I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way.
- Jessica Rabbit
A film noir in glorious Technicolor. A film about corporate corruption, loss of public services, segregation and racism. A Disney cartoon set in Hollywood, filmed in London, featuring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Betty Boop.
Featuring one of the sexiest redheads ever to see the silver screen, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which was released in the summer of 1988, is without doubt one of the greatest animated films of all time. It also combines live action and cel animation like never before.
Got a thing for rabbits, huh?
- Eddie Valiant
In 1947, cartoon characters (called Toons) co-exist with flesh-and-blood humans in Los Angeles. There, Maroon Cartoon Toon stars Roger Rabbit and Baby Herman are filming an animated short entitled Somethin's Cookin'. Private Investigator Eddie Valiant is hired by studio head RK Maroon to investigate whether Roger's stunning Toon wife, Jessica Rabbit, is having an affair with Marvin Acme. Acme's the owner of Toontown, the Toons' home, as well as of the Acme Corporation which makes world-famous joke props.
Valiant is reluctant to get involved, having hated Toons ever since one killed his brother, but he borrows a camera from his girlfriend Dolores and photographs Jessica Rabbit and Acme together in a compromising position. After showing Roger these pictures, Roger swears that he and Jessica will be happy together again and runs off.
Soon Acme has been murdered, the law, in the form of the Toon Patrol of weasels led by sinister Judge Doom (a judge, jury and executioner), is looking for Roger Rabbit, and Marvin Acme's will has disappeared. Will Valiant help Roger, find the will, solve his brother's murder and live long enough to discover who framed Roger Rabbit?
|Actor or Animation?||Character||Actor / Voice|
|Actors:||Eddie Valiant||Bob Hoskins|
|Judge Doom||Christopher Lloyd|
|Marvin Acme||Stubby Kaye|
|RK Maroon||Alan Tilvern|
|Lieutenant Santino||Richard LeParmentier|
|Raoul J Raoul||Joel Silver|
|Animations:||Roger Rabbit||Charles Fleischer|
|Benny the Cab|
|Jessica Rabbit||Normal Voice: Kathleen Turner|
Singing Voice: Amy Irving
|Baby Herman||Lou Hirsch|
|Betty Boop||Mae Questel|
|Daffy Duck||Mel Blanc|
|Donald Duck||Tony Anselmo|
|Singing Sword||Frank Sinatra|
|Lena Hyena||June Foray|
|Mickey Mouse||Wayne Allwine|
|Minnie Mouse||Russi Taylor|
Several actors, including Harrison Ford and Jack Nicholson, were considered for the role of Eddie Valiant. Bob Hoskins had come to prominence following his role in films such as The Long Good Friday and Mona Lisa. Christopher Lloyd had worked with director Robert Zemeckis and executive producer Steven Spielberg when he had starred in Back to the Future, and had experience of working with complex effects in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Stubby Kaye was well known for his roles in musicals such as Guys and Dolls.
So tell me Eddie, is that a rabbit in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?
Many glamorous women of the 1940s provided inspiration for the character of Jessica Rabbit, including Rita Hayworth, Jane Russell and Veronica Lake. Kathleen Turner, who voiced Jessica, had previously worked with Robert Zemeckis in Romancing the Stone. Steven Spielberg's then wife, Amy Irving, provided her singing voice.
In order to get Warner's permission to use their characters, it was agreed that the main Warner Brothers' characters, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, would get the same amount of screentime as their Disney counterparts, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. In order to achieve this, Bugs Bunny is seen at the same time as Mickey Mouse, and Donald and Daffy Ducks also appear together. In both cases the Disney and Warner characters are equal. Original man of a thousand voices, Mel Blanc, played the principal Warner characters.
As many of the original casts from the 1940s as were still available were asked to return to voice their characters. For instance, Mae Quastel, also known for the role of of Olive Oyl, again voiced her most famous character, Betty Boop.
The Making Of
You been hangin' around rabbits too long.
- Eddie Valiant
In 1981 Gary K Wolf released a book entitled Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, and the Disney Company bought the rights. This was a book in which cartoon characters called Toons lived in the same world as people, but set in a present day setting. After the initial interest, plans to make the film were abandoned in early 1982.
Disney in the 1980s
In the early 1980s, Disney's animation department was adrift and in danger of being sold off. Key animators had defected, such as Don Bluth, or had been inexplicably fired, like John Lasseter, while Disney's animated films were on the whole disappointing, such as The Black Cauldron. Then in 1984 a new Chairman of the Walt Disney Company, Michael Eisner, and a new Chairman of Walt Disney Pictures, Jeffrey Katzenberg, were appointed. Both had worked for Paramount Pictures, but their experience was based on live action, not animated, films. Perhaps as a consequence of this, they chose to begin their reign with a film that combined the best of live action and Disney-style animation.
While Disney was floundering, one man seemed to be beating them at their own game, dominating Disney's traditional animation stronghold. Steven Spielberg produced Don Bluth's animations, such as An American Tail, that were more successful than Disney's films, such as Basil the Great Mouse Detective, at the box office. To reinvigorate the Disney studio, Katzenberg realised that they needed to capture some of that Spielberg magic for themselves.
