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Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow: The Curious Case of the Rapidly Receding Rabbit (Part I)

Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow: The Curious Case of the Rapidly Receding Rabbit (Part I)

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I don't know about you folks. But I really enjoyed that article that JHM ran last week about "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." You know? That story that featured a lengthy excerpt from that movie's original screenplay. Which revealed several scenes that had been cut out of the finished version of that Robert Zemeckis film.

Given how popular this 1988 Touchstone Pictures release was ("Who Framed Roger Rabbit" earned $156 million during its initial domestic release as well as an additional $173 million overseas for a total worldwide box office of $329 million. This Steve Spielberg production then went on to win four Academy Awards) ...


Copyright 1988 Touchstone Pictures / Amblin Productions

... it wasn't really a surprise that the then-heads of the Mouse Factory (I.E. CEO Michael Eisner [left] and studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg [right]) ...


Copyright 1989 The Walt Disney Company

... insisted that Disney's newest star be prominently promoted at the then-still-under-construction Disney-MGM Studios theme park.

And indeed when Disney World's third theme park officially opened on May 1, 1989, one of the very first things that guests saw as they came through the turnstiles was this huge billboard promoting Maroon Studios' biggest stars.  


Photo by Jeff Lange

Back in those days, as one wandered through Disney-MGM, one saw all sorts of tributes to "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." Everything from that recreation of Eddie Valiant's office that overlooked Echo Lake ...


Photo by Jeff Lange

... to the actual vehicles that were used in the production of the film. Which could be seen from Disney-MGM's tram tour.


Photo by Jeff Lange

Of course, back in those days, WDW visitors also got to see some of the costumes from "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" as they rode the tram. And then -- just before these guests exited into MGM's Backlot Express area -- they were menaced by the Dipmobile.

And after grabbing aquick bite to eat, Disney-MGM visitors could then tour a recreation of the Acme Gagworks. Where they could first inspect the Toon Patrol's paddy wagon ...  


Photo by Jeff Lange

... and then have their picture taken with the lovely Jessica Rabbit. 


Photo by Jeff Lange

Mind you, Disney executives didn't want to confine the character from "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" to just the Disney-MGM Studios theme park. They wanted the company's newest stars to make appearances all over property. Which is how Jessica Rabbit wound up with her very own store at WDW's Pleasure Island.


Photo by Jeff Lange

This is also how Roger wound up being one of the cartoon characters who was heavily featured in Disneyland's 35th anniversary "Party Gras" parade in 1990 ... 


Photo by Jeff Lange

... Not to mention being the grand marshall of Walt Disney World's 20th anniversary celebration in 1991.


Photo by Jeff Lange

At this point in his career, everything seemed to be going great for Roger Rabbit. He had already starred in two new short subjects, 1989's "Tummy Trouble" and 1990's "Roller Coaster Rabbit." And given that Disney had already begun developing a sequel to "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," it seemed like this hare was destined to become a Hollywood evergreen ...


Photo by Jeff Lange

... You know? A character like Mickey Mouse. Who's loved by generation after generation.


Photo by Jeff Lange

But now here we are in 2006. And these days ... You rarely (if ever) see Roger in the park anymore. And this once-promising character is now basically a footnote in animation history. Someone who used to be hugely popular 'way back in the early 1990s, but then quickly faded from view.

What caused this hare to fall so far out of favor? Come back tomorrow afternoon for the rest of this rabbit tail ... er ... tale.

In addition to being JHM's official photographer & archvist, Jeff Lange also produces a best-selling series of Disney theme park DVDs. His most recent title is a disc that commemorates Walt Disney World's 20th anniversary celebration. For further information on this DVD as well as all of the other titles in Jeff's catalog, please follow this link.

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  • Great idea for a nice little series, Jeff.

