Tag Archives: 15/20

Glory

WFTB Score: 15/20

The plot: During the American Civil War, the hard-pressed Unionists bring into being their first ‘coloured’ regiment, the 54th, under the stewardship of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. Shaw’s brand of leadership causes upsets with old friends and recruits of all ages and dispositions; but when the time for fighting comes, his men are ready to prove themselves the equals of soldiers from either side.

Not being particularly gifted in matters of history, and non-British history in particular, the events of the American Civil War tend to slip out of my mind as soon as I stop reading or watching about them; accordingly, though I enjoyed Ang Lee’s Ride With the Devil not too long ago, I would only be able to guess which side Tobey Maguire’s ‘runty nubbin’ character fought for, and where, and why. So on the face of it this tale of Colonel Shaw, a real-life 23-year-old fighter for the Army of the Potomac, and the men he commanded, was only of passing interest to me. Fortunately, Edward Zwick has taken his source material (letters from Shaw to his parents, amongst other accounts) and created a fine, watchable film.

The film opens with Shaw (Matthew Broderick) seeing action at Antietam, where he quickly comes face-to-face with the grisly realities of war in a notorious defeat for the Unionists. The battlefield leaves him shell-shocked, so when his parents – committed Boston abolitionists – arrange for him to be the colonel of a negro regiment, he is almost too stunned to respond. He eventually accepts, bringing along his friend Forbes (Cary Elwes) as Major with another family friend, literate and educated black man Thomas Searles (Andre Braugher) being one of the regiment’s first recruits.

Also volunteering are wise old goat (with a goat!) Morgan Freeman, who shares a tent with Searles, stammering sharp-shooter Jupiter (Jihmi Kennedy) and Denzel Washington’s Trip, a dude with an attitude and more pride than sense. Trip succeeds in winding Searles and the others up with his defiant blackness, earning him a flogging when accused of desertion that adds to the stripes earned as a slave; with hard words and an even harder Sergeant Major, and much to the disgust of Forbes’ liberal mind, Shaw brings his men up to be a disciplined fighting force.

Yet all is not well: not only does the regiment not get equal pay with white soldiers, and not only are they denied the shoes and provisions available to other divisions, causing Shaw to rebel on both occasions; there is a rumour circulating that the regiment exists solely for propaganda, and the soldiers will never do anything other than manual work. Shaw has to face up to his superiors to prove that his men are more than capable in combat, a trust that ultimately proves their making and their downfall.

In terms of presentation, Glory is a very handsome piece of work, showing off the uniforms, weaponry and moustaches of the Civil War to good effect. I couldn’t tell you if these are all accurate, but the film certainly doesn’t shy away from the brutality of the war as men are blown to pieces at Antietam and, later, ranks of Unionists and Confederates line up in ranks and shoot lumps out of each other before charging with fixed bayonets. The personnel of the 54th are given room to develop, Broderick’s Shaw initially coming across as ineffectual but showing a grasp of how he needs to lead his soldiers, making the difficult decision to treat Searles just like all the other men, and Forbes in more or less the same manner.

Shaw’s determination that his soldiers be treated like anyone else fighting for the cause is noble, and his reluctant, but inevitable, suggestion that his regiment should lead the assault on Fort Wagner both moving and gut-wrenching (attacking Fort Wagner first was a suicide mission, more or less: the South Park movie must have had this film partially in mind for one of its jokes). Amongst the ranks, the cool, common sense of Morgan Freeman and the scared but unflagging determination of Searles are commendable.

But if the film belongs to anyone, it is Denzel Washington. A nasty, taunting son-of-a-gun with aspirations to be a Presidential candidate, Trip is also a fierce fighter and at heart, fiercely loyal. All Trip wants is the respect of those who mocked him, and Washington’s achievement in making him both objectionable and sympathetic is considerable. In fact, the performances from all the black cast contain a profound dignity, no more so than in the blues-driven prayers on the night before the assault on Fort Wagner. This moment is powerfully emotional and because the music comes from the group, feels absolutely natural.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for much of the other music in the film. James Horner’s score makes extensive use of a boys’ choir, which in more than one place is terribly overbearing. It is as if Zwick didn’t quite trust the pull of the story, so emphasised the music to drive the mood of the film along. In fact the obtrusiveness of the voices detracts from the mood rather than adding to it, when a quieter (and perhaps less obviously militaristic) score would have had greater effect.