Jeffrey Katzenberg felt that the Roger Rabbit project would interest Steven Spielberg, the most famous director and producer in the 1980s. Spielberg, and his company Amblin Entertainment, were indeed interested, but only if the film could be made realistically; the camera would have to move. Previous combined animated and live action films, such as Mary Poppins, had always had static cameras for ease of animation. The presence of the animated characters would also have to be felt in the real world, with them moving and touching the objects around them.
As Spielberg was directing Last Empire of the Sun in China, his role was one of overseer. Experienced director Robert Zemeckis was chosen to direct the overall film, especially the live action sequences. The animation director was Canadian-born Richard Williams1, who was based in London. Williams stated,
We agreed that the key to making the combination work would be interaction. We thought the cartoon characters should always be affecting their environment or getting tangled up with the live actors.
In order to convince the audience of what they were seeing, the filmmakers adopted three golden rules. These ensured that audiences would witness what had never been seen before in previous attempts to merge live action and cel animation:
- The camera was kept moving, in order for the world to avoid looking flat and artificial.
- Lighting and shadow was used to give the Toons a realistic appearance.
- The Toons would interact with and affect the real world in an identical manner to the actors.
Making the film began with test footage of Eddie and Roger Rabbit walking along a dark alleyway, in order to see if they could get the interaction to work convincingly. As this succeeded, work began on casting the film and raising the money needed for what was promising to be an expensive venture; the film would be both a live action, effects-filled period drama and an animated film. In order to raise funds, a company called 'Silver Screens' was set up, which private individuals could buy shares in, in exchange for a share of the film's profits. These funds were used to supplement the money that Disney and Amblin invested in the film.
Live! Camera! Action!
After the film was cast, the live action scenes were filmed first, with the lines by the Toons provided off camera by the voice artists. Charles Fleischer, who played Roger Rabbit, insisted on wearing a rabbit costume in order to get into character. Roger Rabbit's appearance was in part inspired by Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, one of Walt Disney's first animated characters, invented before Mickey Mouse.
Each scene in which the animated characters appeared needed to be done at least twice. For the first take, rubber dolls in the shapes of the Toons were used as references, to see how a character of that size and shape affected the world around them, such as casting shadows, as well as providing the actors with visual aids to know where to look. After that was completed, the actors would be required to perform the scenes again, only with no visual aids.
In order to convince the audience that the Toons really existed in the real world, various techniques were used. Many simple devices such as levers and mechanical arms were created to pick items up. These were then animated over for the final cut. Experienced puppeteers were used to help move objects around, either with wires from above or on poles from below. The most complicated sections were when Eddie Valiant is driven by Benny the Toon Cab. Some sequences were filmed with Bob Hoskins on a quad bike, others featured a special driving rig driven by a stunt driver hidden behind and beneath Bob Hoskins. In long shots, a cartoon Eddie Valiant is used.
Bob Hoskins filmed the Toon Town scenes against a blue screen. He and the other actors were given mime training to learn how to give the illusion of weight when lifting and carrying Toons, to make their performances convincing.
The finished product involved seven months of live action filming followed by over a year of working on the animation sequences. Due to this complexity, planning had started two years before the first filming began. Most of the animation was done in London; of the 326 animators who worked on the film, 254 were based in London and only 72 in Los Angeles. The filming took place in and around both London and Los Angeles. For instance, Benny the Cab drives over the Hyperion Bridge, near the first Walt Disney studio, but the cinema Roger and Eddie Valiant are dropped off at is the Gray's State Theatre in Essex. The outside of Maroon Studios is the Ren-Mar Studios in LA, with many of the interiors actually the Shepherd's Bush Bus Depot, and the neighbouring Acme factory was really an empty warehouse in Shepherd's Bush. The exterior filming in LA was the last live action work to be done, three years after planning the film had begun.
Once the filming had been finished, the animators were given photostats to draw on. These were black and white frames of the film, supplied in order to ensure that the animation would perfectly blend with the live action. All the animation was hand-drawn to match the film, with 24 frames per second. As there are several instances in which more than one Toon character appears at the same time, up to 600 drawings appear on screen per second. 55 minutes of animation were included in the 104-minute film. To ensure that the animation had a 3D feel, effects company Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) were then hired to layer the animation, giving the drawing depth and shadows for extra realism. This was ILM's biggest effects work to date, with over three times as many effects as Return of the Jedi.
As the film not only uses Disney characters but also those of others in the business, it meant that the animation department were able to mix and match the various visual styles of the period. This is seen right from the start, when in the opening 'Baby Herman' film we see not only Disney realism but the Warner Cartoon style characters react in the way pioneered by Tex Avery.
In the early 1980s, Disney films had become a victim of their own success. Often perceived as being purely for young children, adult audiences avoided their releases. To combat this, Disney created a new label, Touchstone Pictures, to release films with grown-up content. Who Framed Roger Rabbit was released under the Touchstone rather than Walt Disney Pictures label, yet this story would be the one to turn the tide of Disney's fortunes.