    Roger Rabbit wasn't just everywhere in the parks, though; as you mentioned, he had theatrical shorts, and he was also given a very primary place in the Mickey's 60th Birthday TV special- something I wish I could find a copy of, because I thought about it the other day when Jim posted his Roger Rabbit story, and I've been wanting to watch it again since.
  • The fact that the only place you can see Roger now is at the 80's section of Pop Century...kinda sums it up right there:
    Judging from the reactions in the "Lost funeral" article, the movie hasn't aged well--Everybody went crazy over the "Mix of animation" and "All the cameos", but even at the time, can't recall anyone saying the actually LIKED Roger as a breakout character, except as a tied-in representational symbol of a Film They Thought Was Cool.

    Leaving aside the whole "Changed from the book" issue that mixed up who the character was, the whole point of the movie was, we were initially supposed to -HATE- Roger:
    Given that the story was from Eddie Valliant's toon-hating viewpoint, the movie-Roger was initially Every Obnoxious Cartoon Cliche' From Heck, and Valiant was stuck shackled to him...And the movie's shrill, in-your-face Tex Avery-centric view of cartoons didn't immediately endear him any to us personally by the end of the movie, so much that we wanted spinoffs and park appearances by him.

    ...Yes, Mike & Jeff, we all went gaga over the movie at the time, but let's not make a fool of ourselves reading too much into that.
  • My wife is Austrian and had never seen the film.  It was on TV one Sunday and I said "you have to see this!  this movie is great!" (it's been years since I saw the film).  After 20 minutes, her response was that Roger was too irritating to endure for the duration of a full film.  And listening to his shrill voice and over-the-top mannerisms, I unfortunately had to concur with her and we switched to baseball.

    DerekJ is right- Roger was supposed to be an amalgamation of everything there is to hate about irritating cartoon characters.  Aside from the whole "look! Daffy AND Donald!  Mickey AND Bugs!" moments (and a swell song to close the preceedings), I have to say that Roger wasn't destined or created to be an icon (despite my previous nostalgic belief Disney had let a good rabbit get away...)  
  • Disneyland still has Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin in Toontown.  At least he still has his own attraction.  I don't think Roger is annyoing...I think he's cute.  And, I wish characters didn't leave the parks...where did Roger go?  Is there a retirement home for certain characters from the parks?  I would love to meet him (not to mention Gurgi from "The Black Cauldron", who, in 1985, could be found in Tokyo).  I agree with Anonymouse- nice idea for a series!
  • Well, I suppose no generalization should be made on the other way around as well. If there are some who believe WFRR was a fad, there are plenty others who enjoyed and loved the movie and feel many more good things could have come from that. Was Roger annoying? Sure, but it doesn't mean he wasn't likeable in his own way. Not to mention having Roger around also mean having the others from the movie, like Jessica and Baby Herman. Anyone here like "Bonkers"? I barely watched an episode, but I bet I'd know it all by heart if it had starred Roger instead, like it was meant to. But as always, the Mighty Green$ kill all good things.
  • Thank You for finally writing some articals on my favorite Disney character.  Roger Rabbit is one of Disney's best movies they ever made.  I don't know how anyone can say Roger aged poorly.  Its just as great as the day it first came out.  All of my friends still watch Roger on a regular basis and were all in our late 20's.  If Iger could make up with Spieldberg or possably get full control of Roger I would be the happiest person the world.  Roger has so much potential that is going to waste.  
  • What no one has mentioned is that Roger wasn't the only thing that made WFRR such a gem for the theme parks.  The movie also provided the much needed mythology that connected the real world with the toon world.  If it weren't for WFRR, there would be no Toon Town.  By having this mythology, it opened up the door for Disney to "logically" bring their guests into the world of the toon, and gave all of the characters a back story.  

    As for Roger, sure he's annoying, just like an overly energetic kid is annoying, but that's essentially what he is.  He's the embodiment of pure innocence.  All he wants to do is to make people laugh.  If you ask me, the world could use a little more Roger these days.
  • I agree with those here who say that Roger was over-the-top, but worse, the moments in the film in which he could have been made more endearing were badly written. For instance: when Eddie's in the movie house telling Roger about his brother's death - initially Roger is horrified, and breaks down crying: "No wonder you hate me! If a toon killed my brother I'd hate me too." Then Eddie says "I don't hate you" and Roger says "Apology accepted!" and he's irritating again. Suddenly the sad conversation is All About Roger. That was a real misstep. It's too bad, because the scene in the producer's office, and afterward, when Roger is weeping over his "unfaithful" wife, are genuinely touching. I have a feeling that the movie's writers were afraid to get too Disney - or Chuck Jones - and threw in Averyisms every time they thought the movie would get too sentimental. Or something. Anyway, I too tried to watch WFRR a couple of weeks ago, and I got as far as that scene in the producer's office and then tuned away.

