Why We'll Never See a Movie Like "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" Again

James Logie

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I hope you’ve seen this movie but if you haven’t, pause your reading and do what you can to go watch it.

“Who Framed Roger Rabbit” came out in 1988 and was directed by the great Robert Zemeckis.

Many people don’t know this, but the movie is actually based on a book from 1981 called Who Censored Roger Rabbit? It was a mystery novel written by Gary K. Wolf.

The key elements are there, including Eddie Valiant as the detective and Roger Rabbit as the main character. The big difference in this book is that Roger ends up being murdered.

BUT, Roger had created a doppelganger that was in on this and another crime, and a genie from a magic lamp intervenes.

The book would still be the basis for the movie as all the major characters are in it.

The book, however, is set in the modern-day, and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” would embrace the glory of old Hollywood.

How They Created The Movie

Disney was on board with this as a film since the book came out and purchased the rights in 1981.

They brought in Amblin Entertainment and Steven Spielberg to produce the movie alongside Zemeckis, who would direct it. Richard Williams would be in charge of all the animation.

The making of this movie was a massive undertaking from a technical standpoint and a legal one.

Disney had been testing footage as early as 1981, but nothing was coming together until Michael Eisner overhauled things in 1985.

To do it right, Eisner said, it would cost $50 million, which today would be around $120 million.

This seems like nothing based on how much films cost to make today. But back then, things were a bit different.

In 1985 you only just had the “Star Wars” franchise, “Back to the Future 1” had just come out, Indiana Jones was underway, and they’re just wasn’t the massive franchises we now have.

Today, studios know they have to invest more money than ever to at least break even and make a profit. Unless you’re a Marvel movie, there’s no guarantee that a film will be a hit.

Disney now owns everything so they can put half a billion into a movie and afford to take the hit if it’s not successful. Back then, it was unwise to invest too much.

Eventually, they got the budget down to $30 million, but that still made it the most expensive animated film of all time.

The Notable Cast of ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’

Besides Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd, the movie features some of the most iconic voice actors in history including:

  • Mel Blanc
  • Kathleen Turner
  • Wayne Allwine as Mickey Mouse
  • Tony Pope as Goofy
  • Mae Questel as Betty Boop (she’s also Aunt Bethany in “Christmas Vacation”)
  • A young Nancy Cartwright aka Bart Simpson provided voices for some smaller characters

As notable as these actors and performers are, it’s just as interesting to see who DIDN’T end up in the film.

Harrison Ford was the original choice to play Eddie, but was charging too much for it.

They then considered Bill Murray, but Murray wasn’t always quick to take up offers for roles and ended up missing out.

Most surprisingly, Eddie Murphy actually turned down the role.

Also, being considered: Basically all the best actors you can think of including Sylvester Stallone, Chevy Chase, Robert Redford, Robin Williams, Jack Nicholson, Ed Harris, and Charles Grodin.

Tim Curry was up for the role of Judge Doom, which also would have been perfect. Zemeckis was obviously comfortable with Christopher Lloyd after “Back to the Future.”

Apparently, the producers turned down Tim Curry as he was considered too terrifying for the role of Doom.

They also considered Christopher Lee (who would have been perfect) John Cleese, Roddy McDowall, and I’m not making this up — Sting.

Christopher Lloyd really was perfect, as he has this zany, cartoon-like sensibility to him. Also, if you watch the movie again, notice that Lloyd never blinks in any scene. Ever.

This was his way of perfectly encompassing who the character was and that he was part toon and part mad man (but not the handsome Don Draper type).

Characters in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’

There are a ton in this movie, and we covered some main ones in the cast, but here are some big characters specifically from Disney, Warner Bros, and some from smaller studios.

Disney

  • Mickey and Minnie Mouse
  • Donald and Daisy Duck
  • Goofy
  • Pluto Pete
  • Huey, Dewie, and Louie
  • Horace Horsecollar
  • Clarabelle Cow
  • Characters from The Merry Dwarfs, Flowers and Trees, Fathers Noah Ark
  • Big Bad Wolf, Little Red Riding Hood, Fiddler Pig, Fifer Pig
  • All the characters from Snow White
  • Various characters from Fantasia
  • All the characters from Dumbo
  • Bambi, Thumper, The Great Prince, Faline, and Flower
  • Chicken Little
  • Piglet
  • The Penguin Waiters from Mary Poppins
  • Peter Pan, Tinkerbell, John Darling
  • Flaps the Vulture and Kaa from the Jungle Book

Warner Bros.