Following Who Framed Roger Rabbit's release, Disney would embark on the most successful period in their animation history, with films such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. The era would end when Jeffrey Katzenberg, who had commissioned Steven Spielberg to produce Who Framed Roger Rabbit, would join forces with him and David Geffen to form their very own film studio, DreamWorks SKG. This would again provide a challenge to Disney's dominance of animated films.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a worldwide success, and in recognition of its achievement, won four Oscars. The characters themselves were highly successful and three animated shorts featuring Roger, Baby Herman and Jessica Rabbit were made, although disagreements between Disney and Amblin prevented the characters from making further appearances.
Some Disney theme parks around the world opened a Toon Town land, named after the Toon Town of the film.
The film does have a deleted scene, which originally introduced Toon Town. Suspecting Jessica of stealing Marvin Acme's will, Valiant returns to Jessica's dressing room to look for it, only to be caught by Judge Doom. Taken to Toon Town, there the weasels use paint to turn him into a pig before throwing him out of the Toon Tunnel. This is why he is in the shower when Jessica Rabbit enters his room and covered in ink stains when Dolores comes in. The deletion of the scene means that when Valiant sees the Toon Tunnel later in the film and hesitates, the audience does not know why.
Cartoon Characters That Appear in the Film
One of the joys of the film is looking out for the different cartoon characters that appear in the film. Although many are Disney stars, many are from Disney's rival studios, Warner Brothers, Max Fleischer/Paramount and MGM. Not every studio allowed their cartoon stars to appear, which is why Tom and Jerry, Felix the Cat and Popeye are not in the film.
Most of the characters were those that existed in the 1940s, although there are many, such as Tinker Bell and the Mary Poppins penguins, that did not appear until after the film was set. These are explained as being Toons that existed but had not yet been discovered in 1947.
Notably, Betty Boop, a cartoon character who featured in many black and white cartoons, appears herself in black and white.
Some of the other cartoon characters that appear in the film are:
- Bambi from Bambi
- José Carioca from Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros and Melody Time
- The Three Little Pigs and The Big Bad Wolf from The Three Little Pigs
- Dumbo (Jumbo Junior), Mrs Jumbo and The Crows from Dumbo
- Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio
- The Queen, Snow White and all seven dwarfs from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
- The Reluctant Dragon and Sir Giles from The Reluctant Dragon
- Enchanted Broomsticks and Hippo from Fantasia
- Flowers and trees from Flowers and Trees
- Pluto, Goofy, Clarabell Cow, Horace Horsecollar and Pegleg Pete from Disney Short Cartoons
- Marvin the Martian, Foghorn Leghorn, Speedy Gonzales, Yosemite Sam, Wile E Coyote and the Road Runner from Warner Brothers Short Cartoons
- Woody Woodpecker from Walter Lantz Studios (Universal) cartoons
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is without doubt an extremely classy, glossy animated film. One of the things which adds an extra dimension is the attention to detail, which rewards the viewer who watches again and again. Fans of cartoons made in the golden age of animation are rewarded with views of many of the stars of the era, while there are plenty of rewards for those who enjoy 1940s film noirs and films such as Chinatown. Eddie is indeed a PI, complete with the named frosted-glass door, and naturally he encounters a stunning femme fatale.
Spotting some of these details is part of the fun of the film. These include the Maltese Falcon Eddie Valiant has in his office, which he uses as a hatstand. Jessica Rabbit works as an entertainer at the Ink & Paint Club, named after a building at the Disney Studio complex. The password to gain entry, 'Walt Sent Me', is of course a reference to Walt Disney, the most famous man in the animation industry at the time the film is set. Other gags include the 'Hotternhell' oven as well as the 'Acme' references, after the fictional prop company that supplies all sorts of devices in Warner Brothers cartoons. Another film reference is Judge Doom's melting, melting death, referencing The Wizard of Oz, a film that many incorrectly believe was made by Disney2.
There are a couple of minor quibbles. First of all, the film is titled Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which is obviously a question, yet no question mark appears in the title. This is due to a Hollywood superstition that question marks are somehow unlucky. Another criticism is that of the weasels. The five weasels all had names inspired by the dwarfs in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Psycho, Greasy, Wheezy, Stupid and Smart Ass (the other two having died before the film takes place). They are credited as such in the end credits, yet sadly these names are never used in the film. Their appearance was based on the weasels that appear in Disney's The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad.
The background plot deals with a corrupt company, Cloverleaf, and their plot to close the LA streetcars for their own purposes. This is very much based in truth, as several companies colluded in 1935 to purchase and shut down public transport in order to profit from people forced to use their own cars. Cloverleaf's logo is cleverly that of the intersection junction pattern caused when two freeways meet, providing a subtle clue as to the motive behind the crime that Valiant is investigating. Touches of genuine history cleverly interwoven into part of the film's plot helps this film transcend above all earlier 1980s Disney animated films.