John Guzzardo on Bob Hoskins and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Hello, fellow Manic Readers!

I am pleased and privileged to be contributing to this great website as a Guest Blogger. You will be seeing my work on Saturdays, and it will be focusing mainly on the world of cartoons, comics and stories. Without going too far into my background and boring you to tears, I wanted to get into a subject which few people have considered – the impact of the recently passed Bob Hoskins on American cinema with a groundbreaking movie that opened doors for creativity we now take for granted.

I am referring, of course, to that timeless piece of adult-themed silliness called Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

When Touchstone Pictures (a Disney-owned studio, by the way) took a flyer on this script in the 1980s, it was considered a super-high-risk endeavor, but not for the reason many people think. In the years prior, there had been many combinations of animation and live action that weres box office successes; The Incredible Mr. Limpet, Bednobs and Broomsticks, just to name a few. Mixing ink and paint with flesh and blood was nothing new. In fact, it was regarded by many critics as gimmickry aimed at kids with little, if any, genuine storyline. To be fair, Disney’s wheelhouse was family-children films, while Warner Brothers aimed for family films with a more mature approach.

Roger Rabbit was considered a reach for a reason – it was a sophisticated, character-centered storyline which somehow toed the line between kiddie-flick and adult comedy. While this was not unheard of, it had not been attempted on as grandiose a scale, and never using the beloved characters of Warner Bros, Disney, et al, all at once. These the characters were still widely seen in classic afternoon cartoons, and many of the jokes were distinctly adult in their punch, while some danced on the edge of good taste. After all, how many adult men did you who played “patty cake” with a redheaded animated bombshell who had a distinctly heard “bounce” in her step, among other anatomical locations?
Bob Hoskins’ performance as Detective Eddie Valiant took a script which was rather watered down (the New York Times review reported the novel itself to be far more sophisticated) and turned it into a groundbreaking piece of theatre. Hoskins created not one, but several characters who could be loved, hated and sympathized with simultaneously. His “interactions” with Roger were absolute gold, but it was the animated Jessica Rabbit who Hoskins created the sort of never-before-seen sexual tension between a real human being and conjuring of ink and paint. After all, she wasn’t bad, she was just “drawn that way.”

What Hoskins did for American cinema cannot be discounted. He took a plot device – the interaction between human and animated characters – and took it to another level. As great an actress she was, even Angela Lansbury’s performance in Bednobs couldn’t trump what Hoskins accomplished. For a couple of hours, he managed to do what no actor had yet done – allow our minds to believe he actually had an animated rabbit shoved down his pants.

He may always be remembered for his girlfriend’s classic retort “is that a rabbit in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me,” but Bob Hoskins’ contribution to American cinema, and that way we tell stories with fanciful characters, will always be so much more than that.

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