Whilst I’m complaining, I should say that Glory does smack a little of trying too hard to redress a balance: why does it have to be the case that all the bad guys are white – even on the Unionist side, only Shaw and the ultra-liberal Forbes are shown in a positive light – while all the black guys are not only really good guys (eventually), but also really good soldiers? I have no doubt that all the events in Glory are based on good history, but a bit more ambivalence in some of the characters (in response, say, to the Confederates’ death sentence on the whole regiment) would have made the film feel more grounded in reality.

Nevertheless, the men who made up the 54th regiment are worth celebrating as pioneers in American history, helping Lincoln’s Unionists to win the war and – in their way – pave the way for real African-American Presidential candidates, though of course the road from 1863 to 2008 was far from smooth. Glory is epically cinematic, perhaps too cinematic to ring completely true as an historical account; but the story that is told, and the evident dignity of the men who fought for a just cause, makes the film one that will not easily fade from the memory.

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Napoleon Dynamite

WFTB Score: 15/20

The plot: Loner Napoleon and his brother Kip are left to fend for themselves (and a llama) when their grandmother has a quad bike accident on the dunes. Pigskin-wielding Uncle Rico arrives to look after them and soon starts interfering in their affairs, including Napoleon’s High School Prom and fledgling political career.

A refreshing antidote to a slew of high school movies, Napoleon Dynamite takes high school staples and plays around with them, using the simple trick of making the school’s beautiful people not very beautiful and working down from there. Napoleon is initially presented as a bullied loner, a weirdo with a weird family. But as he goes through the school year with its familiar mileposts of the school dance and election, he gains friends and admirers – okay, a friend and an admirer – in his campaign to help fellow outsider Pedro become school president.

And that, essentially, is it. Napoleon Dynamite is a contained, understated film whose humour comes across so subtly, without a hint of mugging by the actors, that it comes within a whisker of underselling itself as a low-budget oddity. But this is the key to the film’s appeal: the characters are funny because they take themselves entirely seriously. Too often comedies suffer because the actors think they are so funny, characterisation is optional (Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn et al, I’m looking at you). Here, Jon Heder is excellent in the title role and Efren Ramirez as Pedro underplays nicely.

Credit too to Tina Majorino as Deb, the mousy love interest with whom Napoleon shares a sweet, chaste romance. In other films, Deb and Napoleon would both undergo a miraculous makeover and dazzle their fellow students at the prom; but true to the rest of the film, the couple get no closer than a brief touch of hands and a game of tetherball. Napoleon’s highpoint in the whole movie is the exhibition of dancing skills in support of Pedro’s presidential campaign, after which he promptly flees the stage.

Mention should also be made of Aaron Ruell, superb as Napoleon’s man-child brother Kip; indeed he almost steals the film. Kip finds love on the internet and although his belle is not the ‘sandy blonde’ he believes he has been chatting with, his courtship is both funny and touching. Amongst these delicate flowers aggressive salesman Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) is rather overpowering, but this is the point of his character and deep down he is a tragic figure, regretting the past desperately enough to buy and attempt to use an excruciatingly painful ‘time machine’ from the Internet.

Napoleon’s world is not explicitly set in a particular time. Although the VCRs, Tupperware, clothes and hairstyles strongly evoke the 1980s, we are allowed to infer that the Dynamites, and the town of Preston as a whole, are merely behind the times. I am in no way qualified to say whether this is a comment on the State of Idaho, but if it is a joke it’s an affectionate one.

