Monday, September 23, 2013

Max Movie Reviews: Who Framed Roger Rabbit

During my recent illness, I was more or less confined to the comforting bosom of my sofa. So I watched, er, more than a few movies. We'll say I made a dent in my to-watch list. But once I ran out of movies I was immediately interested in watching, I decided to let Max take a stab at it and have Netflix pick my next movie for me. I went for drama, and Max insta-picked....

IMDB    Netflix

...One of my absolute favorite childhood movies, Who Framed Roger Rabbit. I haven't watched this movie in probably a good solid decade at least, but growing up I had it on a VHS that I watched practically to death. Watching it for the first time as an adult was a really fascinating experience. For a movie that's almost as old as I am, it's held up surprisingly well. I caught a few gags, lines, and plot points I missed as a kid (though not as much went over my head as I expected - like with, say, Disney's Aladdin), but mostly it was like slipping back into a favorite sweater - something comfortable and well-remembered.

I hate to admit that I was surprised to realize how formative this movie was on me. Somehow I'd never really made the connection between Who Framed Roger Rabbit and my love of film noir and detective stories, but while that was a sort of duh realization, what struck me is that it really isn't noir. See, to me at least, the heart of noir is pinning man against his city, and using the backdrop ugliness and corruption of the city to slowly unveil the darkness of human nature. The arc of noir is almost always the fatal fall of the main character, who is continually challenged to see how far he'll go given the right impetus. As the man faces the city - usually LA - he gradually becomes his worst self.

But in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Eddie Valiant's character arc is, pretty expressly, the detective finding his way back to his better self after a period of self destructive mourning. As much of the movie takes place in a corrupt LA/Hollywood, the character himself is foiled against... Toontown, a carefree and gag-filled place where he ultimately rediscovers his lost sense of humor. Now, I say this movie had a formative effect on me, and what I mean by that I'm always holding out for the tragic hero to make the right choice, instead of the wrong one for the right reasons. I think, and I almost hesitate to put this in writing, that Who Framed Roger Rabbit is the reason I couldn't like the almost-brilliant Chinatown. Because "real" noir doesn't always (or even usually) have character resolution, it's more about finding rock bottom. Chinatown hits rock bottom, but it never gives any resolution, because...there isn't any.

Even the Dresden Files books, which I absolutely love, are sometimes depressingly traditionally noir. Sure, they're more wise-cracking and (let's be honest) geeky than most big-screen offerings, but for fourteen books now Harry has been on a sharp and increasingly steep downward spiral, always making the wrong choices for the best reasons as he rubs against a world that's far more brutal than he himself was at the beginning of the series.

It makes me wonder if there's any place for an Eddie Valiant outside of a cartoon/kid's movie - a hero who doesn't merely save the day, but manages to save himself, too, or if it would just come off as hoakey.

Anyway, I suppose that's neither here nor there. As a final thought, though, I'd like to say this movie reminded me of Wreck It Ralph, not in any point of plot, but in the notion that this great idea was able to come to be, but would never have worked without the cooperation of multiple big-name studios. Both movies are brilliant and endlessly rewatchable, but with more than 20 years in between the two, for goodness' sake, can't we get a little more cooperation a little more often?


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