Disney has certainly been the mainstay for classic animation and entertainment, 80 years after the first Disney animated feature, Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs, it’s still seen by many as a classic as well as many of the Disney animated classics that have come out since then. Disney has also found success and longevity with their live-action movies such as Mary Poppins, Tron, and many of the Marvel and Star Wars movies that have come out in the last decade.
But yet, there’s one classic Disney movie that a lot of people have mostly seemed to forget about it, including Disney itself as you don’t see it around as much as the other classic movies, and that is Who Framed Roger Rabbit:
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a 1988 American live-action/animated fantasy neo-noir film directed by Robert Zemeckis, produced by Frank Marshall and Robert Watts, and written by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman. The film is based on Gary K. Wolf’s 1981 novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? The film stars Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Charles Fleischer, Stubby Kaye, and Joanna Cassidy. Combining live-action and animation, the film is set in Hollywood during the late 1940s, where animated characters and people co-exist. The story follows Eddie Valiant, a private detective who must exonerate “Toon” Roger Rabbit, who is accused of murdering a wealthy businessman.
There’s really no need to explain how good the movie is because as I’ve talked about so many times on this site, it’s one of my all-time favorite movies, it’s a classic movie on so many levels.
But what we do need to talk about is the fact that Who Framed Roger Rabbit does not seem to get much of the attention that you would think it would have.
Just for the production history on this film alone, it deserves to get a lot more attention for what it accomplished with the technology of the time.
For a movie like this, it had to take a long time to put together and it definitely did. This movie took nearly 2 1/2 years to put together and this is where I feel that this puts Roger Rabbit up there with the greatest movies of all time.
First off, the film started shooting back in mid 1986, a near two years before the movie was released.
Secondly, the animation process took almost a year a half to be put together mostly because this was still back when animators didn’t use computers, every single shot of animation used in the film was hand-drawn. Think about that, nearly 82,000 stills of animation hand-drawn. Had any of those drawings had been messed up, who knows how disastrous that would’ve been? They would’ve had to go back and start from scratch all over again.
Third, most of the effects had to be done on the set. The club scene alone had so much stuff that was done by puppeteers that a lot of those shots had to be timed right in order to get it done perfectly. Scenes like that add a lot of pressure to the process and when it’s done right, it works and a lot of the scenes in this movie worked incredibly well and the effects used worked very well.
Lastly, and most importantly why this needs to get more attention, this movie helped to relaunch the second golden age of American animation. Up until Roger Rabbit, animation had been at a low mark and you can tell that most of the animation coming out in the early 80s wasn’t really thought out. For every Secret Of NIMH or An American Tail, you had The Care Bears Movie and especially The Black Cauldron.
With Roger Rabbit, it lead to animation become reliable again not only in Disney with Oliver & Company, The Little Mermaid, Beauty & The Beast, The Rescuers Down Under, Aladdin, and The Lion King but other studios started to take animation more seriously, which of course lead to all the great Warner Bros. animated shows of the early 90s, Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Pinky & The Brain, and Freakazoid.
That’s where the movie puts itself as one of the greatest movies ever made in my opinion because of how much Roger Rabbit had a significant cultural impact on what would happen to animation in the coming years.
And there are people who could easily make the argument that it was the successes of The Little Mermaid and The Simpsons that led to the second golden age of animation BUT….Roger Rabbit was the reason why that second golden age began.
This was a gigantic gamble for Disney, when Disney first greenlit the project, the budget had to be dropped from the originally planned $50 million to $30 million, which at the time still made it the most expensive animated film ever green-lit. Turns out, it would eventually go back to $50 million. It got so high that at one point then president of Disney Michael Eisner seriously considered shutting down production, but Jeffrey Katzenberg talked him out of it. Despite the budget escalating to over $50 million, Disney moved forward on production because they were enthusiastic to work with Spielberg. So, you can criticize Jeffrey Katzenberg for some of his business practices at both Disney and DreamWorks but give him credit for his passion to not only get this project made but also work with some great legends in Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis.
Eventually, the film did not only become a gigantic hit, both critically and financially, making $329 million worldwide and being bested only by Rain Man for the top movie of 1988, but Roger Rabbit eventually became a successful new addition to the Disney character family appearing in several specials such as Mickey’s 60th Birthday that November on NBC:
And even a series of shorts that were released in theaters with films such as Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, Dick Tracy, and A Far Off Place:
So, for about a decade after Roger Rabbit’s release, many of the characters still showed up in various projects from Disney but then as the new millennium began, Roger Rabbit kind of fell off of Disney’s radar, you could still end up seeing Who Framed Roger Rabbit on TV when TBS would play it on occasion and then later down the line, Cartoon Network and The Hub/Discovery Family would air the movie on occasion but other than that, not much else.
You can still see Roger Rabbit stuff occasionally in Disneyland in Mickey’s Toontown and also at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in select parts of the park but other than that, again, not much else. In fact, parts of the areas in Hollywood Studios that were solely dedicated to look like Roger Rabbit sets like the Acme factory have now been removed with Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge currently being built at the parks at the time of this post.
Which now leads to the question, why doesn’t Who Framed Roger Rabbit get the proper attention it deserves? Why does it get passed over unlike most of the other Disney live-action movies?
Maybe what it comes down to is that Disney has just so many classics to their name, they spend more time focusing on the stuff that makes them the money more than the things that doesn’t. I mean, they barely spent any real promotion marketing the 25th anniversary Blu-Ray release in 2013, just one trailer and that’s about it.
With its’ 30th anniversary coming up in 2018, one can only hope that Disney actually does at least something to mark the anniversary of the film because as I said in my original review for the film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a movie that comes around every once in a while like E.T. or Citizen Kane that manages to be both an overall great movie but a great film achievement. I give kudos to director Robert Zemeckis, the writers, the cast, the animators, the technicians, and everyone involved for making one of the most perfectly made, perfectly told movies ever made.
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