Ultimately the film runs out of steam, partly because this is what comedies tend to do; but there is also a sense that Napoleon and company only have these short, small-town stories within them. Nevertheless, the tale is positive, and silly in the best sense of the word. Napoleon is a man who does the right thing at the right time: he is a hero, and a romantic hero at that. Napoleon Dynamite is not a film that demands to be seen time and again: but it deserves to be seen once.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

WFTB Score: 15/20

The plot: A subway train is seized by four armed robbers who take eighteen passengers hostage and cause New York Transit Authority police officer Zachary Garber a massive headache. As the callous leader of the gang demands $1 million and threatens to kill a hostage for every minute the money is late, the authorities race to get them the cash without loss of life. However, the gang of four are unpredictable, fractious and as dangerous to each other as to the passengers.

Lieutenant Zachary Garber (Walther Matthau) of the New York Transit Authority Police has a pressing excuse to cut short a tour he’s giving to Japanese visitors when the subway train designated Pelham One Two Three makes an unscheduled stop between stations. As Garber quickly discovers, a group of robbers have taken the train, or at least part of it, hostage.

Though they are dressed identically, the colour-coded robbers are a disparate group: clear-thinking, ruthless leader Mr Blue (Robert Shaw); taciturn Mr Brown (Earl Hindman); edgy ex-mafia man Mr Grey (Hector Elizondo), who shows an unsettling relish in his work; and sniffly Mr Green (Martin Balsam), who doesn’t want anyone to get hurt and worries that he’s not going to see out the day.

When Garber calls to find out what’s going on, Blue explains their demands: they want $1 million from the city, and to make sure they get it, they will kill a hostage for every minute the money is delayed. Garber tries to reason with Blue and keep his mixed bag of hostages alive, but it’s not as if those around him have a single objective either: Coordinator Frank Correll (Dick O‘Neill) just wants to keep the train network running; Garber’s boss Rico (Jerry Stiller) just wants to read his paper; and the beleaguered, bed-ridden mayor doesn’t care what happens as long as it improves his poll ratings. With the clock ticking, Garber has to keep Blue in the dark about the slow progress of the money, all the while hoping that a plain-clothes officer on the train will spring into action. In any event, he doesn’t see how the robbers can possibly get out of the subway system alive: for some of them, he’s absolutely right.

The thing that instantly hits you about James Sargeant’s adaptation of John Godey’s novel is how completely unfussy and unshowy it is. The ‘taking’ of the train happens early on and the drama unfolds in an uncomplicated but effective manner, the action presented in a fluid, matter-of-fact fashion and delivered with a sly sense of humour: ‘What do they expect for their lousy 35 cents,’ Correll says as the drama escalates, ’to live forever?’

As it rolls along, the film introduces a host of colourful characters, from the woman in the control room whose sanitary needs have caused no end of trouble, to the mayor’s pushy deputy, Warren (Tony Roberts). Nobody stops to explain themselves or the situation, they just get on with the job (I wish I could say the same about many of today‘s bloated blockbusters). Matthau (grumpy) and Shaw (chilling) are excellent, and they are amply supported by their colleagues and cohorts. Not all of the extended cast are equally effective – the mayor in particular is treated as a figure of fun and quickly forgotten about – but in general there’s an organic and natural feel to the story, with a wonderfully brash and authentic New York quality to the performances (including those of the hostages, none of whom are particularly developed but who represent the diversity of New York’s population).

Because it’s presented so briskly, it’s that much easier to get swept along with the story as the minutes tick down and the money is counted, then driven at high speed through Manhattan. In truth, the climax is not as effective as it might be, as Garber joins Inspector Daniels (Julius Harris) to chase the robbers overground whilst they squabble amongst themselves (and the train speeds along with the help of obviously sped-up film). Also, the ‘what happened to Green’ coda makes for a strangely low-key ending, although the very satisfying pay-off sends you away with a smile.

