, and a stuttering rabbit.

While not quite a timeless classic, the movie has held up well over the years and is now presented in a deluxe two-disc Vista Series DVD that is one of the best Buena Vista has released so far.

"I'm Not Bad, I'm Just Drawn That Way"

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer, Dick Tracy) is a major Maroon Cartoon star whose career is hitting the skids. He finds out that his wife, the delectable Jessica Rabbit (voiced by Kathleen Turner, Body Heat), is playing pattycake with Marvin Acme, the man behind all the exploding Acme gags found in all the Looney Tunes cartoons. When Acme is found murdered, Roger is framed and named the prime suspect.

In his quest to clear his name, Roger seeks out Toontown's favorite private investigator, Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins, Mona Lisa), who reluctantly takes on Roger's case. Along the way, Eddie travels back to Toontown, where his brother was ruthlessly murdered (some weasels dropped a piano on his head) and uncovers a nefarious plot by Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd, Back to the Future) to tear down Toontown and put up a parking lot, along with a major highway, billboards, gas stations, fast food restaurants, and all the other regrettable hallmarks of modern society.

Smile, Darn Ya, Smile

Watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit now, 15 years after its initial theatrical release, the film does feel a bit dated, but its unabashed desire to puh-puh-puleeease and its roundup of every major animated film star from Betty Boop (in glorious black and white) to Bugs Bunny is a significant event in film history that will probably never be repeated.

While the bells and whistles of computer animated eye-candy treasure troves such as Shrek and Toy Story 2 make the film's hand-drawn animation feel a bit old, Who Framed Roger Rabbit never lets the viewer forget the idea is to have fun and make fun in Roger's crazy little world.

Making all the magic work are Hoskins and Joanna Cassidy (Blade Runner) as Dolores, Eddie's lady friend. They deliver their wacky lines with a straight face and blend into the world, both real and painted, as if absolutely nothing weird is happening; it's all just another day in Hollywood.

DVD Extras: Disc One

The set's two discs are nicely packaged in a slip-off cardboard sleeve that covers a foldout cardboard digipack designed to look like a leather-bound Valiant and Valiant Private Investigators briefcase.

Disc One is the "Family Friendly" disc that features a pan and scan (full screen) edition of the film. Also on board are the three Roger Rabbit shorts released following the success of the movie: Tummy Trouble, Rollercoaster Rabbit, and Trail Mix-Up.

The family disc includes a 10-minute look behind the scenes, Who Made Roger Rabbit, hosted by the voice of Roger himself, Charles Fleischer. It's a decent kids-eye view of the film's creation.

Following the lead of other animated features, Disc One also includes Trouble in Toontown, an extravagant set-top DVD game that features multiple levels, including simple Roger Rabbit trivia questions, as the player attempts to thwart Doom's evil plans for Toontown.

In the shameless self-promotions department, Buena Vista also slipped in a couple previews of other kid-based DVDs. At least one of them is palatable: Schoolhouse Rock.

DVD Extras: Disc Two

Disc Two is the "Enthusiast" disc that features the film in its original 1.85:1 widescreen presentation, complete with both DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks.

The "Enthusiast" disc features a running commentary from director Robert Zemeckis (who went on to direct Forrest Gump) and five other key personnel. Having that many people talking at the same time can be a bit awkward as each one repeatedly re-introduces himself when he brings up a point or makes a comment. It would've been more convenient to identify the speaker by simply having the person's name appear on the screen.

While the crew are ready to play up the revolutionary aspects of the film at every opportunity, their self-congratulatory comments are in some respects warranted, and they do offer some food for thought, including comments on the state of animation today. Did Roger Rabbit really pave the way for the success of The Little Mermaid and the ensuing string of Disney animated musicals? Quite possibly.

Overall, the commentary track is well done and will probably answer all the questions you might have on the film's making. The track even unlocks the mystery behind the missing question mark in the film's title. Unfortunately, Zemeckis' explanation is lame: It doesn't look right with a question mark in the title, he says. The problem is, it doesn't look right without it! In actuality, there's some archaic rule out there that dictates question marks shouldn't be used in titles.

The disc also offers a before-and-after split-screen comparison of the film with and without animation. It's a nice glimpse into the film's construction. Offering more detailed information on the film's making is Behind the Ears: The True Story of Roger Rabbit, a new 36-minute documentary featuring interviews with Zemeckis and other key behind-the-scenes talent.

There's also a Toon Stand-Ins featurette, providing a glimpse at the making of the live action scenes with foam stand-ins in place of the final animated characters, and a detailed breakdown of one of the scenes featuring Benny the Cab.

As a whole, the behind-the-scenes features provide a good sense of the enormous amount of effort, time, and tender loving care that went into making the movie.

DVD Extras: Rounding It All Out

Rounding out the features are Toontown Confidential, a continuous fact-track text box that can be turned on while the film runs, plus one deleted scene, in which Eddie Valiant is transformed into a Pig Head. The fact track is fun and informative, but the deleted scene, while clever, is nothing important or insightful.

Other nice touches make the DVD package feel complete. For example, the menus are a mix of live action and animation, with Benny the Cab serving as tour guide through Maroon Studios. The Valiant Files allow viewers to snoop around Eddie Valiant's office and uncover a gallery of production designs, set decoration posters (including the classics Pistol Packin Possum and Herman's Shermans), and black and white prop photos of Eddie and his brother. It's an elaborate setup, complete with a red herring combination for the office safe. (You can avoid the guessing-game approach by clicking on a checklist option for easy access to all the goods.)

Surprisingly, the disc does not include Roger Rabbit's original promotional trailers, but it does include a collection of publicity photos and posters.

There is also a DVD features booklet, designed like a Valiant and Valiant notepad, and "autographed publicity photos" of Roger Rabbit and Jessica Rabbit. For those who bristle at DVD double-dipping, Buena Vista has even included a coupon for a $5 rebate for those "upgrading" from the original barebones DVD and tape editions.

Overall, it's clear a lot of thought went into the production of this 15th Anniversary DVD.

Picture and Sound

Disc One features a THX-certified pan and scan version of the movie in fullscreen (1.33:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. Also available are French and Spanish language soundtracks and English captions.

Disc Two features a THX-certified widescreen version of the movie (1.85:1 aspect ratio), enhanced for 16x9 TVs. It has both DTS 5.1 Digital Surround and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. Also available are French and Spanish language soundtracks and English captions.

The fullscreen edition does suffer, not only from the effects of pan and scan, but also from some artifacts. The widescreen edition seems dark in spots, with the live action footage darker than the animated sequences they're "married" to. On both versions, the sound is crisp and clear, but not overwhelmingly good or bad.

• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.

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