Logan’s Moving Pictures turns its attention to a Classic Live Action/Animation hybrid and how it deals with grief; Who Framed Roger Rabbit
I know I’ve mentioned before how difficult it has been, on occasion, to consume any new geek-themed media since Ryan passed away. Mostly it’s been comic-related properties or anything Star Wars, but for those, it helps that they are so mass-consumed that there’s always someone to talk to about it, to sort of ease that burden.
But when things like Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers get released, watching it can be something I kind of dread. That’s probably why I put it off for so long, even after seeing the largely positive reception it was getting from fans and critics. If it had been bad, well, I would have missed trashing it and lamenting what it could have been with Ryan, and now that word was spreading that it was actually great…it took a lot of willpower to finally lay eyeballs on it.
See, Ryan LOVED the old Rescue Rangers cartoon, and he also loved Andy Samberg, who was one of the chief engineers behind this reboot/sequel. My brother is the person that turned me on to Brooklyn 99, which sent me down the Samberg rabbit hole, listening to Lonely Island and catching up with movies like Hot Rod.
Brooklyn 99 became one of the loves we shared outside the realm of geekery. The theme song was Ryan’s ringtone, right up until he passed I believe, and so that show now holds a special place in my heart. Hearing that this latest movie was good, it just made it more daunting a watch.
But watch it I did. And everyone was right. It’s excellent. Ryan would have loved every single frame of it. We’d have been pausing it and pouring over all the easter eggs. Discussing whom else we would have loved to see get a cameo, talking about what a sequel might look like. All the things we did for movies we loved.
We’d also be talking about how it furthers the promise made over 30 years ago by the brilliant Who Framed Roger Rabbit. A fact every critic, and the film itself, has made an effort to point out. So, what was there to do after finally catching up to this one than to go grab Ryan’s copy of Roger Rabbit and revisit it.
Ryan and I were nine years old when Who Framed Roger Rabbit premiered in theatres, and while I have a vague memory of going to see it in the Carmike Cinema that was once behind Columbus Square Mall (neither of which exists anymore), tag-alongs with a friend of my Mom’s, my most prominent memories surrounding it have nothing to do with that first viewing.
Not too long after seeing it in theatres, we found out that Tom, our stepfather (I’m not 100% sure he and my mom were married at that time, but it’s close enough), had been an acquaintance of Stubby Kaye, the long-time actor who’d played Marvin Acme in the film. Kaye, of course, was fairly well known for his roles in plenty of musicals in the ‘50s and ‘60s, but to two kids in 1988 that wouldn’t have meant much at all. At some point, possibly for Christmas that year, we were both presented with signed photos from the infamous patty cake scene between Kaye and Jessica, replicas of the ones Roger flips through when he’s shown the evidence.
In all our years of living under a roof with Tom, I do believe it was the only thoughtful gift we ever got from him. Unfortunately, time and hard feelings saw to it that Ryan and I both parted ways with those photos. Holding on to gifts despite negative feelings towards someone is something we both struggled mightily with. All too often hurt feelings resulted in any presents from the offending party being destroyed, something I still fight with today.
The other prominent memory I have involving the flick came when it had been released on VHS. I’m not sure if Ryan was there or not, but it was at a sleepover at a church friend’s house, a kid named Marcus. I’d brought the movie with me, having heard he’d still not seen it, excited to watch it with someone for the very first time. We settled in, popped it into the VCR, and promptly made it to the Baby Herman monologue in the very beginning before his mom turned it off and lambasted me for bringing something so inappropriate into her house.
As a kid, I didn’t even understand most of what Baby Herman was saying, and certainly didn’t get the connotations. As an adult, I can see why someone would be shocked and appalled by the statements, especially if they assumed it was strictly a kid’s movie. Also, as an adult, I can look back at that situation and say, “That woman vastly overreacted.” That it’s a memory that clearly sticks out from that time in my life probably says something about the importance of it, in a negative way for sure. It certainly taught me the inherent dangers of sharing the things you love with other people from a very early age.
