The first animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award for best film editing, best effects (sound effects editing), best effects (visual effects), best art direction-set direction or best cinematography.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is based on the 1981 novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit, by Gary K. Wolf. The book makes a statement, as the film does less pointedly, about dominant races and minorities. The book had been optioned by Disney in the early 1980s and had even been announced for production in the 1983 Disney annual report. The project was eventually shelved, but a draft screenplay caught the eye of director Robert Zemeckis (the "Back to the Future" trilogy). When Disney management approached Steven Spielberg about his interest in Roger Rabbit, Zemeckis came along, and (once satisfied that the budget would be high enough to deliver a truly ground-breaking film) the two agreed to the task.
One of the great joys of Roger Rabbit is the interaction of characters from several different studios (and thus, several different ownerships). A team of attorneys spent years putting together the several specific contracts and releases required to assemble the all-star "guest cast" that appears in Toontown.
The characters of Roger Rabbit and Baby Herman returned in the animated shorts Tummy Trouble (1989), Roller Coaster Rabbit (1990) and Trail Mix-Up (1993). Although plans for a sequel to Who Framed Roger Rabbit frequently percolate through the Hollywood grapevine, none has ever passed the development phase.
The combination of animation and live-action in Who Framed Roger Rabbit took the pioneering work of Song of the South (1946) and Mary Poppins (1964) and moved it into a new dimension of realism. No longer did actors function in a two-dimensional plane with cartoons; in Roger Rabbit, both human and Toon are fully-dimensional characters, coexisting in the same space.
The animation was supervised by renowned animator Richard Williams, who was at first reluctant to take on the project, until Zemeckis convinced him that he would dictate exactly what he wanted from the film, and Williams would simply supply it. Williams defined his role to Zemeckis: "I'm your pencil."
There could be no shortcuts in production. Eighty-two thousand frames of animation were created, each frame on a photostatic blow-up of a single frame of live-action. The animation crew numbered 326 artists, 254 directly supervised by Williams in London, another 72 in California. Also in California, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), the George Lucas-owned special effects house, was hired to add the final layer of dimensional reality-shadows, skin tones, even the flashing sequins on Jessica Rabbit's skin-tight costume.
One of the greatest challenges to the animators (beyond the crushing volume of drawings and airtight deadlines), was that, for the sake of the realism of the animation/live-action interaction, Zemeckis frequently used a moving camera, customary in live-action, but then rarely-used in animation because of the difficulty of drawing the characters in precise perspective.
Both Zemeckis and Spielberg wanted Bill Murray for the role of Eddie Valiant, but Murray is notoriously hard to get a hold of, so it never happened. Murray has said that when he later found out that he was the number one choice for the role, he screamed out loud because he would have loved playing Eddie. Bob Hoskins (Eddie Valiant) says one reason he appeared in Who Framed Roger Rabbit was that his young son could see him in one of his movies.
"I took him to the premiere, and when he came out, he wouldn't talk to me. Wouldn't have anything to do with me," Hoskins recalled years later. "He reckoned that any father that had friends like Yosemite Sam, Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny and people like that, and didn't bring [them] home to meet his son, well..."
Tim Curry auditioned for the role of Judge Doom, but he was so disturbingly sinister that Zemeckis, Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Eisner all nixed him for fear that he would give children nightmares. To make Judge Doom extra creepy, Robert Zemeckis had Christopher Lloyd refrain from blinking during his scenes.
Despite the cavalcade of characters from across the cartoon universe, a few that the producers wanted are missing: Popeye and Olive Oyl, Tom and Jerry, Casper the Friendly Ghost and Deputy Dawg. They couldn’t secure the rights for these in time for the movie.
The movie’s original budget was $29.9 million dollars – the most an animated movie had ever cost at the time. But the price tag could have been even more astronomical – Roger was slated to cost $50 million at first, but Disney refused to shell out that much and wouldn’t approve production until costs were slashed. Rumor has it that by the time production was finished, the budget had soared to around $70 million.
This was the last film Mel Blanc provided his famous voices for, including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety Bird, Porky Pig and Sylvester the Cat – with one exception. He did provide Daffy’s voice one more time in 1987's "The Duxorcist" before passing away in 1989.
"You Ought to Be in Pictures is said to have been the inspiration for this cartoon.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit Production Information
Foreign Language Title: "Qui Veut La Peau De Roger Rabbit? (French)."
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