Who Framed Roger Rabbit appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. Although the original DVD from 1999 seemed decent, the new version definitely improved upon it.
Sharpness generally looked solid. Some slight softness appeared at times, but as with most of the image’s minor issues, this seemed related to concerns inherent in some of the visual effects. Rabbit relied heavily on composite shots to meld live-action and animation, and those came across as a little fuzzy at times. However, the movie mostly appeared accurate and distinct.
I noticed no issues related to jagged edges or moiré effects, but a hint of edge enhancement showed up at times. As for print flaws, I detected some light grain on occasion, and a few specks appeared. These issues cropped up above and beyond the problems inherent in the composite shots. Nonetheless, the picture seemed noticeably cleaner than that of the original DVD, which displayed a moderate amount of defects.
Colors looked positive across the board. I noticed a little messiness during shots with red lighting, but overall, the tones appeared tight and bright. The hues especially worked well during the Toontown shots, which displayed nice vivid and bold colors. Black levels also came across as dense and deep, and shadow detail looked appropriately opaque but not too thick and impenetrable. Overall, the picture quality of Who Framed Roger Rabbit seemed quite pleasing.
One note about the image: it fixes a "censored" bit from the old disc - sort
of. Early in the original movie, Baby Herman gooses a woman under whose
skirt he walks. For the prior DVD, the character's arm was redrawn to
appear at his side. Happily, the VISTA version restores Herman's arm to its
appropriately crude placement. However, the new DVD digitally removes
Herman's finger as it pointed toward the woman's privates.
The DVD still appears to lose the shots of Jessica without her panties after she flies out of the cab. As those elements were only visible via freeze-frame in the first place, I don’t object to their alteration, especially since they were only included as an inside joke anyway. The Herman gag offered a change obvious without slowed playback, and it never should have been altered.
Another change from the original DVD, the VISTA series Who Framed Roger Rabbit offered both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks; the prior release only included the Dolby mix. Though the DTS one sounded a little louder, I couldn’t detect any substantial differences between the two in other ways. They appeared virtually identical to my ears.
The soundfield of Rabbit seemed decent but unspectacular. The front speakers dominated. Music showed good stereo separation, and the forward soundstage came across as reasonably broad and engaging. Effects popped up in logical locations and usually blended together nicely. Surround usage tended to do little more than reinforce the front. Music dominated the track, as a great deal of score emanated from the rear. This actually seemed a little distracting at times, as the music appeared slightly delayed between the front and rear; the effect wasn’t a real problem, but I thought the surrounds featured more music than they should. Other material appeared in the rear speakers occasionally, but little unique audio cropped up in the surrounds; mostly those channels just echoed the front ones.
Audio quality was acceptable but not better than that, even given the age of the material. Speech seemed crisp and intelligible but could sound a little thin at times. I noticed no issues related to intelligibility, but I felt the dialogue failed to come across as terribly natural. Music seemed bright and lively but lacked much range, as the score didn’t sound very warm. Low-end also failed to complement effects. They seemed clear and accurate but they didn’t display much bass, so they appeared somewhat trebly and tinny. Ultimately, the audio of Who Framed Roger Rabbit was strong enough to merit a “B-“ but it didn’t do a whole lot for me.
The original Rabbit DVD included absolutely no extras. More than three years later, Disney finally rectifies this problem with this feature-rich VISTA series release of the film. The package spreads its materials across the set’s two discs. In addition to the fullframe version of the movie, DVD One includes The Roger Rabbit Shorts. These include “Tummy Trouble” (seven minutes, 45 seconds), “Rollercoaster Rabbit” (seven minutes, 50 seconds), and “Trail Mix-Up” (eight minutes, 52 seconds). Although all three use the same “Roger tries to keep Baby Herman out of trouble” theme, they seemed quite amusing and entertaining. They definitely add a lot to this package.
In a nice touch, all three shorts appear with anamorphic 1.85:1 transfers and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The soundtracks seem surprisingly involving, and each one works better than the audio for the main film. In particular, “Rollercoaster” presents some excellent sound, especially during the tunnel sequence; that section offers some fine split-surround material.
