Animated and life-action character interactions: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?


☞ While the discussion on the influence of an animated character on life-action characters is still fresh (see the discussion below on the television character Daria), let us go on to a film in which the interactions between animated and life action characters occur within the film itself: Robert Zemeckis’ Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The animated characters in this film, or what are called toons, are not mere dispensable decorations, as in Mary Poppins, but form an essential part of the narrative. There is also a social structure in the film where the toons are discriminated against. As the article notes, the film represents a significant advance on earlier use of animation — or more specifically, animated characters — in life action movies.

✼ “The story’s ingenious conceit is that human-created cartoons, including some of the most recognizable characters in the animated species, coexist with Homo sapiens — off-screen and three-dimensionally, that is. These “toons,” as they’re called, make up a kind of movie-industry underclass that is exploited for profit-making laughs. That’s a pretty audacious motif in a work ostensibly for children, and when you add the superimposition onto the crowded thematic canvas of a top-notch spoof on film noir, you’ve got a movie working overtime in the ideas department.”

✼ “Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Vertigo, and especially Chinatown — Roger Rabbit borrows from them all. There’s even a great bit of economical storytelling lifted from Rear Window, in which we’re brought up to speed on Eddie’s entire history solely through photographs and newspaper clips.

The technical virtuosity is even more impressive. As director Zemeckis recently explained on Fresh Air, the animators devised a process that endowed each cel with the same lighting as in the corresponding live-action scene. The film also breaks a longstanding rule of hybrid human-cartoon projects by allowing the camera to roam. In films like Mary Poppins, Zemeckis said, the recording device was always static “because it would be so difficult to draw different changes of perspective as the camera moves.” But he shot the film “like I would any live action movie. And the animators actually found that it worked better by having the camera moving. That they were able to actually give more life to the cartoon characters and have them feel like they’re more integrated into the actual two-dimensional set.””

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