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Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Vista Series DVD Review

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Theatrical Release: June 22, 1988 / Running Time: 104 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Cast: Bob Hoskins (Eddie Valiant), Charles Fleischer (voice of Roger Rabbit, Greasy, Psycho), Christopher Lloyd (Judge Doom), Joanna Cassidy (Dolores), David Lander (voice of Benny the Cab), Wayne Allwine (voice of Mickey Mouse), May Questel (voice of Betty Boop), Tony Anselmo (voice of Donald Duck), Tony Pope (voice of Goofy), Mel Blanc (voice of Porky Pig), Stubby Kaye (Marvin Acme), Alan Tilvern (R.K. Maroon), Richard Le Parmentier (Lt. Santino), Lou Hirsch (voice of Baby Herman), Kathleen Turner (voice of Jessica Rabbit)

Awards: Academy Awards - Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Film Editing

Review by Joe Jarvis

For years, Disney animation was viewed as a nice medium for all to enjoy. Yet after The Jungle Book graced screens in 1967, Walt Disney's personal presence was gone and with it this all-embracing philosophy. As a result, many considered animated films a non-no for adults and animation became an overlooked field of cinema. Many believe that 1989's The Little Mermaid helped bring back Disney animation to the masses, but is this statement 100% true?

I think not. Although many regard The Little Mermaid as the one that started it all again, I think that the part-animated Who Framed Roger Rabbit really helped tell adult audiences that it was okay to like animation again with its accessibility for all, providing fun laughs for kids and something the adults would find entertaining. I'd personally say that Mermaid completed the process, as it was classed as the best Disney movie by critics and audiences since 1964's Mary Poppins or possibly even Sleeping Beauty (1959). Mermaid became the most successful fully-animated feature of all-time, but without Roger Rabbit's acceptance by adult audiences, The Little Mermaid may have drowned at the box office, being dismissed as a another gooey film for kids.

Roger Rabbit has to be one of my favorite films. It's got a great plot that immerses the viewer deep into it thanks to its complex storyline. Requested to spy on the Maroon cartoon star Roger's wife Jessica (voiced by an uncredited Kathleen Turner), Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) discovers that the Swing Shift Cinderella-like cartoon woman could be having an affair with Toontown owner Marvin Acme, much to the dismay of Roger (voiced by Charles Fleischer). The next day, Acme has been found murdered and Roger is thought to be the killer. Now it's up to Eddie Valiant to save Roger and discover who framed the bunny.

Valiant really enjoys Jessica Rabbit's performance. I be done seen 'bout everything now! Dumbo makes a cameo.

Another way in which Roger Rabbit is so great is the animation itself. Past animation and live action combos, such as Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks, offered lovely mixtures of cartoon characters and real people, but looked a bit clunky and flat as well. Roger Rabbit, however, has realistic camera movements and shading on the 'toons which makes you forget that they're drawings (possibly aided by strong personalities of the voice talent, too). Plus, there are fun cartoon character cameos to spot throughout. I like it…

Roger Rabbit is a Disney doubtful case. Although it was made by the Disney studio, the film was released under the Touchstone Pictures label to distance the squeaky-clean studio from some of the film's potentially objectionable content. Much press coverage of the film nonetheless referred to it as a "Disney movie", but the studio wouldn't mind too much, as Roger Rabbit's $156 million domestic intake made it handily the top-grossing film of the summer. The film remained 1988's highest-earner until the drama Rain Man opened just before Christmas and overcame it next spring following its award season triumphs.

The studio switch is why the film didn't come to DVD as part of the Disney DVD line but the Vista Series, a brand reserved for the studio's top hits distributed outside of the Walt Disney Pictures label. Outside of the latest M. Night Shyamalan film, the Vista Series has more or less vanished, and it's probably "more" now that Shyamalan is making his latest project at Warner. This is DVD release number two for Roger Rabbit; it originally came to DVD in the fall of 1999 as a poor non-anamorphic barebones release. March 2003 brought better tidings, with this better version issued in time for the film's 15th Anniversary. As we take off the silvery slipcover, we discover a detective file of a Digipak featuring two discs of DVD fun.

