Robert Zemeckis has been hit or miss for almost two decades. But in the eighties, he was on fire. Along with Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is just one of those movies that remains great no matter how many years pass and its technical achievements are still a marvel. But why does it work so well?
From a storytelling perspective, Roger Rabbit was funny, unique and had some great performances from people like Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd. But YouTuber, kaptainkristian is more interested in breaking down what sets the film apart from other movies that try to mix live-action with animation.
Movies like Mary Poppins and Cool World haven’t aged as well as Roger Rabbit despite using basically the same techniques. One of the reasons for this, as kaptainkristian points out, is that it’s extremely important for the actors to maintain a convincing eyeline with their animated counterparts. While it’s important for the filming process to give the actors reasonable marks to focus their attention on, the most important factor is the animator’s ingenuity. If an actor misses where the eyeline would be for a character, the Roger Rabbit animators are constantly adjusting the action—making Roger stand his tippy toes or point a finger in the actors face.
Kaptainkristian identifies two other reasons that Zemeckis’ deranged noir feels so much more immersive and alive than other hybrid films. One is that there’s constant interaction between animated characters and the real world. Special devices had to be built to move a real gun, wave a real cigar or spit water. Then the animators would step in and draw the characters seamlessly interacting with the props or grabbing an actors lapel.
The third key ingredient that makes the film so convincing is the unrestrained use of camera movement. Too often, filmmakers have gone easy on the animators. Keeping the camera stationary means that they don’t have to make too many adjustments to the perspective, especially when a character is kept on a single plain. Roger Rabbit is constantly using moving images and shifting blocking, which creates a greater illusion that what we’re seeing was just filmed like any other movie.
Check out the whole breakdown in the video. It’s definitely worth watching for all of the detailed examples and behind the scenes footage. But a warning to the more obsessive types out there: you’re guaranteed to be looking for the flaws every time you re-watch the film for the rest of your life.