I’ve tried not to mention Tony Scott’s stony-faced remake as it quite obviously has nothing to do with the making of this film. It may well be the case that I need to revisit my review of that film and put all this there, but the points of difference are obvious and nearly all of them are in the original’s favour. Scott (or scriptwriter Brian Helgeland) reworks the story to suit the casting of two major stars, combining Correll and Garber into a single personality and loading him with a redundant corruption backstory, whilst Travolta is the whole gang of bad guys rolled into one sweary madman. Denzel Washington’s Garber gets himself into the action in a much more direct way, which works according to the demands of the modern action film, but it comes at the cost of personality, atmosphere and audience involvement. In this film, you have a real sense of the city and feel for the hostages, for Garber, even a little for Green: in the remake, there’s only room for the egos of the two stars – and you don’t really care much for either of them.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three contains pretty much everything you could ask of a heist movie, which explains why so many films (not least Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs) have copied it, though rarely with the same success as the original. It’s not perfect, with a slightly uneven tone and elements that date it – even allowing for its underground location, the film looks murky, and it’s really not nice to call people ‘monkeys’ – but it’s skillfully written, acted and put together, without a single editing trick in sight. I’d take this Pelham over Scott’s version any day.

Frozen

WFTB Score: 15/20

The plot: Elsa’s magical abilities with snow and ice come at the heavy price of loneliness for her and younger sister Anna. When Elsa’s coronation results in the revelation of her secret, she flees, causing a perpetual winter that paralyses the kingdom of Arendelle. Anna must use all of her resourcefulness, and seek help from some strange companions, to find her newly-free sibling.

Like most sisters, Elsa and Anna, princesses of Arendelle, love playing with each other; however, Anna has special reason to love Elsa, as the older girl can magic up snow and ice from her hands at will. An accident injures Anna and although she’s healed by mountain trolls (who also remove her memories of Elsa’s gift), the King and Queen are scared enough to close their castle gates and separate Elsa from Anna. Even the loss of the parents doesn’t reunite the girls, with Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) reaching out to Elsa (Idina Menzel) only to be rebuffed.

Coronation day arrives and Anna can’t wait to meet people, while Elsa can only repeat the mantra ‘conceal, don’t feel’ in an attempt to control her growing powers. Anna meets the handsome prince Hans (Santino Fontana) and they seize the moment by agreeing to marry; Elsa, however, refuses to give her blessing and, as Anna argues, Elsa’s magic bursts out, plunging Arendelle into a freezing winter. Elsa flees to the mountains to embrace her freedom, while Anna races after her, forced to lean on ice harvester Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his friendly reindeer Sven for support; they encounter charmingly naïve snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) on the way. Surely Hans will only think of Anna’s well-being as he assumes control of Arendelle on her behalf? And surely learning of Arendelle’s plight will be enough to bring Elsa back to make things right?

There are so many pleasures, great and small, to be found in Frozen that it’s tempting to do nothing but list the good stuff. More than anything, the characters really live in both the excellent vocal work and expressive animation, from fretful Elsa and the wonderfully optimistic Anna – estranged sisters with thoroughly believable emotions – to surly Kristoff and too-good-to-be-true Hans, plus the fascinating quirks of Olaf and minor players such as Wandering Oaken and the Duke of Weselton.

The screenplay for the most part treads exactly the right path, providing laughs, scares and (forgive me, no other phrase will do) heart-warming entertainment that can truly be enjoyed by all ages, bolstered by witty and tuneful songs. The climax in particular provides high-quality drama, with a novel denouement that subverts the traditions of resolution through ‘true love’, supplying a message without being at all heavy-handed.

Frozen is amusing, moving, thrilling and charming by turns, and then – of course – it has its Big Moment. Let it Go is the showstopper to end all showstoppers, a stirring, powerful number that begins with Elsa’s despair and builds – lyrically, musically and visually – to a defiant statement of self-empowerment. It’s really that good, and if it doesn’t quite have the bounce of the similarly-themed Hakuna Matata or the warmth of Beauty and the Beast’s main theme, a billion girls and boys will tell you that it’s as catchy as hell.

