So with the launch of Disney+ in the very near future I thought it would be a great idea to re-watch some classic Disney movies. While Disney+ might not be here yet, here in the UK we have the precursor to it in Disney Life.
So I made an early start this week, with cult classic, Touchstone’s ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’
Based on the novel ‘Who Censored Roger Rabbit?’ by Gary K. Wolf, the rights to the story was bought by then president of Disney, Ron Miller, shorty after it’s release in 1981. Two writers, Jeffrey Price and Peter Seaman were brought on board to develop the script. Hiring a director was more of a chore. But while that continued test footage was produced, featuring the likes of Paul Reubens as the titular character and the late Russi Taylor as Jessica Rabbit.
In 1985 new CEO Michael Eisner would reinvigorate the project, bringing onboard Amblin Entertainment (led by star director Steven Spielberg). Someone who originally expressed an interest in directing the film in the early days of Disney owning the rights, was Robert Zemeckis. He was coming off the success of directing Back to the Future, another production that featured the producing skills of Spielberg, led to Zemeckis being hired to helm Roger Rabbit the second time around.
Then it came to casting, multiple actors were considered for the lead live action role of Eddie Valliant, including Spielberg collaborator Harrison Ford, Bill Murray and Eddie Murphy, but eventually the role would land with British actor Bob Hoskins, who at the time wasn’t massively well known in Hollywood, mainly featured as a TV actor.
Roger would be recast, Charles Fleischer taking the role, as well as several other animated characters in the film. Russi Taylor would also be replaced as Jessica (though her voice will still appear in the movie as Minnie Mouse), the role going to Kathleen Turner, who performed the role uncredited.
Where they had more difficulty was deciding on a villain. They toyed with the idea of using Jessica as the villain, as well as secondary character Baby Herman, but eventually settle on a new character.
Christopher Lloyd, one of the stars of Zemeckis/Spielberg’s Back to the Future, was cast as Judge Doom. Toontown’s superior judge.
The plot would revolve around the murder of the owner of one of the biggest cartoon producing studios in Toontown, a murder the Roger would be accused of, despite his pleas of innocence. Along the way we will meet other toons you may recognise, the likes of Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and Donald Duck. Not limiting to Disney produced characters, but also encompassing the Looney Tumes of Warner Brothers Studios, like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.
The story would take us from the real world of Eddie Valliant to Toon Town, where we would eventually discover that Doom was actually the murderer and a toon, who wanted to destroy Toon Town.
A masterpiece of motion picture magic, Roger Rabbit broke down many a wall. Not only was it a great example of mixing live action and animation, it also brought together multiple studios, the likes of which very rarely happens.
With a great story and plot and some very recognisable characters and performances, Roger Rabbit stands the test of time.
Released in 1988, with a budget $50.6m, the film went on make a relatively good box office total of $329.8m. Disney believed in the story so much that they went on to build a land semi-based on the home of the toons, Toontown, at Disneyland, featuring an attraction based on the film and specifically, the character of Benny the Cab, also voiced by Fleischer.
But that was to be the last we would see of Roger. Over the years, there have been many plans for sequels, just like the book had follow ups, but these scripts have laid in mothballs, mainly due to rights, both to the story itself (Amblin claiming some rights to it) as well as the mixure of different studios characters being required). Zemeckis himself has commented on the fact that he also has worked on plans for sequels, only for them to be blocked by Disney.
So for now we have to make do with the great film we do have, as well as the land in the original Disney park and the occasional appearances the characters across the other parks.