In 1983, the Walt Disney Company embarked on a film that would push the boundaries of animation and live-action collaboration to an extent that had never been seen before. While it was a post Gene Kelly/Jerry Mouse world, the animators behind Who Framed Roger Rabbit wanted to do better than just showcase a limited song-and-dance number. They'd already blazed that trail with Mary Poppins several years before. That sort of retread just wouldn't cut it.
That much is clear in the long lost special Backstage At Disney, which aired on The Disney Channel, and has been partially resurrected in the above YouTube edit (acquired by Yahoo Movies). In this video, we see a lot of early concept work being done on the Disney adaptation of Who Censored Roger Rabbit, which was changed to Who Framed Roger Rabbit when Disney started work on the film. Over the course of the project's entire lifespan, numerous changes would be made to the plot, as well as the cast.
The major difference in this video is that Paul Reubens, better known as Pee-wee Herman back in the day, was the original voice of Roger. While he was a terrific pick for the project's incarnation at that time, it just can't be helped that Robert Zemeckis' collaborator Charles Fleischer was a more perfect choice for the role in the final version of the project. While Reubens is a perfect Pee-wee, and a pretty good screwball for Roger 1.0, Roger 2.0's zaniness is what really propelled the character into iconic status. That zaniness could have only have come from Fleischer's portrayal of the wrongfully accused rabbit.
Another major change we see in this video is that of the character of Jessica Rabbit, Roger's bombshell wife who you could probably recall in a heartbeat if you've seen the film. While she was voiced by Kathleen Turner and Amy Irving in the final film, Russi Taylor (Minnie Mouse herself) was the voice of the more nefarious incarnation of Jessica, who seems to have married Roger for status rather than love. What's funny is the hints towards this version of her character still work perfectly in the actual version committed to film, as Eddie Valiant would be the type of guy who wouldn't understand why a woman like Jessica would be with Roger.
The final major difference we can see in this video is a character that was totally deleted from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Captain Cleaver, the head of the Homicide division of Toontown, is seen in early concept art and pencil tests in this video; and as we see in the footage, Cleaver is very combative with Eddie in terms of who's going to solve this case. One can only imagine what sort of twists a toon/human pissing match over jurisdiction would have generated, and it's not only a good example of why this film works, but also why people have always wanted a sequel.
There are so many stories and so many variants that the world of Who Framed Roger Rabbit can yield. Even Gary K. Wolf, the author of the original book, wrote an alternate version of his own novel (the subsequent Who P-p-plugged Roger Rabbit) that matched up with the film's universe. The film holds up as a gold standard of animated storytelling with humans in the mix, as well as a perfect example of detective noir done right. To see such an in-depth look into what was going through the minds of those in charge of Who Framed Roger Rabbit back in the early phases of the project is a dream for anyone who loves this film. How this never made it onto the 25th anniversary Blu Ray is a mystery.
While there's no film sequel to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, there is a trio of books to consider if you're eager for more material. There's the original source material, Who Censored Roger Rabbit, the retcon heavy/extended universe novel Who P-p-p-plugged Roger Rabbit, and the latest addition to the canon, 2013's Who Wacked Roger Rabbit.
CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.
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