All of which said, as someone who’s seen Wicked, it would be remiss not to mention Let it Go’s relationship to that musical’s Big Moment, Defying Gravity. I don’t think you could reasonably accuse the writers Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson Lopez of copying Stephen Schwartz’s music or lyrics; but there is a definite sense that both songs are serving exactly the same self-affirmative purpose within the larger piece. How much this sense is driven by Idina Menzel’s soaring voice, and how much by conscious decisions on where the story should go, is anyone’s guess.

Futhermore, while it’s not the case that the song is too good for the rest of the movie, Let it Go certainly casts a long shadow over the remaining musical numbers: Olaf’s In Summer is good fun but comes at a point where the film doesn’t need to stop for yet another song, while Fixer Upper has a host of issues. Musically, it’s a strange, frenetic mixture of gospel, show tune, all kinds of chord changes and everything bar the kitchen sink; and its (perfectly decent) lyrics and upbeat tone are at complete odds with what’s happening to Anna, as demonstrated by the jarring gear shift as soon as it finishes. Frozen could easily be 10-15 minutes shorter without losing anything of real significance.

I’m not too keen on the duets (if that’s the term) where Anna and Elsa are singing their own lines in the same song either, but that’s by comparison with great examples such as The Confrontation in Les Mis.

I do have other nits to pick – specifically, I’m not convinced by Kristoff being ‘adopted’ by the trolls (where were his parents?) – but these have to be seen in the context of an overwhelmingly positive experience, and one which (amazingly) doesn’t pall on repeat viewings. Weary adults may feel the need to pop out of the room from time to time, but in general you’d have to have a cold, cold heart not to get a kick out of Frozen.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

WFTB Score: 15/20

The plot: Uptight marketing executive Neal Page, desperate to fly from New York to Chicago for Thanksgiving, is thrown into company with slobbish shower curtain-ring salesman Del Griffith. The flight home curtailed, the two men endure each other’s company as they try to get back to their families by any means they can.

John Hughes, best known as writer of teen-centred movies like The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, here writes and sits in the director’s chair for a film focusing on two very different adults’ efforts to get back to Chicago in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. Although family is the core theme and motivation behind the story, giving the film something of the feel of updated Frank Capra, it wisely avoids showing too much of the family eagerly awaiting Daddy, concentrating instead on the tribulations of the mismatched travellers.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles is essentially a two-hander, pitting Steve Martin’s repressed achiever Neal Page against John Candy’s affable average Joe, Del Griffith. The two are chalk and cheese and most of the comedy comes not from the outlandish situations they find themselves in – though these are plenty funny – but the relationship they develop through the nightmare journey. At times content to rub along together, at others rubbing each other up the wrong way, Martin and Candy are chalk and cheese, and inspired casting. Martin explodes with apoplectic rage when the world doesn’t work exactly as it should; Candy rolls with the punches and, for a very good reason, lets nothing upset him. But more of that later.

From the start, Griffith gets in Page’s way, Del’s trunk causing Neal to lose a taxi to the airport. The flight they both ultimately get is re-routed and circumstances lead to both men staying in the same hotel room overnight. This whole scene sets the film up beautifully, as the pair first display their resentment towards each other, then cosy up unconsciously overnight. The reaction of the men to discovering their intimacy next morning (Martin: ‘Those aren’t PILLOWS!!’) is fondly remembered as a classic scene in film comedy.

The tortuous progress home contains a lot of laughs and not too much contrivance (the swapped credit cards and young burglar spring to mind), but one scene, at the car rental desk, sticks out as out of character with the rest of the film. Martin’s constant swearing when venting his suppressed fury at the desk clerk was something I had not seen before – the film is usually considered suitable for early evening broadcast, with this bit heavily edited – and the joke adds very little, in my opinion. If the rest of the film were like Trainspotting it would be entirely in context, but then it would be an entirely different sort of movie.