But none of that has anything to do with the actual movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which is, I think, still a marvel of filmmaking, innovation, and collaboration. It blends as many genres as it does intellectual property, and it does all of those things perfectly.
It might actually be the movie that helped Ryan and I understand what intellectual property was, and the rigors of attempting to cross them over with each other. Call it childhood prep work for the hundreds of conversations we’d have as adults, trying to explain why the X-Men didn’t come help the Avengers when the aliens attacked.
In truth, I’m not sure what I could say about the movie itself that hundreds of other people haven’t said before me, and since this isn’t a review column I’d urge you to seek those out if you need some convincing to watch and/or rewatch it. It is one of those perfect films; the rare gems that might not be held in the pantheon of all-time greats like Casablanca or Vertigo, but it’s a movie without any missteps, and I think that’s probably rarer air to breathe.
In all the years since I last rewatched, the ones aspect I’d managed to somewhat forget was that Eddie Valiant (played by Bob Hoskins) had a brother. A brother who was also his partner. He was killed while they were investigating a case, and since that day Eddie has had nothing but disdain for ‘toons.
We learn somewhere in the story that Eddie had once had a great love of their animated brethren, taking on tons of cases that involved the ‘toons. Consistently working on their behalf, protecting them, befriending them; the pictures we see of the brothers at that time are pretty joyful. The story kind of uses the cartoon characters as a metaphor for happiness, and we discover that Eddie actively disowned that feeling after his brother was murdered…
I started to call the whole situation a metaphor for ignoring your grief, but it’s not a metaphor, is it? It’s very specifically the story of a character and how he’s not really dealing with his grief. Drinking, anger, putting up emotional walls, denial, all around self-destruction; Eddie Valiant is a picture-perfect example of how not to deal with grief.
What’s funny is that the scene that brought it all into focus for me is a scene that features some dialogue that Ryan and I quoted constantly. It’s where Eddie discovers Roger in his office hiding out. After some brief hijinks, Roger tries to make the case for his innocence. As he’s going to take a seat at the desk across from Eddie, the private eye completely loses his cool, yelling at Roger to “Get out of that chair! That’s my brother’s chair.” I’ve never stopped marveling at the fact that we can see the rabbit’s handprint in the dust that has collected on the furniture over the years since his death, implying that nothing’s even been moved since that day. Eddy has been stuck in that moment all this time.
After Roger cuffs he and Eddie together, the Weasels (animated henchmen for the bad guy) come storming in looking for the rabbit, and Eddie is forced to play it cool while keeping Roger’s cover. It’s a tightrope of manic comedy and devastating drama, and there’s only one live actor in the whole scene. It’s absolutely brilliant, moving, funny and tense. How Bob Hoskins didn’t get an Oscar is beyond me.
I don’t know why Ryan and I liked the Weasel dialogue as much as we did, specifically the bits about the laughing, but something connected with us. We’d spend the next few decades reciting bits and pieces of it whenever we got the chance. Most especially if anyone was laughing hysterically. You know what happens if you can’t stop laughing? Well, if you’ve seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit, you do. At least, what happens if you’re a weasel, and honestly we’d all be lucky to die like the weasels. I can’t think of a better way to go than laughing myself to death.
There’s one other scene really stood out this time around, and that’s when Eddie is taking his first jaunt back to Toon Town since that fateful day. Roger has been kidnapped, he’s got a case that makes less sense the more he uncovers, and all of his answers are leading him back to the place his brother was murdered. A place he’d sworn never to set foot in again.
His first instinct was to arm himself, both with weapons and with liquid courage. But as he goes to take a swig from his bottle he understands that he’s just been using alcohol as a tool to hide from his grief. He then uses a few problematic cartoon bullets (I’ll let someone else unpack that) to destroy his chosen vice.
It was pretty cathartic to watch Eddie come through his grief and let down his guard, destroying what he’d been using to shield himself from truly dealing with it was much more poignant this time around. Accepting that there is still joy in the world and that moving on and allowing himself to be open to joy doesn’t mean forgetting his brother.