Who Framed Roger Rabbit – Film Score Review (re-release)

Filmmaker Robert Zemeckis is never one to shy away from a challenge. Whether it’s re-casting his Back to the Future leading man midway through production or putting his film Cast Away on hiatus in order so Tom Hanks could look like a suitably gaunt tropical island dweller, Zemeckis has always demonstrated technical facility alongside narrative flair. Then, of course, there’s the sly social commentary of Forrest Gump in which Hanks’ titular character is subtly placed, via CGI, into news footage alongside faces such a short President Nixon.

His celebrated 1988 fantasy-comedy Who Framed Roger Rabbit remains, to this day, a marvel of technical accomplishment and narrative wit. The fondly remembered Bob Hoskins plays gumshoe Eddie Valiant who is investigating a murder seemingly undertaken by a cartoon character – yes, the movie is famously an intersection point between live action and some of the most famous toons ever created, including Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny and many more.

Sly mashing up Chinatown’s corporate conspiracy with a mind-boggling assortment of familiar faces from various properties (god knows how difficult the licensing issues must have been), the film’s dazzling special effects still hold up today. The movie’s zany character and brio extends to the score from Zemeckis regular Alan Silvestri, whose acclaimed score is now presented in its complete form for the first time, courtesy of a 3-disc set from Intrada.

At the time Silvestri had completed a rapid ascent to the top of the Hollywood scoring ladder. His first collaboration with Zemeckis, 1984’s Romancing the Stone, famously hadn’t impressed producer Steven Spielberg (who also oversaw Roger Rabbit), but any doubts were laid to rest with the composer’s seminal score for the first Back to the Future movie. Thundering along to the sound of what was then the largest orchestra ever assembled for a motion picture, it was an intricately orchestrated masterwork that announced Silvestri as a key talent, paving the way for the likes of Predator.

Zemeckis and Silvestri’s partnership is among the longest-standing in Hollywood history and has encompassed a host of diverse genres, from sweetly  nostalgic (the aforementioned Forrest Gump) to chilling Bernard Herrmann pastiche (What Lies Beneath). Given the madcap creativity on display in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, it comes as no surprise that the score remains one of their most diverse and complex, tasked with not only giving voice to the dazzling toon/human interaction but also toon-hating Valiant’s quest for redemption.

The original 1988 CD release is presented here, alongside two more discs including the full score, alternate cues and music from short films also featuring the Roger Rabbit character. Whereas the original soundtrack release contained 50 minutes of Silvestri’s music, an eye-widening 100-plus minute treasure trove of delights awaits here, allowing long-time fans of both the score and film to see things in a different light. Just as the extended Back to the Future score releases revealed an initially different intention from Silvestri, one hewing to a much darker and more experimental tone, it’s fascinating to now hear Silvestri’s music in its complete form, as opposed to its truncated presentation in the movie.

Performed by the London Symphony Orchestra with prominent input from key American jazz soloists, the score is, in the composer’s usual style, thematically led with numerous highlights. Many will already know the beautifully melancholy, trumpet-led theme of ‘Valiant and Valiant’ (a fitting encapsulation of Hoskins’ endearing performance if ever there was one), the ominous bells and low-register strings of the theme for Christopher Lloyd’s villain ‘Judge Doom’ (echoes of Predator’s creature theme) and the slinky saxophone of ‘Jessica Rabbit’s’ theme (voiced by Kathleen Turner).

Of particular note on the expanded score is the dialogue-free take of the frantic ‘Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2’. Originally presented with the voices of Donald and Daffy Duck (who perform the piece in one of the film’s most memorable scenes), one can now better appreciate Silvestri’s arrangement of the Liszt staple. Likewise, the full presentation of the numerous action scenes also allows Silvestri’s music to properly breathe.

A particular highlight is the delightful interaction between tubas and bassoons in car chase cue ‘Got Ya, Kid’, which gives way to a superbly intricate dialogue between jazz piano, double bass and sax in a manner that is brilliantly inventive. (Little wonder that Zemeckis, during the recording sessions, is said to have observed, with some amusement, that the musicians sometimes struggled to keep up with Silvestri’s deceptively complex orchestration).

Additional highlights include the unused ‘Hollywood’ alternate cue, one of many alluding to the composer’s jazz background, the forlorn extension of Eddie’s theme in ‘Toon Killed My Brother’ (also treated to two alternate takes) , and the wealth of material expanding Judge Doom’s Theme, including the likes of ‘Start the Dip’. As one would expect, the signature ‘Why Don’t You Do Right’, performed with no small amount of seductive zeal by Turner, is present and correct, as well as music for related Roger Rabbit properties. These are ‘Rollercoaster Rabbit’ and ‘Trail Mix-Up’ from Silverado composer Bruce Broughton, and ‘Tummy Trouble’ from the late James Horner.

That the release of the complete Roger Rabbit score can generate such excitement is surely a testament to both Silvestri’s compositional skill and also the impact of his music on the movie itself. It’s a movie etched onto the memory of an entire generation (this writer included), and not just for the extraordinary way it blends cartoon and live-action. Silvestri’s alternately manic and moving music pulls off  a tricky balancing act between sincerity and spoof, reinforcing why his partnership with Zemeckis is one of the richest in the business.

Those who are fans of the composer are urged to get their hands on this release – it paints a Silvestri masterpiece in a whole new light.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is now available from Intrada Records.

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