Anyway, it’s not all laughs. The tragedy behind Candy’s character is not that he will be late to see his family, but that he does not have a family to see, his beloved wife having passed away eight years previously. Hughes displays his skill as a writer in dropping clues throughout that lead the viewer and Neal to this discovery at about the same time; and it is a testament to John Candy that he conveys and conceals this sadness at the same time as, on the surface, coming across as a good-natured oaf.

It’s a triumph, too, that the story is resolved without dissolving into hopelessly mawkish sentimentality; and whilst schmaltz isn’t entirely avoided (would the Pages really welcome a stranger into their house with open arms?), none of the emotion is forced on the viewer, Martin and Candy showing restraint and honesty which marks them out as not only great comic actors, but good actors full stop. While the film is perfect viewing for ‘The Holidays,’ the two central performances make Planes, Trains and Automobiles a worthwhile experience at any time.

Edward Scissorhands

WFTB 15/20

The plot: Brought down from his gothic retreat by well-meaning Avon lady Peg, a young man with scissors for hands causes a rumpus in Peg’s insular, gossipy community. Some of the locals eye Edward with suspicion, others with lust, while others still just make use of his incredible creativity. Edward himself only has eyes for Peg’s beautiful daughter Kim, but she is wary of his soft personality and sharp accessories.

A career as an Avon lady may not be everyone’s dream, but good-hearted Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest) gives it everything she’s got, even if her friends and neighbours aren’t always delighted to receive her calls. After a particularly frustrating day, she notices the enormous, brooding castle at the end of the close and pays it a visit. Within, she finds Edward (Johnny Depp), a strange, pale young man in appearance but the creation of inventor Vincent Price, who died before he finished the job, leaving Edward with razor-sharp scissors where his hands should be.

Edward is welcomed with equanimity by Peg’s husband Bill (Alan Arkin) and enthusiasm by young son Kevin (Robert Oliveri), but when teenage daughter Kim (Winona Ryder) comes back unexpectedly from an outing with oikish jock boyfriend Jim (Anthony Michael Hall), she’s unsurprisingly terrified to see the freakish-looking Edward in her waterbed. Edward, meanwhile, is smitten by Kim, and despite the keen attentions of the amazed townsfolk, not least Kathy Baker’s voracious Joyce, he only cares about her as he becomes the centre of attention for the town’s topiary, dog grooming and hairdressing needs. Driven by jealousy, Jim frames Edward for a burglary at his house; and as he loses his innocence, his passion for Kim escalates with tragic consequences – and all around Christmastime, too.

It may now seem hard to believe, but once upon a time a Tim Burton gothic fantasy starring Johnny Depp as an unworldly hero, complete with idiosyncratic Danny Elfman score, was a cause for keen anticipation rather than weary eye-rolling; and if you’re not pre-disposed to enjoy fantasy movies, you will find plenty to pick at in the pair’s first collaboration. The plot is a pretty thin affair, the characters moving around in not always convincing ways to advance the tale. It’s particularly dismissive of Jim – bad lad or not, presumably someone loves him – and nice though it is to see Vincent Price (for the last time), Edward’s backstory doesn’t entirely hang together; the evolution of the inventor’s machines, from vaguely humanoid food preparation tools (and for whom exactly is the food being made?) to a speaking, thinking being with the sharp blades still attached, requires the viewer to suspend all their reasoning faculties.

On the other hand…the Princess Bride-like framing device, which sees an aged Kim retelling the tale to her sleepy granddaughter as the reason it snows every Christmas, firmly roots Edward Scissorhands in the realm of fairytale, a modern one in which Pinocchio meets Frankenstein via Nightmare on Elm Street. The idea of a pure ‘love above all’ may seem soppy, but the theme is appropriate and Ryder is perfectly lovely as Kim, even if she’s barely stretched as an actress.