Buy Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Vista Series on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English),
DTS 5.1 (English),
Dolby Surround (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
Release Date: March 25, 2003
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 (Was $29.99)
Digipak with cardboard slipcover

Disc 1's 'Family-Friendly' Main Menu The theatrically-released short "Rollercoaster Rabbit."


If you're a serious movie fan, Disc 1 may not be up your alley. Like practically every modern movie, Who Framed Roger Rabbit was made in a widescreen dimension of 1:85:1, meaning that the picture is a bit greater in width than the average TV screen that measures 1:33:1. We do find the widescreen version on the DVD...but not on this disc. Instead, there's a fullscreen version of the movie in that 1:33:1 aspect ratio. This is a bit of a cardinal sin, as what has happened is that edges of the picture have been snipped off, providing a claustrophobic picture. This transfer has clearly been aimed at kids who supposedly hate letterboxing or people with a standard TV screen who can't seem to find out how to stop a widescreen image from going all stretchy on their TV (use the set up key on your DVD remote at stop mode and adjust the image from 16x9 to 4x3 Letterbox if you suffer from this!), but the pursuit in me didn't want to watch it. I compared one scene of the fullscreen transfer with the widescreen equivalent and saw that the two versions of the movie seemed to come from the same print, so if you want to see my thoughts on the transfer, go and see them in my review of Disc 2. Ditto for sound, as both Discs feature the same Dolby Digital 5.1 track, as well as French and Spanish tracks.

The extras here on Disc 1 are clearly aimed at children but provide some fun for adults. Who Made Roger Rabbit (10:55) is a family-oriented retrospective on the making of the film hosted by Charles Fleischer (voice of Roger). It reminded me of Kathryn Beaumont's deleted song introductions on Alice in Wonderland: Masterpiece Edition, as it seemed fairly toony yet provided a sufficient amount of information on the making of the film.

We also discover three funny shorts starring Roger Rabbit that were paired with theatrical features: "Rollercoaster Rabbit" (7:50), "Trail Mix-up" (8:50) and "Tummy Trouble" (7:45). Whilst seeming like a cash-in on the movie's success, the shorts do provide a sense of entertainment. Thankfully, they're presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1.

In fact, the few extras on Disc 1 provide lots of fun for adults, except for one -- an annoying "Trouble in Toontown" game. Unless you really dig DVD games, avoid this bile like the plague.

A little mention about the menus on Disc 1: if you open up Disc 1 and find yourself confused by the options on the menu, there's no need to worry. Each destination on the map provides some form of DVDness; the "Ink and Paint Club" provides the sneak peaks, "Valiant's Office" provides set-up and the "Acme Warehouse" is the bonus features menu.

Disc 1's Pan-and-Scan transfer gains a bit of picture at the top and bottom, but loses far more on the sides. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on Disc 2 presents the film in its original theatrical aspect ratio.


Whilst Disc 1 was more for the families, the average movie nerd (of which I'll admit that I am) will be more than happy to know that they are not excluded. The 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on Disc 2 for starters is the better option, as it provides the original theatrical ratio and none of Disc 1's claustrophobia. Aside from that, it provides exactly the same transfer in terms of picture quality. The dark film-noir-like streets of Hollywood face one problem as a bit of grain and print defects make their way into the transfer from time to time. However, aside from that and the odd edge enhancement, softness and fuzziness cropping up rarely, the THX-certified picture remains sharp and crisp and colors look fine.

I personally don't have a fancy sound system, but from what I have read, the Dolby track provides good range for surround sound systems, mainly dominated by music and a bit by effects. It isn't the best soundtrack ever to make its way to a DVD, but it's by no means the worst. A DTS track also appears, which is fairly similar.

Opening with an animated menu featuring cartoon cameos, we find a list of bonus features of which one can access. Valiant Files is a number of galleries featuring images from the movie set out across Valiant's office. Actually, there are only three true galleries, other parts are just little gags, but for your information, the galleries come in two filing cabinets and one file on the desk. The cabinet to the left hand side contains six galleries. Deleted Titles contains 13 images of pondered lettering and titles. Fifteen Deleted Ideas pop up (including the odd idea of one of the centaurs in Fantasia ferrying people around), as do 18 images of Toon Town. Seven Concepts of the opening scene "Somethin's Cookin'" appear as do 6 pictures of Chuck Jones' Artwork for the Ink and Paint Club piano fight between Donald and Daffy. Finally we find Development, featuring 36 screens of visual development art and storyboards.

