After many years I recently revisited the landmark film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, an inventive and monumental movie that ushered in a new era of animation. Sadly and quite coincidental based on timing, Bob Hoskins, its star, passed away within days of me re-watching this modern masterpiece. Hoskins’ role lent the comedy its soul and substance and will always be cherished. We at Geeks of Doom mourn his loss, not only for his impact in film, but also for how much he influenced Roger Rabbit.
Bob Hoskins, who passed away from pneumonia on April 29, 2014 at the age of 71, had been suffering from Parkinson’s. Hoskins left the acting profession after being diagnosed a few years ago. Over his career that spanned more than four decades, he provided film with numerous memorable characters. Perhaps his best role was as Eddie Valiant. We depart the detective character’s office with a closed case and much nostalgia in tow.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit remains one of The Walt Disney Company’s more controversial projects and, oddly enough, maybe its most important movie of the 1980s. The company had been experiencing many blows in its traditional Walt Disney Productions label – later re-named to Walt Disney Pictures – and often found success in just re-releasing its classics like Pinocchio and Bambi. Tron flopped. So did The Black Cauldron and many other major titles the studio put out during much of this decade.
Disney experienced promise in its Touchstone Pictures label, the “edgier” banner that could develop productions with more adult fare. That formula worked critically, financially, and for the Disney brand. Look back at how Splash, Three Men and a Baby, and Ruthless People, among others, changed the culture and company. Disney could make films that would push the envelope without hurting its bottom line. Roger Rabbit expanded the possibilities even further and, with Bob Hoskins as its lead, revolutionize Hollywood.
Part neo-noir, with a heavy load of slapstick, mystery, and fantasy, Roger Rabbit evoked what audiences loved most about movies from the ’30s and ’40s. Essentially, as Hugo is Martin Scorsese‘s love letter to the making of film, Roger Rabbit defined that some two decades earlier.
Bob Hoskins was cast as Eddie Valiant, a middle-aged, down-on-his-luck private detective mourning the loss of his brother and drowning his sorrows in booze. Film has seen its share of investigator stereotypes in this era, but what made Bob Hoskins different in this archetype was how he lent a real human quality to this movie consisting of mostly cartoons. Hoskins’ take on Valiant showed elements of dignity and faith, most apparent in more subdued scenes involving just him. The straight man to Roger’s wackiness, Hoskins grounded situations with posterity, but he also had the ability to loosen up. Remember the climax in which Valiant causes the weasels to laugh to death through participating in outlandish physical humor? This scene represented Valiant’s evolution over the course of 100 minutes. Likewise, it showed Bob Hoskins’ diversity as an actor, from dramatic force to comedic sidekick.
Hoskins, who garnered a Golden Globe nomination for playing this character, possessed the unique challenge of playing alongside nonexistent characters for much of the film. Roger’s animated antithesis to Valiant’s subdued investigator allowed for the formation of a fantastic duo. Bob Hoskins deserved the major props he received for making this fictional relationship seem real. Though certain sequences in the movie show their age 25 years later, Who Framed Roger Rabbit holds a timelessness, much like the live-action/animation hybrid Mary Poppins, through possessing rounded characters in a compelling storyline. Hoskins’ character was just that. Deep.
Roger Rabbit launched other films blending animation with humans, including the even more provocative Brad Pitt flick Cool World and countless stinkers with CGI characters existing in live-action environments. Save for a few solid ones brimming with originality, Roger Rabbit is arguably the best of the bunch for what it accomplished and how it executed that. Bob Hoskins played a major part in making Roger Rabbit how it was first viewed a quarter-century ago, and how highly people regard this project all these years later. Many individuals are responsible for the movie’s success and regard, but Hoskins, at the center of all the whimsy, gave Who Framed Roger Rabbit its gravity and humanity.
The curtain closes on Bob Hoskins’ life, but luckily in the film medium, his contributions continue to impact generations of future moviegoers. Play the Alan Silvestri blues track entitled “Valiant & Valiant” on the Roger Rabbit soundtrack and raise a (figurative) glass to Hoskins. We’ll miss you, Valiant!
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is available to rent or purchase on YouTube, as well as on Blu-ray in its 25th Anniversary Edition.
What do you most enjoy about watching Hoskins in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Share your memories!
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.