  • Bugs Bunny
  • Daffy
  • Elmer Fudd
  • Porky Pig
  • Yosemite Sam
  • Tweety Bird and Sylvester
  • Foghorn Leghorn
  • Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote
  • Marvin the Martian
  • Sam Sheepdog
  • Speedy Gonzales

From Other Studios:

  • Betty Boop
  • Droopy
  • Spike
  • Woody Woodpecker
  • Felix the Cat

The Success of the Movie

It came out on June 22, 1988, and was immediately a massive hit — commercially and critically.

It won three Academy Awards and would make $156 million domestically and $329 million overall.

Converted for today that’s $340 million and $713 million, respectively.

Those are good numbers, even by today’s standards. It’s also worth pointing out that movies were shown in fewer theatres.

‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ appeared on just 1045 screens compared to the 3000 to 4000 you might have with a Marvel movie.

The movie was an animation spectacle and used old-school animation on hand-drawn cells.

It was also seen as creating a massive interest in traditional animation and helped put in movement the new era for Disney animation that would bring modern classics such as “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” and “The Lion King.”

If it wasn’t for the success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, none of those movies would have ever happened.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit would end up being the second-highest grossing movie of 1988 finishing behind Rain Man and, at that point, was the 20th highest-grossing movie of all time.

How Did They Get all These Characters into One Movie?

If it wasn’t for Steven Spielberg, this movie never would have happened.

The man is such a Hollywood powerhouse, influencer, and convincing (actually all three combined) that he could convince all the other studios to lend their characters to the movie.

This just would not happen today as each property, or character, has the potential to be its own entity and money maker.

You don’t want to risk out on someone else making money off it and there is no better example of this than with Spider-Man.

Sony has owned the rights to Spider-Man and only lent him to Marvel (and now Disney). With the massive success of the Avengers movies — and the standalone Spider-Man ones — there is just too much value in the character to let someone else profit off it.

Sony wanted to take back the usage of Spider-Man (for their own projects) and not allow him to appear in future Marvel movies.

They could have destroyed all the work done by Marvel, Disney, and Peter Holland, but were willing to take that risk.

With ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit,’ these concerns were not at the forefront. There was no such thing as billion-dollar movies, and the usage of characters seemed to have more of a neighborly quality to them.

Spielberg was able to convince the following to lend their characters:

  • Warner Bros — all the Looney Tunes characters
  • Fleischer Studios — Koko the Clown, Betty Boop, Popeye, Superman
  • King Features Syndicate — (also had the rights to Fleisher characters)
  • Turner Studios — Droopy, Spike, Meathead Dog, Benny Burr
  • Universal/Walter Lantz Productions — Woody Woodpecker, Papa Panda, Willy Walrus, Chilly Willy, Dinky Doodle
  • Felix The Cat Creations
  • Paramount Pictures — The Joker

These studios must have thought this was good exposure, and they didn’t have to do any work.

There may have been more motivation for Spielberg to get all these rights as he was to get a large part of the box-office profits.

He also made sure his contract gave him an enormous amount of creative control, so he could use these characters that could help make the movie an even bigger success.

Final Thoughts on ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’

The more you look back on this movie, the more you recognize it for the marvel it truly is.

To convince all these studios to loan out their characters for the betterment of one company is mind-blowing by today’s standards.

There’s just too much at stake in entertainment now compared to the 80s.

In the 80s, movies reigned supreme. There were only a few TV channels, no internet, and no streaming services.

Today, just convincing people to go to the movies is a challenge, and there is more research, testing, and marketing to make sure a movie will reclaim the investment made into it.

Spin-offs, sequels, prequels, and ‘reimaginings’ didn’t exist in the 80s to the extent they do now, and I guess the other studios didn’t see any downside to lending out their intellectual properties.

Today, no studio would risk this with the pressure on studios to turn a profit.

This is the case we saw with Spider-man, Sony, and Disney. As fans, we hate the idea of Spider-Man being taken out of the MCU.

If you are Sony — or an investor with them — why in the world would you let Disney and Marvel take all these profits on YOUR property.

Could a movie like this ever be made again? I would say no. There are just too many legal issues to juggle.

Either way, ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit' remains an absolute spectacle, a beloved movie of the 80s, and something we will probably never see again.

Photo via IMDb

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Personal trainer, podcaster, Amazon best-selling author. Writing about some health, a little marketing, and a whole lot of 1980s.

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