Next we get Who Made Roger Rabbit, a new featurette hosted by voice actor Charles Fleischer. During this 10-minute and 57-second program, Fleischer leads us through the film’s production and gives us the basics about its creation. The piece seems cute but superficial. Some good behind the scenes materials appear, but the show won’t be very useful for folks who already understand the animation processes. However, since it seems meant for kids and neophytes, it provides a decent little introduction.
DVD One continues with Trouble in Toontown, a new “set-top” game. This involves some simple activities like shooting pies at weasels. It seems bland but mildly enjoyable, though it includes no reward for successful completion.
Next we find the THX Optimizer. It purports to help you set up your home theater to best present the movie on the disc in question. Apparently the Optimizer is unique for each DVD on which it’s included; unlike programs such as Video Essentials, the Optimizer should tweak your set-up differently every time. Frankly, I’ve been very happy with my already-established calibration and I’m afraid to muck with it, so I’ve never tried the Optimizer. If you lack calibration from Video Essentials or a similar program, or if you’re just more adventurous than I, the Optimizer could be a helpful addition. Note that the Optimizer appears on both DVDs One and Two.
Lastly, DVD One provides some Sneak Peeks. Here we find ads for Schoolhouse Rock and Ultimate X.
DVD One features some cute and clever menus, but these make the disc tough to navigate. For example, who would know that “Valiant’s Office” equals the DVD set-up screen? Thankfully, DVD Two doesn’t saddle the viewer with such odd menus.
As we move to DVD Two, we get the widescreen edition of the film along with an audio commentary from director Robert Zemeckis, producer/2nd unit director Frank Marshall, associate producer Steve Starkey, visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston, and screenwriters Peter S. Seaman and Jeffrey Price. All six were recorded together for this running, screen-specific piece. Originally taped for a 1998 laserdisc release, the commentary covers a lot of ground and provides a useful experience.
All facets of the production receive attention here. We get notes about the project’s origins and different script issues/changes that occurred along the way. Of course, lots of technical information crops up as well, as we learn of all Rabbit’s challenges and the solutions for these. At times, the gang just watch the movie and laugh, and the occasional empty spot appears as well. However, overall the Rabbit commentary seems lively and informative.
In addition, we get a text commentary called Toontown Confidential. This piece spans the whole movie and offers a pretty good little addition. It covers a variety of topics. We get biographical notes about many participants and technical details about the production. A great deal of movie-related trivia appears as well, and some of these bits seem very interesting; for example, we learn about a number of actors considered for the role of Eddie. Though not quite as good as the terrific text commentaries that accompany the Star Trek films, “Confidential” offers a lot of useful information.
Next we move to a new 36-minute and 36-second documentary called Behind the Ears. This piece combines movie clips, behind the scenes material and new interviews with director Robert Zemeckis, producer/2nd unit director Frank Marshall, associate producer Don Hahn, director of animation Richard Williams, film editor Arthur Schmidt, screenwriter Peter S. Seaman, associate producer Steve Starkey, visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston, director of photography Dean Cundey, animator Dave Spafford, supervising animator Phil Nibbelink, supervising animator Andreas Deja, voice actor Lou Hirsch, animator Nik Ranieri, actor Bob Hoskins, supervising animator Simon Wells, voice actor Charles Fleischer, special effects supervisor Michael Lantieri, chief puppeteer David Alan Barclay, chief executive and supervising animator Dale Baer, optical camera operator Jon Alexander, optical photography supervisor Ed Jones, and composer Alan Silvestri. In addition, we find archival interview snippets from 1987 with Fleischer, executive producer Steven Spielberg, and mechanical effects supervisor George Gibbs.
Whew – that’s a long list of participants, but “Ears” packs them in neatly and offers a terrific look at the film. The program follows many facets of the production and nicely illustrates the different issues. Mostly these focus on technical concerns, and we see all of the methods used to meld toons and humans. Of particular interest is the human/toon composite test, but we also find a great deal of interesting material from the set; for example, we check out the puppets used to help with actor eyelines. The speakers all contribute depth to these pieces, as they go over all of the various issues they faced. “Ears” gives us a great examination of the creation of a difficult film.