However, the real emotional pull of the film comes from Edward’s infinite sadness at being denied physical contact with his creator, his beloved, or anyone else, conveyed effectively in Burton and Caroline Thompson’s script (consider the exchange during Edward’s appearance on TV: ‘If you had regular hands you wouldn’t be special’ – ‘I know’; or the heartbreaking, immortal lines ‘Hold me’ – ‘I can’t.’) Depp disappears into the role and winkles every ounce of anger, longing and comedy from a nearly mute role in wonderfully Chaplinesque fashion, even if that description also embodies the great man’s occasionally saccharine pathos. To offset its sweetness, the film keeps the viewer on edge, repeatedly reminding them of the sharpness of Edward’s blades and keeping them in constant suspense that he’s going to harm someone or, more probably, himself.

As well as its love story, Edward Scissorhands revels in the idea of the outsider and the mainstream, the majority’s mistrust of non-conformity, religious conservatism’s sanctimonious hatred of difference and the way a crowd’s fascination can turn, through spite and misinformation, into a baying mob. It also represents the artist’s struggle to be different in a world where the masses accept what they’re sold (and thereby, if you subscribe to the theory that Depp is essentially playing Burton, the director’s struggle for acceptance of his quirky vision).

It’s also a story of the corruption of [childhood] innocence, through alcohol, sex, violence, capitalism and what have you. However, the film somehow avoids feeling overloaded, due to the apparent ease with which Burton creates images that are both striking and meaningful. There are too many examples to list here, but Winona dancing in the snowflakes of the ice sculpture and the gothic castle perched at the end of the wonderfully-designed housing estate are amongst the more obvious.

Of course, the questioning viewer has every right to ask why the inventor’s dilapidated pile has been left undisturbed for so long, but the absurd, brilliant juxtaposition of the idealised, pastel-coloured houses and forbidding, monstrous castle is surely all the answer you need. Anyway, there is a psychological answer, namely that Peg, bored out of her mind, is prepared to visit the dark places that the town’s other residents shun in favour of the familiar and quotidian. Wiest is excellent, while Arkin plays Bill with a hilarious disregard of Edward’s uniqueness.

Edward Scissorhands is almost certainly a case of the whole being greater than its already commendable parts, a mixture of mood, setting, subject and theme which comes together to incredibly impressive effect, helping to obscure the fact that the story itself is ultimately a corny mash-up of B-Movie material, I was a Teenage Frankenstein’s Monster’s Lover if you will. It’s lazy to trot out the line that Burton and Depp make the same film over and over again, since Sweeney Todd and Sleepy Hollow are different beasts to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Ed Wood. Nonetheless, they have rarely bettered their first collaboration, so who could blame them for – just now and then – revisiting the old stomping ground for a smidgen of inspiration?

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

WFTB Score: 15/20

The plot: When cartoon prop-provider Marvin Acme is murdered, suspicion falls upon Roger Rabbit, clumsy Toon and jealous husband of voluptuous chanteuse Jessica. Brought in to take incriminating photos of Marvin and Jessica, private dick Eddie Valiant has personal reasons for ignoring Roger’s desperate pleas for help; however, something about the case – most importantly Acme’s missing will – lures Valiant away from the bottle and into the path of the terrifying Judge Doom.

It’s 1947, Tinseltown’s Golden Age of animation; cartoon stars like Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse and Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer) work cheek by jowl with the humans and live a short ride away in nearby Toontown. Once upon a time, private detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) was a reliable pal of the Toons, but since one of their number dropped a piano on his brother Teddy’s head, he’s steered clear of them to concentrate on boozing his life away, much to the dismay of sometime ladyfriend Dolores (Joanna Cassidy).

So it’s with little enthusiasm that Eddie accepts a job from studio boss R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern) to tail Roger’s comely wife Jessica (Betsy Brantley’s movements, Kathleen Turner when speaking and Amy Irving when singing Why Don’t You Do Right?) to see if she’s playing around with Toontown’s owner Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye); and even though he’s knocked out by Jessica’s seductive allure, Eddie takes little pleasure in passing on photos of the pair playing pattycake.

