— by CAM SMITH —
Last week, I wrote a piece concerning some recently released clips from the approaching Jim Carrey-starring update of “A Christmas Carol” — see it here — in which I made some pretty snarky, dismissive comments regarding Robert Zemeckis’ decade-long dedication to the all-motion-capture cinematic process, and the films which have resulted from it (i.e.: “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf”).
While I remain firmly in the corner of the camp who believes that the director’s obsession with subjecting movie-goers to an on-going series of impersonal-feeling technological trial runs has become something of a tiresome fool’s errand, I suspect that my withering criticisms were ultimately only a snap-defense to mask my real feelings regarding the issue.
Well, the truth of the matter is that I just really, truly miss the old Robert Zemeckis, the Zemeckis who was famous for crafting fantastically heartfelt popcorn confections which wowed, moved and, in some cases, even challenged us. The gifted showman who took us “Back to the Future” three wonderful times, thrilled us with the richly comic “African Queen”-esque adventure yarn “Romancing the Stone” and lovingly spun the emotionally mature crowd-pleasing tales “Forrest Gump” and “Cast Away.”
Perhaps, most of all, I miss the sensitive friend to geeks the world over, who tackled serious sci-fi (like “Contact”) when it was out of vogue, deliciously mixed Hitchcock with ghost stories (such as “What Lies Beneath”) and made us all shriek with cackling delight every week by bringing the televised “Tales From the Crypt” into our homes.
Yet, I thought I had found a cause for thankful relief in recent days, with the oft-great director announcing his intentions to pull one of his most beloved creations out of mothballs, with a proper sequel to the Oscar-winning visionary dazzler “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”
In a juicy comment made to the folks at MTV Movies Blog last April, Zemeckis enigmatically mentioned that all of his mo-cap animation-fuelled work had him “starting to think about Roger Rabbit” again. Holy hopping hares, could it be true?
Now, although most sequel rumors tend to bristle my cinephile tail-feathers — especially when in regards to 20-year-old classics — there’s actually a certain amount of merit to the notion of taking a detour back into Toontown. That particular universe allows for endless avenues of story-telling and, due to its inside-Hollywood setting, a veritable smorgasbord of historical La-La Land time periods to lampoon and run hog-wild with.
While it’s doubtful that the new film, which is being written by returning original writers Peter Seaman and Jeffrey Price, will follow in the foot-steps of the long-ago abandoned prequel concept, dubbed “Toon Platoon” — read a detailed synopsis and script review of it over at CC2K: The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom — which involved the WWII-era origin story adventures of Roger and co., it seems reasonable to believe that it will be equally dissimilar story-wise to the 1988 smash-hit.
My modest suggestion? To see Toontown, transitioning from the post-war years — where the darkly ambiguous popular noir genre (the template and inspiration for “Who Framed Roger Rabbit) has fallen out of fashion in favor of more morally upstanding genres which better reflect the country’s newfound national optimism and belief in family values — into the more uncertain and complex Eisenhower years. We could see Roger, Jessica, Babby Herman, et al., initially cutting up in madcap style through a variety of period movie staples, such as the wholesome, colorful western or the soapy romantic weeper, before being confronted by the startling and unwelcome arrival of the ultra-serious Method actors and the complex, emotional dramas of the early ’50s. (Heck, maybe Zemeckis could pull from his “Gump” bag of tricks and insert brief, tasteful cameos from luminaries like John Wayne, Cary Grant or Marlon Brando …).
In the midst of attempting to figure out their place in this new Hollywood paradigm, the toons could find their situation further complicated by the McCarthy red-scare craze, which forces Roger, a wrongfully suspected communist, to name names!
Whew, at any rate, hopefully you can see from my overly-zealous example how revisiting “Roger Rabbit” could be the best kind of a story continuation; a sequel which takes all the best elements of the original and properly advances the story by transplanting it someplace fresh, unique and, with a little bit of luck, riotous fun. Resist the overwhelming urge to redden with irritation at the prospect of a follow-up film — a completely understandable reaction — and just think about the opportunities for a second or two. You may just be a bit surprised how much exciting potential exists within this whispered-about project.
So, dang it all, that a tremendously disconcerting new conversation took place between Zemeckis and MTV during the press rounds for “A Christmas Carol”, wherein it was revealed that the director is hell-bent on utilizing motion-capture technology in “Roger Rabbit 2.” Not for the toons, which would remain 2D, but for the characters interacting with them. *Sigh*.
Does he not realize that inserting mo-capped figures into this particular universe would disrupt the imperative dichotomy between the human world and the toon-verse? That we would possibly be dealing with unconvincing digital replicants who would appear more distracting and unsettling than a cigar-smoking baby in a diaper?
It’s comments like this that make me truly frustrated in the route Zemeckis’ career has taken. I honestly respect his dedication to movie-making innovation, and he has a strong track record of stunning, Award-winning accomplishments to his name, but his unswerving fixation on ham-fistedly forcing motion-capture movies into the hearts of a largely unimpressed public has become an almost fascinating folly.
With early buzz indicating “A Christmas Carol” to be a continuation of the empty, episodic roller-coaster antics seen in “The Polar Express” — a 3D experience which had me, normally strong of stomach, fighting waves of sweat-inducing motion-sickness for its duration — I find myself increasingly fearful for his increasingly grim professional future.
I can shrug off Zemeckis’ repeated promises/threats of an all-new mo-cap remake of “Yellow Submarine” (sorry, not a Beatles fan, but I understand the theoretical heresy of such a move), but the thought of sullying the adored world of an acknowledged modern classic simply to prove a point strikes me as the worst kind of conceit. By all means, push the boundaries with “Roger Rabbit 2,” but let’s see something impressive and novel that doesn’t feel hopelessly outdated six months after release.
Because, believe me, Mr. Zemeckis, many of us still want badly to believe in you. We just need a glimmer of hope every now and again that there’s a real and engaged flesh-and-blood storyteller behind the increasingly cold, remote façade.
Follow Cam Smith on Twitter at http://twitter.com/camspcepisodes.