    As for Roger disappearing from WDW...last time I was there I DID see a sign somewhere with Roger on it, but otherwise he's nowhere to be seen. Isn't that because Stephen Spielberg had a falling out with the Disney suits or something? Hopefully part II of this article will clear things up...
  • Never cared much for the movie or for Roger Rabbit, though I have no disrespect to anyone who felt differently.  

    Roger reminds me of Screwball Squirrel . . . crazy and obnoxious, but lacking in that "star" quality that makes him worth seeing in more than 2 or 3 cartoons.  I think it's that he never STOPS going all Tex Avery on us.  A wild take or two can be hilarious.  400 of them in rapid-fire succession is overkill.  

    He behaved the way he did just because that's the way cartoons behave.  His actions arose out of his identity as a cartoon, not out of any actual personality or motivation.  So I didn't "buy" him.
  • This sounds mega interesting. I've always wondered about Roger's dissapearance myself. I'm really looking forward to this series.
  • I think the problem started when Disney and Speilberg had trouble seeing eye to eye on how to handle the sequel/prequel. I don't think Eisner was happy about having to get an OK from Amblin every time Roger was used somewhere. The rift became a permanant split when Katzenberg left the studio to form Dreamworks with Speilberg. Right after that, Roger was just slowly phazed out, and all further production on shorts were halted entirely.
  • Say what you will about Disneyland's old Parade of the Stars...

    ...but at least Roger Rabbit had a stable place in the lineup of Finale characters from opening day in 2000 until the parade closed in 2004. :-p
  • Jeff, you also forgot to mention that Roger (until a few years ago) also appeared in SpectroMagic (he has now been replaced by the Genie). And while Roger is rare, they just came out with an all new clothing line featuring Jessica. They are rather 'suggesting' items which usually feature Jessica & some saying like "Climb Mountain Peaks" (or something like that).
  • Great fun article Jeff,its one of the topics I was only recently talking about online in another forum.

    Roger is still heavily featured in both the Anaheim & Tokyo Toon Towns.However as a walk around character he's no where to be found except in the final float of the Dream Lights parade at Tokyo Disneyland.

    I hope one day Roger can return to the parks in a larger role then he is currently.Look foward to next piece
  • bhb007 said:
    "My wife is Austrian and had never seen the film.  It was on TV one Sunday and I said 'you have to see this!  this movie is great!' (it's been years since I saw the film).  After 20 minutes, her response was that Roger was too irritating to endure for the duration of a full film.  And listening to his shrill voice and over-the-top mannerisms, I unfortunately had to concur with her and we switched to baseball."
    ---
    When the movie originally came out, Pauline Kael panned it as "Like having your head stuck in a pinball machine for two hours"--
    Unfortunately, Robert Zemeckis liked the quote so much, he publicly took it as a compliment.  :)

    blackcauldron85 said:
    "Is there a retirement home for certain characters from the parks?  I would love to meet him (not to mention Gurgi from "The Black Cauldron", who, in 1985, could be found in Tokyo)."
    ---
    Pics?  0_0  I remember Gurgi did officially have stateside park representation in the form of a Fantasyland snack station, before the 90's came and his "Munchies & Crunchies" were ousted by Mrs. Potts.
    (And the DLR Toon Town was built around the time that Roger's movie came out, so, like all the Alice stuff at DLR and the Robin Hood characters at WDW, it was just a matter of cross-promotional timing.)

    MKCustodial said:
    Anyone here like "Bonkers"? I barely watched an episode, but I bet I'd know it all by heart if it had starred Roger instead, like it was meant to.
    ---
    I think that's for the next article, about how Disney kept having to sneak around Spielberg just to be able to market "their" half of the movie...
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