Thursday, April 30, 2009

Robert Zemeckis, Evil Destroyer of Memories



If Robert Zemeckis really does follow through on his hints about a Roger Rabbit sequel, I will be sad and gloomy and inclined to kick things.

I'm aware that Who Framed Roger Rabbit? has many flaws, the most important flaw that most of the animated characters, old and new, come off as strident and unappealing. Roger, in particular, is so obnoxious that the filmmakers added a new scene after the previews to make him a little more sympathetic (the scene where he's crying over his wife's apparent infidelity). But the movie was an extraordinary experience in 1988 -- I remember I was at camp, and when we went for a movie night, we had a choice between Roger Rabbit and Big Top Pee-Wee; I was in the group that chose Roger, and we didn't regret it -- and I still like it a lot today.

The flaws don't matter so much because they serve the story: Roger is supposed to be an obnoxious, annoying person whose good qualities aren't immediately apparent, and Toontown is supposed to be a hellish place for any human being to visit, the incarnation of how horrible it would actually be to live in a cartoon universe instead of just watching it. The story is driven by the human actors, which is as it should be, because in an animation/live-action movie, the humans are the ones who inspire the animation (the animators have to react to whatever the humans are doing). None of its imitators have been as good because none of them had a comparably strong story, or live-action performances as memorable as those of Hoskins and Lloyd.

But that was Robert Zemeckis in the '80s. And the best argument that can be made for Zemeckis is that his fall from grace hasn't been quite as bad as Rob Reiner's. (Look for them in the upcoming retrospective on "guys who made some of the best movies of the '80s and some of the worst movies of our time.") You know the story: he made Used Cars, Romancing the Stone, Back to the Future and Roger Rabbit -- movies that were over-wrought and tried a little too hard, but were all a lot of fun -- but since 1990, he's been on a quest to make movies without people in them, using all the technical tools at his disposal to make that happen. The post-1990 Zemeckis is the last person you'd want making a Roger Rabbit type film, which can't work unless the human characters are really recognizably, identifiably human.

Zemeckis's comments on the technical side of a potential Roger Rabbit sequel don't fill me with confidence, either:


“I’ll tell you what is buzzing around in my head now that we have the ability—the digital tools, performance capture—I’m starting to think about ‘Roger Rabbit.’”


Because if there's one thing that can make Roger less unappealing, it's replacing him with a mo-cap version of a guy in a rabbit suit.

19 comments:

Rick Roberts said...

Zemeckis hasn't made a good film since Cast Away and like you said, he has been doing these ugly mo- cap films. As for Roger Rabbit, it's only fine film on a technical level. The film contained none of the charm of those 40's cartoons and it didn't feel like anyone who understood cartoons was in charge. I heard they have wanted to do a sequel to RR for years but thankfully, it looks like it'll never happen.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

The film contained none of the charm of those 40's cartoons and it didn't feel like anyone who understood cartoons was in charge.True, but it didn't matter; it was a film noir about a semi-racial divide between humans and cartoon characters. I doubt Zemeckis could have recaptured the charm of the '40s cartoons if he'd wanted to (though he and his team were right to take it away from the Disney people and insist on a traditional written script), but the story didn't require that kind of charm, so it was fine.

Rick Roberts said...

"but the story didn't require that kind of charm, so it was fine."

Then the whole film is half assed.

John said...

You actually could make a sequel, if say you put the characters 10-11 years in the future and made TV production line cartoons as the new enemy of Toon Town instead of Judge Doom (which you'd hope would meet Zemeckis' quotent for soullessness just by itself).

Given the attitude towards 2-D cartoons right now, I would think the suits in charge wouldn't green-light a sequel in the first place, but given their cluelessness about animation in general, I could very easily see them OK a movie where you have 2-D full animation characters being threatened by a 2-D limited animation industry, and then doing all the characters in CGI.

John said...

(Just to clarify -- That's 10-11 years in the future from the first Roger Rabbit, which would set the sequel in 1959-60).

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Zemeckis' roll-down-hill started when he unleashed Forrest Gump to movie audiences and cleaned up at the Oscars with it. He then wanted to make "serious" films and any hope of recapturing the magic of his early, unpretentious vehicles--I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Used Cars, etc.--was lost.

Anonymous said...

Zemeckis at this point might do about as good a "Roger Rabbit" sequel as George Miller, if he's gonna use mo-cap. Zemeckis met his sharkjump of no return with "Death Becomes Her" - it's been downhill ever since.

VP81955 said...

