Dead Toons Don’t Pay Bills – A Tribute to Who Framed Roger Rabbit

It is a little known fact that Chinatown was to be the first film in a trilogy. That trilogy was to tell the tale of how the Los Angeles we know today came to be. Chinatown dealt with the battle over the water system, its sequel The Two Jakes dealt with real estate and the third film was to be a tale of how the freeways killed the tram systems and made Los Angeles the hustling, bustling town we know today. The trouble was after The Two Jakes bombed very badly, no one wanted to make the third film.

Fast forward to 1981 and an interesting book by Gary K. Wolf was released. It told the tale of a cartoon strip rabbit who was murdered in his own home. His speech balloon, found on the crime scene, indicated his murder was a way of “censoring” him.  The book was called “Who Censored Roger Rabbit”. Shortly after the publication, Walt Disney purchased the rights. They saw it as a perfect opportunity to create a surefire blockbuster. After a few years of development hell, the project was passed into the safe hands of Amblin Entertainment (Steven Speilberg’s production company). Robert Zemekis was hired to direct in 1985. Zemekis initially showed interest in 1982 but was rejected as his CV was nothing to write home about. The massive sucess of his films Romancing the Stone and Back to the Future may have changed things slightly. A budget of $29 million was agreed (the most expensive animated movie ever produced at the time) and Disney felt that the combination of live action and animation would save the ailing studio.

The script writers set upon the story and began to make changes. The book centered around comic strip cartoon characters and the decision was made early on to make the cartoon characters living, breathing “toons”. For inspiration, the writers studied the work of Walt Disney and Warner Bros, cartoons from the Golden Age of American animation, especially Tex Avery and Bob Clampett cartoons. The subplot involving the tram system was the planned story for the third chapter of a Chinatown trilogy. Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman (script writers) said that “the Red Car plot, suburb expansion, urban and political corruption really did happen,” Price stated. “In Los Angeles, during the 1940s, car and tire companies teamed up against the Pacific Electric Railway system and bought them out of business. Where the freeway runs in Los Angeles is where the Red Car used to be.”

The title was changed to Who Framed Roger Rabbit (the question mark not included as it is considered unlucky to include it on movie posters) and the rest is history.

In this modern age of CGI it is easy to forget just what a mammouth task this film was to put together. It is probably the last film of its kind as a few short years later Jurassic Park arrived and brought with it another monster – CGI.

Roger Rabbit took a whole year of post production, as the animations were drawn cell by cell over black and white stills of the live action scenes.

This is a process that would probably take just a few months now with CGI. A sequel has been rumoured for a long time and now Zemekis seems to be working exclusively with CG these days (Beowolf, A Christmas Carol, Polar Express), it cannot be discounted (he has admitted that it may be on the cards sooner rather than later). An animation test from 1998 exists online:

Even Gary K. Wolf got in on the sequel act and wrote a sequel novel in 1991 called “Who P-P-P-Plugged Roger Rabbit?” The book bears no resemblance to his orignal novel and is essentially a spin off from the film.

Whether a sequel comes along or not, there is no doubt that the original is a classic and the last of the old fashioned steam trains of film making craft. A marriage of hand-drawn cartoon and live action the like of which is never likely to be seen again.

Originally posted 2012-03-31 19:09:57. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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