Who Framed Roger Rabbit: The Inside Story

Neatorama presents a guest post from actor, comedian, and voiceover artist Eddie Deezen. Visit Eddie at his website or at Facebook.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a 1988 animated fantasy/comedy/film noire directed by Robert Zemeckis (who directed the live action) and Richard Williams (who was in charge of the animation sequences). The film was a revolutionary mix of live action and animation and was based on the novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf. In the novel, cartoon characters interact with real people. Before Zemeckis, Terry Giliam had been offered the directing position, but he declined, saying the job was "too technically challenging."

A common question about the film: Why no question mark in the film's title? The answer is an old Hollywood superstition that a question mark in a film's title is considered bad luck.

The actual lead role in the film is Eddie Valiant, the hard-boiled P.I. who is investigating the death of Marvin Acme. Producer Steven Spielberg's original choice for the role was Harrison Ford, but Ford's asking price was too high. Bill Murray was another early choice, but because he was so hard to locate and contact, Spielberg and Zemeckis decided to pass on him, too (when Murray read this story, he reportedly screamed, as he said he would have happily taken on the "Eddie" role).

Sylvester Stallone, Robert Redford, Jack Nicholson, and Ed Harris were all considered before character actor Bob Hoskins was finalized for the lead. To get the feel of working with imaginary characters, Hoskins studied his young daughter. After filming, Hoskins reportedly suffered from hallucinations. After he saw the film, Hoskins' young son was furious at him because his father never introduced him to Bugs Bunny! 

Christopher Lloyd, who had already worked with Zemeckis in 1985's Back to the Future, took on the lead villain role of "Judge Doom." John Cleese also auditioned for the judge, but Spielberg and Zemeckis both thought no one would take a member of Monty Python seriously as a villain.

Lloyd avoided blinking his eyes on camera in order to perfectly portray the sinister character. Judge Doom's group of weasel henchmen (Smartass, Greasy, Stupid, Wheezy, and Psycho) were a satire of Snow White's seven dwarves.

Perhaps the film's most popular character (at least among men) was Jessica Rabbit, Roger's sexy bombshell wife. Jessica was portrayed by (a strangely uncredited) Kathleen Turner. Her singing voice was provided by Spielberg's then-wife, Amy Irving.

Jessica's sultry character was reportedly based on four film femme fatales. The quadruple amalgam consisted of "Red," the sexy lounge singer made famous in Tex Avery cartoons (Red Hot Riding Hood); Rita Hayworth in Gilda; Veronica Lake with her "peek-a-boo" hairstyle; and, at Zemeckis' insistence, the "look" of Lauren Bacall.



Because of Jessica's satirically ultra-feminine form, Disney Studio boss Michael Eisner considered the final film too risqué with sexual innuendos. Director Zemeckis, however, had final cut provisions in his contract and refused to make changes, sexual or otherwise, to Jessica or her scenes. Rumors persist to this day (unsubstantiated and undocumented) regarding certain sexual scenes hidden in both the film and the later laserdisc of Jessica Rabbit and her interactions with various male characters in Roger Rabbit.

The film's title role went to a young standup comedian/actor named Charles Fleischer. Although an animated character in the film, Fleischer insisted on getting dressed as Roger before standing off-camera and feeding his lines to Bob Hoskins (this included suspenders, bow tie, floppy ears and all).

Animation director Williams explained the Roger Rabbit character, much like Jessica, as a blend of several characters. According to Williams, Roger Rabbit had "Tex Avery's cashew nut-shaped head, the swatch of red hair like Droopy's, Goofy's overalls, Porky Pig's bow tie, Mickey Mouse's gloves, and Bugs Bunny's cheeks and ears."

Never before in the rich history of animation have so many cartoon icons been brought together in the same project, be it cartoon short, television show, or motion picture. Altogether, 326 animators worked full-time on the film.



Along with star Roger Rabbit, at one point or another in the film, we see Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety Pie, Sylvester the Cat, Felix the Cat, Porky Pig, Wile E. Coyote, the Road Runner, Yosemite Sam, Mighty Mouse, Pluto, Goofy, Minnie Mouse, Daisy Duck, Foghorn Leghorn, Alice, Snow White, and others -almost too many to keep track of!

Warner Bros. insisted their two top characters, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, get as much screen time as Walt Disney's top pair, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Because of this agreement, we see the Warner Bros. characters being featured in all the same scenes as the Disney characters. Roger Rabbit features the only double appearance in the same scene of the two most popular characters in cartoon history: Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny. Also featured in the film is a memorable piano duet between Donald and Daffy Duck.



In a brilliant touch, the great Mel Blanc was hired to reprise his iconic voice characterizations of Bugs, Daffy, Tweety, Porky, and Sylvester. This was one of the last times Blanc go to voice his immortal characters before he passed away in 1989. Another unforgettable moment has Mae Questel coming back to voice Betty Boop, her legendary cartoon character from the 1920s and '30s.

Unfortunately, we do miss seeing Popeye, Tom & Jerry, Little Lulu, Caspar the Friendly Ghost, and the Terrytoon characters (except for Mighty Mouse). Sadly, legal agreements and rights to these characters were not obtained by Spielberg in time for them to be featured in the final film.

The first test audience screening of Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a complete disaster. Shown to a crowd consisting mainly of 18- to 19-year-olds, the audience hated the film and reportedly many of them actually walked out on it. The studio got cold feet and wanted to make edits, but director Zemeckis, having final cut approval, refused to change one single scene or shot.



Roger Rabbit started out with a budget of $29.9 million, at the time the most expensive budget ever for an animated film. The budget ballooned to $70 million (as the production went way over schedule) and Disney almost pulled the plug on the project more than once. Fortunately, this never happened and Who Framed Roger Rabbit premiered on June 22, 1988, to almost unanimously rave reviews. It went on to gross $330 million worldwide.

To date, Who Framed Roger RabbitRoger Rabbit remains the only animated film to garner three Academy Awards: Best Film Editing, Best Visual Effects, and Best Sound. Richard Williams also won a special achievement award for "animation direction and creation of the cartoon characters."

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a unique, wonderful, and timeless movie classic. It remains a "must see" for anyone who loves the great cartoons from the Golden Age of Animation. And who doesn't?

(YouTube link)


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An instant classic. Zemeckis was the perfect choice, and, while Fleischer was brilliant, I can't help but wonder how fabulous this would have been with the author of this blog entry in the title role - I'm pretty sure Mr. Deezen auditioned for it...
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