Zemeckis' roll-down-hill started when he unleashed Forrest Gump to movie audiences and cleaned up at the Oscars with it. He then wanted to make "serious" films and any hope of recapturing the magic of his early, unpretentious vehicles--I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Used Cars, etc.--was lost.In other words, he became a real-life Sullivan.

If Zemeckis hadn't been so insistent on control, "Roger Rabbit" could have been a solid franchise, given how incredibly popular that film was. Other directors might have given the Toontown characters some added texture that was lacking the first time around.

But doing a sequel now, when your target audience has likely never heard of Roger Rabbit? Too late, brother, too late. (Though I like the concept of the Hanna-Barbera TV toons invading the turf of the old 'toons.)

Thad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thad said...

I'd rather remember him for this.

Whit said...

An attempt was made early in "Back in Action" to contrast the limited animation of Hanna-Barbera characters against fuller animation of the LT characters, set in a live action WB commissary. They didn't get the HB animation right - it appeared to stick and jerk in ways that actual HB stuff didn't. This one scene probably cost over a billion dollars. I'm not sure that in 2009 the 18-24 demo would appreciate such a 2D inside joke, even if someone competent pulled it off.

J Lee said...

If you did a script with something like that, you'd have to set something up like the evil TV production company somehow stealing Jessica away to work in limited animation (some sort of made-for-TV Toon Town) and away from the theatrical work. Contrasting a low budget Jessica Rabbit with the real fully animated original would be something even 18-24 year old males today could figure out.

Yowp said...

Maybe I'm in the minority. I did not like Roger Rabbit. Period. The cartoon characters I loved as a child were gratuitously tossed in for star value and had no relevance to the plot. Roger was so completely unlikeable, I felt like yelling something at the screen to get him to shut up. None of the other characters were much better.
Yowp

Anonymous said...

It was never explained WHAT once well known cartoon character the Christopher Lloyd villain was suppposed to be. They reveal the character's high, screeching voice near the end but nothing else. All of the other 'toons' surely knew who this character was, yet none spilled the beans.

Mr. Semaj said...

It's been, what, 21 years since the original Roger Rabbit, nearly a whole generation that had since experienced a renaissance for animation thru the 1990's. Everything that helped define the first film--kicking off the Disney Renaissance, being the first mainstream adult cartoon in years, bridging old school animators (and old school characters) into the new era, and the famous side-by-side appearance of Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny--has long since set sail. How could even the original director possibly live up to that vast legacy?

Not every original film needs a sequel. Some are better off as one hit wonders.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

It was never explained WHAT once well known cartoon character the Christopher Lloyd villain was suppposed to be.I always assumed he was supposed to be an original character -- all the cartoon characters who actually figured in the plot were new ones.

Your Pony Pal Pokey, Too said...

I have to agree with Yowp and,maybe some others though I did see it in 1988 and enjoyed it, it has not held up for me much at all. And we all know...Jessica Rabbit ain't bad, she is just drawn that way [gimme Jessica SIMPSON anyday.]

[1988 was also the era Gumby-my master and frined-lost his charm due to new, proto Barney like synthesiser music, and the old stock cues were redone. But that, my friends, is another type of animation.

Roger soon garnered all sorts of annoying followups, even one from Disney itself, "Bonkers!" and Warners "Tiny Toon Adventures" and its ilk were CLEARLY "Roger"-inspired [Sorry Jaime, as I know you like the Spielgberg era WB's..]

Only a few episodes of the Wb shows were of any worth..Walter Lantz felt the same way but in a strange way felt glad the Roger Rabbit movie WAS made, to show that animation could still be viable [this was, after all, still the era of the Care Bears. Real Jerome Kerns of animation, right? Not. I though so...]] Maurice Noble didn't like Roger - the movie or the half brained hare--either.

Signed,
Pokey

Your Pony Pal Pokey, Too said...

"John"
Given the attitude towards 2-D cartoons right now.."


Well, except for half-assed ones with Elvis imitating gnashing teeth named Hawaiian transplants named Stitch. Or fugly looking critters named:
Phineas and Ferb
Powerpuff Girls
Angelica Pickles
Hey Arnold
etc etc etc [thank you, Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II]

Signed,
Pokey

ajm said...

Not every original film needs a sequel. Some are better off as one hit wonders.Quite right. Robert Altman apparently wanted to do an HBO miniseries sequel to "Nashville" in the Eighties, but I'm glad he resisted. I'm grateful we've been spared "Son of Repo Man" or "Animal House: The Next Generation" or "This is Spinal Tap Part II"...