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