The next day, Acme turns up dead and the finger points at Roger, making him a target for Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd), an intimidating lawmaker with a gang of vicious weasels and barrels full of Toon-erasing ‘dip’ that he’s itching to use. Initially, Roger’s pleas to Eddie to help fall on deaf ears; but Roger’s such an unlikely murderer that the detective starts asking questions, especially about Jessica’s part in the crime. He needs answers fast, because by midnight Toontown will belong to the shadowy Cloverleaf Industries – unless Acme’s missing will turns up and reveals the rightful inheritors.

Let’s get the easy bits out of the way first. Firstly, whether you’re nostalgic about the cartoons or not, it’s such a joy to see so many famous characters sharing the same screen that the odd omission – no Popeye? – hardly matters. From Fleischer studios we have Betty Boop; from Tex Avery, Droopy; from Walter Lantz, Woody Woodpecker; from Warner Bros’ Looney Tunes there’s a host: Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and cameos from the likes of Tweety Pie and Yosemite Sam; and there’s naturally a generous complement of Disney’s finest, including Mickey Mouse, Dumbo, several Dwarves and most of the cast of Fantasia. Although (as I’ve said elsewhere) I have no particular affection for Mickey or his friends, it would be foolish to ignore their vital place in animation history; furthermore, the sequence between Donald and Daffy Duck is a brilliant reminder of what cartoons can do at their best.

Secondly, the film is assembled with great skill. Films combining animation and live action are far from new, of course – Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks come to mind – but Roger Rabbit takes the concept to new levels of interaction, using puppetry to move solid objects around in a pleasingly three dimensional way (though some computer wizardry is no doubt used here, another year or two and the whole thing would’ve been done with soulless CGI). There’s also a lovely contrast when Valiant visits Toontown and becomes the sole ‘real’ character in a crazy cartoon world.

Hoskins is perfectly cast as Valiant, heavyweight enough to convince as a world-weary private eye (a beautifully economical sweep of the office fills us in on his past), yet nimble enough to play the clown when necessary, while Lloyd makes for a terrifying Judge Doom and Cassidy provides a robust love interest. Mel Blanc is thankfully on hand to provide Bugs and co. with their voices, while Kathleen Turner oozes danger and passion as Jessica, not least in the immortal line “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way”. Charles Fleischer makes Roger an endearingly screwy optimist, though you might argue that he’s close to being sidelined in his own movie.

So what’s not to like? Well, there’s the tricky issue of the film’s tone. Who Framed Roger Rabbit leans heavily on corruption movies such as Gilda and Chinatown, and while this movie isn’t as brutal as the latter, it’s certainly not without violence – and I don’t just mean the cartoon violence dished out to Roger by Baby Herman. Maroon gets shot in the back – twice – while Doom’s execution of a cute cartoon shoe, leaving the Judge with a blood-red glove, is so disturbing that it’s always cut from television broadcasts.

More troubling, perhaps, is Jessica’s irrepressible sensuality; it’s natural for a cartoon to emphasise prominent features, but Jessica’s body shape and sultry manner are not exactly kiddie-friendly (Baby Herman, not a character I particularly like, also makes a tasteless sexual joke). She was certainly too hot for Disney, who shifted the film to its Touchstone division because of its risqué content.

On the whole, though, the movie gets it right: better to anticipate a discerning audience (and let TV cut bits out if they wish) than play safe and have the film turn out twee and saccharine; who says cartoons have to be for kids anyway? However, parents of younger children charmed by Roger’s inoffensiveness should be aware that the film has a few distinctly adult moments, Lloyd’s intense performance in particular containing plenty of nightmare fuel.

Much more than just a work of technical prowess, Who Framed Roger Rabbit stands as a loving tribute to Hollywood animation, with a decent film noir story and some surprisingly adult elements. Time only adds to its reputation: subsequent failures Space Jam and Looney Tunes: Back in Action have proven how tricky it can be to get live-action/animation movies right. Personally, I think it’s a shame that Robert Zemeckis has moved on to working with motion-capture; Roger Rabbit may be overly scary and overtly sexy at times, but most of Polar Express is a lot more disturbing than this funny and exciting offering.