After filing cabinet number one, we move onto filing cabinet number two, aptly situated on the right hand side of the room. Theme Parks splits into a number of regions: Disneyland (7 images), Walt Disney World / Tokyo Disneyland (6 images for the former, 1 for the latter), as well as 4 images about Designing Toon Town at Disneyland. In Promotional, we find 25 images of promotional material (surprise!) as well as a few pieces of concept art. Production is the real biggy, however. There are 16 pictures of Special Effects, 5 Set Decoration Posters and even more general Production stills, making for an imposing roster of images. The file on the desk is basically character design; 18 stills for Roger, 9 for Jessica, 6 for Herman, 11 for Benny, 12 for the Weasels and 10 for Judge Doom and others. Whilst maybe not as deep or as vast as some of the character design galleries found on some other DVDs, this gallery still has much to offer.

Disc 2's Main Menu A centaur-iffic still from the Deleted Ideas gallery. A still from the Promotional gallery.

"Before and After" is a comparison of finished and unfinished filmmaking, similar to the one found on Mary Poppins: 40th Anniversary Edition, giving split screen comparisons. It's very interesting, providing some insight into how the special effects were achieved. "On Set! Benny the Cab" (4:50) and "Toon Stand-Ins" (3:15) are similar to the deconstruction, with the former revealing how the car chase scene was made and the latter showing how the actors used dummies in place of toons as reference during filming. A deleted "Pig Head" Sequence can also be found here, in which Eddie Valiant is bullied by the Weasels. Director Robert Zemeckis introduces the piece telling of why it was discarded.

The big extra, is yet to come, however. An exclusive retrospective documentary entitled "Behind the Ears" is next. This feature (36:33) covers the filming, animation and the music, although not that much about the history of the project and how the other characters of the studio came to feature which, although I already knew about, would have been nice to hear from the perspective of the makers. Needless to say, it provides a generally in-depth and interesting experience.

For all you people who insist on the movie being interrupted by movie facts, fear not! Who Framed Roger Rabbit has it's own fair share of we-want-more-and-more-movie-secrets goodness, this time featuring in both a pop up feature entitled Toon Town Confidential and of course, an Audio Commentary with director Robert Zemeckis, producers Frank Marshall and Steve Starkey, writers Peter Seaman and Jeffrey Price, and visual effects guru Ken Ralston. Personally, I'd recommend the former option over the latter as whilst the audio commentary is a nice inclusion, pop-up formats are more likely to please the masses. I'm sure that most people who aren't die-hard cinema lovers may find the prospect of not being able to hear what the cast is saying due to the director's booming comments not so nice.

"Before and After" "On Set! Benny the Cab" "Toon Stand-Ins"


Like Aladdin and The Rescuers, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a victim of some urban legends, which one can find out about at www.snopes.com. A couple of risquι images present throughout the movie have been edited slightly. At one point in the movie, Baby Herman sticks his middle finger up, although this finger has been edited out. Also, Jessica Rabbit does wear pants, unlike what cynics say. It's not severe like what happened to Make Mine Music (in which a good 10 minutes was erased), although it would have been nice to see a proper uncut version.

For UK readers, beware! The UK DVD of this film is not a 2-disc edition, which can be a problem for people who want to see lots of the meaty bonus material yet don't have a computer that plays Region 1 DVDs (like me) or a multi-region player. I've heard that France and Italy do have 2-disc copies of the DVDs. Apparently, the bonus material is only subtitled and the film is available in English, so that could be a good bet.


Who Framed Roger Rabbit helped bring animation back to the masses with its huge success paving the way for modern animated films such as The Little Mermaid and Aladdin to be accepted by adult audiences as much as they are by children, just as Walt Disney intended for his animated films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Alice in Wonderland and Pinocchio. Some consider Roger Rabbit to be one of the all-time greats, and I agree; it truly is an amazing, innovative film that reaches near-perfection. Arriving as part of the Vista Series, Roger Rabbit has some flaws in each department in terms of DVD quality but generally provides an excellent set well worth your time.

More on the DVD

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Reviewed May 6, 2005.

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