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Robert Zemeckis‘ Who Framed Roger Rabbit wasn’t the first film to combine live action with cartoon animation (it had been done around 1920 with the Out of the Inkwell series), but the 1988 Disney/Amblin production was by far the most expensive and successful.
The $50.5 million film ($105 million today) brought in $161 million worldwide ($335 million today) and won Academy Awards for visual effects, sound effects editing and film editing. Plus, animator Richard Williams received a special achievement Oscar. (Despite the big box office, a 1990 Disney profit participation statement The Hollywood Reporter printed in 1992 showed that the film lost nearly $20 million.) The film that THR in its review called a “raucous loony-tuner” that is “slippery and slick in all the best production senses” also was a major hassle to make.
One indication of how hard it was to get live action to sync with animation was how many people worked on the movie. With credits that ran for more than 10 minutes, Roger Rabbit held the record at the time for the longest credits sequence ever. “It was like making three different movies,” says producer Frank Marshall. “We were making a live-action, an animated and a visual-effects movie. Bob [Zemeckis] would shoot with the actors and cut the scene in London. We’d send the cut footage to ILM in San Francisco, where they’d make a print of each frame, and those prints would go back to the animation studio in London, where they’d draw in the cartoon characters. Then they’d go back to ILM to be composited as a visual effect. It was insanely complicated.”
As for the star himself, Roger never reached the icon status of Mickey Mouse. He’s probably best known for the Disneyland ride Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin. (Better remembered is his voluptuous wife, Jessica Rabbit, voiced by Kathleen Turner.) “The race is not over yet,” says Charles Fleischer, who voiced Roger in the film. “Mickey might be big, but he’s married to a mouse.”
This story first appeared in a December stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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