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Classic

Watch Footage of the Unmade ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ with Paul Reubens

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Who Framed Roger Rabbit was one of the most seminal animated projects of the last thirty years, but few people are aware of the long gestation of the project. Disney had purchased the rights to Gary K. Wolf’s book Who Censored Roger Rabbit in 1981, and spent years developing the project before Richard Williams and Robert Zemeckis ever got involved.

Bits and pieces of that earlier project have floated around online, but it’s been difficult to get a sense of what it was all about. Yesterday, the ever-valuable Thief Archive, operated by video archivist/restorationist Garrett Gilchrist, posted a 1983 Disney Channel show called Disney Studio Showcase that shows animation tests of Roger voiced by a pre-Pee-wee’s Playhouse Paul Reubens. It’s the most extensive footage I’ve ever seen from the unmade version:

The TV show, hosted by historian John Culhane, offers commentary from the original producer Marc Sturdivant, director Darrell van Citters, and art director Mike Giaimo, as well as dozens of development drawings that have never been published elsewhere. At this stage, the designs and motivations of the characters appear to be quite different from what would eventually appear onscreen.

Some other interesting names contributed to this early version as well. Mike Gabriel, who co-directed Pocahontas and production designed Wreck-It Ralph, apears as the live-action Eddie Valiant in some scenes. And some of the animation tests were created by a guy named Chris Buck, who co-directed a little-heard-of animated feature last year called Frozen.

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(Thanks, Aryeh Zucchini, via Cartoon Brew’s Facebook group)


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  • Frogjerky

    Even though I love Zemeckis/Williams film, I still feel like we lost something special here.

  • Justin

    It does appear to feel a lot closer to the novel.

  • Sam Logan

    Interesting that even at this early stage, the treatment has already diverged from the plot of the book (Roger is killed) to what is more or less the basic plot of the final film (Roger is framed for the murder of a Hollywood tycoon).

  • Hankenshift

    I’m no fan of the final movie–it’s pretty awful. But it’s hard to know how this version would have developed with the Disney studio management at the time.

    • Matthew Broussard

      I…I don’t understand..

      Roger Rabbit…awful?

      These words..they don’t make sense used together in a sentence!

      • DangerMaus

        He doesn’t seem to like much of anything from mainstream animation. I’m curious as to what he does like.

      • Hankenshift

        Yes. As a film, it’s pretty bad–primarily the script. Even today folks can’t tell me what it was all about, other than a way to have a bunch of animation thrown indiscriminately onto the screen. While some of it was good (Jessica Rabbit, in particular), most of it was a mess. And Bob Hoskins does the best he can with drivel. That said, I love the Rob Minkoff short “Roller Coaster Rabbit” made a few years later. It’s far better than the entire feature, and one of the funniest shorts Disney ever made.

      • Honestly, after reading Hankenshift’s reasons for why Roger Rabbit was a horrible film, I don’t see much of a discussion to understand further. The best to simply disagree. I know the Academy and Roger Ebert already does with Hankenshift’s points.

    • Do you like anything? Just about every comment you leave is a complaint or criticism of some kind…

  • Mister Twister

    That charcoal charcoal drawing looks nothing like a wabbit.

    • jonhanson

      Yep, looks like a dog for sure.

  • Tre

    I’m so glad Jessica was changed in personality in the final film. I kinda do love Russi Taylor providing her voice in that scene. Quite a far cry from the sweet and loveable Minnie Mouse.

  • Capital_7

    Charmless, but interesting. Not bagging on it, but he looks like the Trix rabbit and she looks like nothing at all.

  • This would have been way different. I didn’t even know they had this version in mind.

  • I like this better…

  • Jeff Kurtti

    Pete Reneday as Eddie Valiant

  • Googamp32

    I think that the Jessica in the blue top and skirt more than the one we got.

  • greg manwaring

    A lot of us young CalArts guys and gals were looking forward to working on Darrell’s version, which never came to be. Luckily I was in Europe when they were needing more hands on deck in London. What an experience! The technical side of how we animated those scenes would fry your brain – keeping in mind that at the same time we were trying to give performances!

  • DangerMaus

    This early version felt like it was going to have more Noir influences than the version that was made. Was the book like that? I’ve never read it.

  • Pedro Nakama

    That was great! I remember seeing a picture of Roger Rabbit years ago, maybe 1981 or 1982 in the Disney shareholders report as a film in the works.

  • Donald Benson

    Look at any “making of” book or video — and not just for Disney animations — and you’ll be hit by lots of art that screams, “Yeah! They shoulda made THAT movie!” This looks to be a fairly precise evocation of a mid-budget film noir, which certainly would have been interesting (especially if they kept an adult spin on it). But if they made that film, a few production sketches suggesting the lavish fantasy we actually got (Judge Doom instead of a stereotyped cop) would have fans drooling even more than this.

  • Tony

    I remember seeing this special back in the day, and even back then the concept intrigued me. Sure wish the Blu-Ray release had a restored version of this footage as an extra.

  • N. W. Smith

    Is it my imagination, or is this iteration of Jessica a cross between Lauren Bacall and the young-ish Katherine Hepburn?

    • Sardonic Tuba

      And a praying mantis.

  • Steve Hulett

    If memory serves, this clip is from one of the early shows produced for The Disney Channel, then in its infancy. The studio was doing incredibly low-budget programming, filling time on a shoe-string, I believe this was one of their early efforts.

    Darrel Van Citters now runs Renegade, a cartoon studio in Glendale. And Mike Giamo’s most recent assignment was serving as Art Director on “Frozen”.

  • Max C.

    Lord knows what drove Citters from this to Chop Kick Panda…