Based on the 1981 novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf, this movie is from a time before crossovers and meta-based films like the latest Space Jam and Ready: Player One. It was incredibly mindblowing as a teen to watch this movie on the big screen and see Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse actually having a conversation.
What’s even better is that it has a film noir mystery at its center with Bob Hoskins as Eddie Valiant*, a down on his luck private investigator dealing with his hate of animated characters known as Toons which actually exist in this alternate universe.
At the time, this was the most expensive animated film ever made, but Walt Disney Studios chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg believed that live-action and animation together would save the cartoon department at Disney.
Plus, the studio brought in executive producer Steven Spielberg and his production company, Amblin Entertainment, who would get creative control and most of the box office, leaving Disney to keep merchandising rights.
Spielberg went to work getting other studios to lend their characters to the film, getting most of the Warner Brothers characters to appear but sadly failing to get Popeye, Tom and Jerry, Casper the Friendly Ghost or any of the Terrytoons.
With live action directed by Robert Zemeckis and animation by Richard Williams — along with the skills of Dean Cundy as cinematographer, Arthur Schmidt as editor and hundreds of artists making all the animation** — this film stands out as nearly the final chapter on traditional animation***.
Eisner and Roy E. Disney, vice chairman of The Walt Disney Company, felt the film was too sexual, but Zemeckis had final cut privileges (and Williams disliked Disney so much that he based his animation studio in England so they could not interfere). That’s why this was a Touchstone Pictures release instead of Disney.
Even today, Zemeckis claims that Disney will never make any of the proposed sequels, telling Den of Geek, “The current corporate Disney culture has no interest in Roger, and they certainly don’t like Jessica at all.” He also claimed that a sequel**** wouldn’t be on Disney+ as there are no princesses in it. There were, however, some animated shorts that came out after the film: Tummy Trouble proceeded Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Roller Coaster Rabbit played before Dick Tracy and Trail Mix-Up was in front of A Far Off Place.
Instead of a detailed summary of the plot of this film, I suggest you view it for yourself. However, I will share that I absolutely love Joanna Cassidy as Eddie’s strong and capable love Dolores and Christopher Lloyd is beyond outstanding as Judge Doom. And I think it’s amazing that early versions of the script had The Toon Patrol weasels as Stupid, Smart Ass, Greasy, Wheezy and Psycho, created to be inversions of Snow White’s Seven Dwarves Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, and Dopey).
Charles Fleischer was so dedicated to his role as Roger that he dressed up on set and did his lines. And man, has any voice ever been better for a cartoon noir girl than Kathleen Turner (and Amy Irving for the singing voice)? And any movie where a cartoon baby gruffly says, “I got a thirty-year-old lust and a three-year-old dinky…”
One last fact: When Eddie takes Roger Rabbit into the back room at the bar and Dolores is sawing their handcuffs, the lamp on the ceiling bumps and swings. That’s all animation that was added to give the scene something extra. All of those shadows were drawn. That’s why the phrase “bump the lamp” is used at Disney even today when people say they need to go the extra mile to make something special, even if no one notices it.
*Test footage has Peter Renaday as Eddie Valiant, Paul Reubens as Roger Rabbit and Russi Taylor as Jessica Rabbit. Other actors who were almost Eddie include Harrison Ford, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, Ed Harris, Charles Grodin, Robert Redford, Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone, Wallace Shawn and Don Lane.
**Post-production lasted 14 months and all of the animation was made with cel art and optical tricks instead of CGI.
***It’s also the last time Mel Blanc would voice Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, and Sylvester the Cat.
****You have no idea how badly I want to see Roger Rabbit: The Toon Platoon, a movie where Roger would have entered World War II and met his real father, Bugs Bunny.