What can one say about the Zemeckis/Spielberg collaboration but quite simply – brilliant. The combination detective noir story, slightly adult humour, crazy toon characters from both Warner & Disney’s vaults (a one-off which is unlikely to ever repeat) and overall technical wizardy yielded a film which set a precedent.
Oh sure family film classics such as “Bedknobs & Broomsticks” and “Mary Poppins” had live-action and animation combined together many years beforehand, but all did it for only a small sequence and with certain limitations. ‘Roger’ on the other hand combined real life settings with toon creations which weren’t just chirping birds or cameos, but major performances. As we come into the CG age we’re seeing people and computer-drawn major characters interacting with each other – most notably the “Star Wars” prequels but none of them have the charm or depth on display here.
I guess that’s due to Zemeckis. The director has proven a smart and talented filmmaker who knows that story comes first, and technical gimmickry should help to serve it – not be its support crux. That’s why ‘Roger’ even 15 years on is still a very impressive piece of work because even without the element of ‘toon/real life’ people interacting its still an interesting plotline.
For all intents and purposes its a 40’s detective noir story set in a smog-free Los Angeles with sex, sin and murder on the plate – indeed there’s some dark stuff in this from an animated shoe being melted (I know it sounds silly but as a kid it freaked me out) to innuendo galore which’ll go right over the littlies heads but which older audiences will immediately get and smile at.
Performances are excellent across the board – Bob Hoskins is at his career best, Christopher Lloyd seems to be having a ball as an almost Indiana Jones-esque villain, Kathleen Turner’s stunning voice lends itself to big-busted seductress Jessica, and of course shoutouts must go to the likes of Charles Fleischer and the other voice actors who bring Roger, Benny, Baby Herman, and the Weasels to life. Everything in this is pretty much at the top of its game and while it struggles to find a tone to stick too, swapping from gun-crazed and complicated murder plots to sentimental almost kiddish humour/songs and back again, it still stands out as a masterpiece of hard work and talent which also happens to be damn good fun.