After this we locate a deleted scene. Called the “Pig Head Sequence”, this area starts with a 97 second introduction from Zemeckis, Ralston, and supervising animator Simon Wells. They discuss the creation of the sequence, where it would have occurred in the film, and why it got the boot. We then watch the entire three-minute and 54-second clip. Though Zemeckis regrets its omission, I’m glad it was cut. It’s entertaining, but I like it better when Eddie’s first visit to Toontown in the movie occurs toward the end. Given his history, that means the sequence has more punch. Anyway, it’s still very cool to see this unused footage.
Inside the “Valiant Files” domain, we locate scads of still galleries. Character Development covers six areas via thumbnails: “Roger Rabbit” (18 frames), “Jessica Rabbit” (9 images), “Baby Herman” (6), “Benny the Cab” (11), “the Weasels” (12), and “Judge Doom” (10). These offer a mix of conceptual designs, character model sheets, and maquettes. (Note that the “Doom” section includes shots of miscellaneous others as well.)
Art of Roger Rabbit splits into six smaller subjects. “Development” shows 36 images of storyboards and conceptual drawings. “Chuck Jones Artwork” shows six drawings of Donald Duck. “’Somethin’s Cookin’” gives us seven bits related to the short that opens the movie; it includes posters and backgrounds. “Toontown” features 18 conceptual drawings of that realm. “Deleted Ideas” provides some interesting tidbits as it shows 16 sketches for bits that didn’t materialize such as Acme’s funeral. Lastly, “Deleted Titles” presents 13 unused ideas for the credits, many of which depict rejected names for the film like Toon.
The Production area divides into three subdomains. “Production” features lots of great shots in its 46 stills. We see examples of the way the crew didn’t want the animation to meld into the live-action, and we also get photos from the set, production stills, and close-ups of materials that go by quickly in the film. “Special Effects” gives us 14 images from behind the scenes, while “Set Decoration Posters” lets us examine five Roger Rabbit ads seen briefly in the flick.
In the Promotional domain, we get a nice collection of 25 frames. This area includes some publicity photos as well as poster concepts and drawings meant for PR purposes. Lastly, Theme Parks includes three smaller areas. “Designing Toontown at Disneyland” provides four images related to that realm’s development. “Disneyland” then offers seven photos from the final result. “Walt Disney World” presents seven shots of Rabbit-related bits from the Florida park. (Disney World includes no Toontown, unlike Disneyland.)
That finishes the “Valiant Files”. Before and After provides glimpses of shots that include animation. This segment follows Eddie’s first few minutes in Toontown and lasts three minutes and eight seconds. On the top part of the split screen, we see the completed scenes. On the bottom, we watch the actors as they perform without the added animation. This offers a very cool look at the source material, and it further helps us appreciate all the work the actors – especially Hoskins – had to do to make us buy the existence of the toons.
We find similar materials via Toon Stand-Ins. After a quick introductory comment from Ken Ralston, this three-minute and 15-second piece shows more pre-animation footage. However, these shots include the stand-in puppets and dolls used for actor eyelines; we see a mix of clips from the final flick plus a few rehearsal bits. In addition to Ralston’s remark, we also get a few notes from Steve Starkey, Richard Williams and Robert Zemeckis. I love this sort of raw footage, and these scenes offer a lot of fun.
A final batch of archival footage appears in On Set!. This four-minute and 51-second piece includes more material from the set. We see behind the scenes interactions, with an emphasis on shots of Zemeckis as he worked with the actors. This offers yet another great view of the production – I only wish we found more of this stuff here.
To complete the Rabbit set, the package presents some physical materials. Inside the case you’ll find a companion booklet. This lists the movie chapters and supplements as part of Eddie’s notebook, which makes it a cuter version of the usual insert. Finally, we get two Collectible Glossies. These offer “signed” publicity shots of Roger and Jessica.
If nothing else, Who Framed Roger Rabbit would go into the cinematic history books as a terrific technological achievement. Happily, the movie deserves attention as more than just a smooth marriage of live-action and animation. After 15 years and many screenings, I continue to enjoy Rabbit, as it provides a creative and amusing experience. The DVD presents very good picture with serviceable sound and a splendid roster of extras. The VISTA Rabbit gets a high recommendation across the board. Even if you already own the old release, you’ll want to upgrade to this one, as it provides a substantial improvement on the original DVD.