Today marks the 25th anniversary of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” first released to theaters on June 21, 1988, and it’s every bit as enjoyable and technically impressive today as it was when it was released. It was absolutely groundbreaking for an animated film in 1988 and helped created new paradigms for the entire movie industry, impacting how live-action and animated films alike are made today.
Here are five reasons that “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” was so influential.
1) It combined animation and live-action cinema.
Before “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” there was always a clear dichotomy between animation and live-action. A general sense that animated films were made for children and live-action films was made for adults. “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” shattered the separation between the two by combining animation and live-action formats in a feature-length film while also creating a movie suitable (and enjoyable) for both children and adults.
After the success of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” Disney produced high-quality animated films throughout the 90s, including classics like The Little Mermaid, The Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, and Tarzan. These are films that defined a generation’s childhood, and they likely wouldn’t exist if not for the success of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”
Also, these animated films continued in the new paradigm of films that were truly for “all audiences.” Disney films from this era were movies that parents and grandparents wanted to take children to see as much as the children themselves wanted to see them.
3) It has a surprisingly intricate plot.
“Who Framed Roger Rabbit” proved that animated movies suitable for children could include complicated, subtle plots. The film includes numerous characters, each with his or her own desires and motivations. There is a memorable villain in Judge Doom, but his true motives – and nature – aren’t clear until the end. This approach to plotting raised the bar for future children’s films, and many of the classic ‘90s Disney films feature intricate plots with complicated characters and villains who aren’t cookie-cutter. For example, in Beauty and The Beast, the obvious villain should be the Beast because he’s a ‘monster,’ but he’s really the hero, while handsome Gaston proves to be the true villain.
4) The female characters are complex and strong.
Jessica Rabbit initially appears to be the typical femme fatale of noir (a reference that likely goes right over the heads of younger viewers). Still, we eventually see that she’s actually a loyal and loving wife, truly just trying to save her husband. This challenged future screenwriters to create more well-rounded, believable characters for animated films, each with complicated histories, emotions, and motivations.
5) It spawned further technological advancements in both animated and live-action films.
Movies like Monkeybone, Shrek, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and even Avatar probably wouldn’t exist if not for “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” One of the film’s most lasting impacts was simply that it proved animation was a worthy art form for mainstream directors and filmmakers to not only work on and experiment with but use to achieve blockbuster critical and box office success.
“Who Framed Roger Rabbit” was groundbreaking in 1988 as it is today on its 25th birthday, and its influence remains strong among recent films. An entire generation owes some of their fondest childhood memories to Roger Rabbit and his wife and friends, and we all owe this film a debt for opening up the possibilities of what an animated film could achieve.
Spencer Blohm is a freelance television and film blogger for Direct4tv.com. Since childhood, he has been a huge fan of animated films and cartoons and remembers the sad day when he realized that Roger Rabbit was not available for signing autographs in real life. When he’s not writing, he enjoys catching the latest Adult Swim cartoons and staying up-to-date on all things Disney.
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