25 Years Ago: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

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Every few years at the movies a film will be released that advances the bar when it comes to technical marvel. In 1977 it was Star Wars. Eleven years later on June 22, 1988, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” took the baton and, in my opinion, is the greatest technical achievement in film for the 1980s.

Not only did it break ground in combining live action with animation, it was also a surprise box office hit. The movie placed second behind “Rain Man” for the year raking in more than $156 million and was the summer’s top grossing film. It was a surprise because it beat Rambo III, Willow and Crocodile Dundee II, all considered box office sure-things.

The surprise is also in the fact that the film was a risky venture to take. Here was a movie set in the 1940s featuring an unconventional lead actor, alcoholism, adult humor and situations marketed to children, a film noir tone, and cartoon characters that evolved into corporate icons. Not exactly a recipe for summer blockbuster.

But what eventually sold the film was the gimmick of cartoons coinciding with humans and the historic meeting of Disney and Looney Tunes characters. Cartoon characters that pre-date television found their way back onto the big screen along side new characters like Roger and Jessica Rabbit, Baby Herman and Benny the Cab. My personal favorites are the animated bullets Eddie uses for his revolver.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis, hot off “Back to the Future,” the film is an adaptation of a novel titled “Who Censored Roger Rabbit?” by Gary K. Wolf. The story in a nutshell is human private detective Eddie Valiant is hired to investigate Roger Rabbit’s wife, Jessica, and to find out of she is having an extramarital affair. This leads the detective to eventually trying to clear Roger of murder after the head of Acme Corporation and owner of Toontown is found dead.

A hit movie can’t be ignored by licensees. “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” sparked a cavalcade of merchandise in 1988 ranging from apparel, fast food tie-ins, plush dolls, backpacks, video games, pins and figures. Macy’s, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola were a few of the companies caught up in the success of the movie.

“Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” is among the rare blockbuster film that doesn’t have a sequel. That doesn’t mean one hasn’t been considered or even hit the pre-planning stages. One of the main snags is how to present the animated characters. Since 2D animation in film isn’t the norm anymore, the big question is can Roger and his cohorts exist as computer graphics or are they a product of their time?

The film did spawn three theatrical cartoon shorts starring Roger Rabbit. “Tummy Trouble” appeared before “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” the following summer. In 1990, “Roller Coaster Rabbit” was shown before “Dick Tracy.” And “Trail Mix-Up” was paired with “A Far Off Place” in 1993.

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9 thoughts on “25 Years Ago: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

  1. Great post, Six Million Dollar Jedi! I love this movie very much and it was one of the few films in my teenage years that I actually saw without my Father in attendance.

    This also marks the single most bizarre theater going experience I’ve had with a film in my entire life. I was totally enjoying everything about the film, loved the characters and was grooving on the noir aspect of it all. Then towards the end of the film when Roger and Jessica are about to be lowered in the dip…I suddenly was hit with what I call a case of teenager anger because I blurted out, “Good!”. Their was a woman with her child in front of me that turned around and gave me a hard stare that I can vividly recall today…and which I totally deserved.

  2. Rick Doherty says:

    This is where my two favorite podcasts collide. About two weeks ago Lou Mongello’s wdw radio podcast had a podcast devoted entirely to Roger Rabbit and his guest was Disney Historian Jim Korkis. It is definitely worth a listen because Jim always gives hidden secrets. The podcast is mostly about Roger in the MGM parks and his rapid departure from the parks.

  3. TheSixMillionDollarJedi says:

    I hadn’t seen it in years so I bought it digitally from Amazon and watched it in HD Saturday night.

    It really holds up.

  4. vinvectrex says:

    There’s actually a lot of great LA area history in this film. It’s like an animated Chinatown. Great movie.

  5. Atari Adventure Square says:

    Roger Rabbit was quite the milestone when it came out.
    Totally agree with SMDJ about this being a defining cinematic technical challenge for the 80s.
    Gotta revisit this one.
    Is it out on Blu-Ray? Certainly a contender for a Special Edition package, with interviews, shorts and making-of docs (which would *actually* be interesting, for a change).

  6. Silver Fang says:

    This movie was one of my favorites as a kid. “Pppppllulllllleeeeeeeeez, Eddie!”

  7. Max Power says:

    Like Rick Doherty, I learned about the anniversary from WDW Radio. It’s worth a listen if you want to know why he so quickly disappeared from the parks and movies.
    As a sign of how important that movie was to Disney at the time, they built a Toontown in the Magic Kingdom based on the success of the film, even though Toontown was more of a Tex Avery/Warner Bros style than Disney’s own cartoons. An extensive analysis of the land is here:
    http://passport2dreams.blogspot.com/2012/09/lightning-in-bottle-storybook-circus.html

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