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

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

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Picking up where we left off yesterday ... 

How big was Roger Rabbit back in the early 1990s? So big that Walt Disney World's marketing department decided that this Gary Wolf character would be the perfect frontman for that resort's 20th anniversary celebration.

Which is why -- in the Fall of 1991 -- Roger hit the road ...


Photo by Jeff Lange

... touring the USA with a talented troupe of WDW cast members (Who would often dress just like Roger) to promote that resort's "Surprise Celebration."


Photo by Jeff Lange

As you can see by the two over-sized balloons that bookend the stage that was used for this 20th anniversary traveling show ... Back in 1991, Disney executives considered Roger Rabbit to be just as big a star as Mickey Mouse.


Photo by Jeff Lange

And if you actually visited Disney World during that resort's year-long 20th anniversary celebration ... Well, Roger Rabbit seemed to be everywhere in 1991 & 1992. He was prominently featured in that year's edition of "The Kids of the Kingdom" show in front of Cinderella Castle.


Photo by Jeff Lange

Roger also made a "surprise" appearance in what-was-then-known-as the Mickey's Starland stage show. Where one lucky member of the audience was pulled up on stage and then awarded a special 20th anniversary t-shirt.


Photo by Jeff Lange

Roger was even given a prominent role in the Magic Kingdom's then-new nighttime extravaganza, "SpectroMagic." Serving as the comical conductor of the music section of this parade, swaying back and forth as he tried to keep Goofy, Chip & Dale in line.


Photo by Jeff Lange

And the Roger Rabbit-related excitement continued on into 1993, with the opening of Mickey's Toontown at Disneyland ...


Photo courtesy of Google Images

... and on into 1994 when the "Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin" ride opened.


Photo by Jeff Lange

A second version of Mickey's Toontown (complete with another "Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin" ride) would open at Tokyo Disneyland in April 1996. But -- by then -- Disney executives had pretty much lost most of their enthusiasm for this hyper-active rabbit.

Which is why -- after "Trail Mix-Up" was released to theaters back in March of 1993 -- no more new "Roger Rabbit" shorts were ever produced ...


Copyright Walt Disney Pictures & Amblin Entertainment

... And by the end of 1998, the studio had abandoned any plans that it may have had for moving forward with production of a sequel to "Who Framed Roger Rabbit."

Now Jim Hill has already written extensively about how all the battling that went on between Steven Spielberg & the Walt Disney Company over who actually controlled the Roger Rabbit character was what effectively derailed this once-promising franchise. But me? I can't help but wonder if the success of all the animated films that came after "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" -- 1989's "The Little Mermaid," 1990's "Beauty & the Beast" and 1991's "Aladdin" -- were more of a contributing factor to Disney's decision to basically abandon this animated character.


Copyright Walt Disney Pictures

I mean, why waste all that time & energy fighting with Steven Spielberg about how & where Roger Rabbit can be used in the Disney theme parks when you've now got dozens of other characters that the public adores? Characters that can easily be dropped into rides, shows & attractions without any of Amblin's attorneys getting involved.

Which is why -- as the 1990s gave way to the next millennium -- Roger Rabbit began fading fast from view. In some cases, being out-right replaced. Take -- for example -- that music unit in the Magic Kingdom's "SpectroMagic" parade ...


Photo by Jeff Lange

Where once Roger Rabbit used to wield his baton, now it's the Genie from "Aladdin" who's trying to keep Goofy, Chip & Dale playing on the beat.


Photo by Jeff Lange

Perhaps the best way to demonstrate the way that senior Disney Company officials now feel about the Roger Rabbit character is to point out the over-sized statue of the rabbit that's been erected over at WDW's Pop Century Resort. Here, Roger is grouped with other once-popular cultural icons of the 1980s like the Rubik's Cube and the Sony Walkman

You know? As a relic of the past?


Photo by Jeff Lange

Which is kind of a sad end for a cartoon character that once showed so much p-p-p-p-promise, don't you think?


Photo by Jeff Lange

So -- as Roger Rabbit now waves good-bye -- let JHM wave you on into Jeff Lange's online DVD shop. Where you'll find a wide variety of  discs dedicated to documenting the Disney theme parks. Including Jeff's most recent recording, which " ... Remembers Walt Disney World's 20th Anniversary."

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  • "But me? I can't help but wonder if the success of all the animated films that came after 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' -- 1989's 'The Little Mermaid,' 1990's 'Beauty & the Beast' and 1991's 'Aladdin' -- were more of a contributing factor to Disney's decision to basically abandon this animated character."
    ----
    That's a GOOD discussion point--We all know that for New-Disney, It All Started With A Mermaid, but it didn't even occur to me to look back at WFRR's '88 date.
    Have to remember, in '85-'88, Disney was still in its transition out of the stagnant looking-back Ron Miller era, and into its new Silver Screen Partners era, but there just hadn't been any hits yet--
    Snack stand aside, "Black Cauldron" and "Oliver & Company" just weren't getting any park exposure, Belle, Ariel and Jasmine weren't born yet, and they were desperate for ANYTHING New-Disney could put Mike's name on at the parks (hence the Muppet obsession).  Even the Rocketeer had his own MGM show for a while.

    WFRR caught a wave at the time for its gimmick, but consider history:
    The next time you complain about Stitch-mania at the parks, consider that -his- movie came out during a dry spell for Disney hit characters, appeared in a movie that sounded ridiculous to describe and which the studio genuinely thought it would lose its shirt on, caught a momentary wave of audience zeitgeist for a "different" kind of Disney movie, had boardroom execs' jaws dropping through the floor for the sudden studio-saving popularity, and sent them scurrying to market the character while the marketing was good.
    Will we ever see Stitch in the 00's section of some Pop Century next to giant iPods?...Well, no.  Y'see, most of us LIKE the character.  Which was probably the secret of why Roger's spinoff shorts didn't go over as hoped.
  • I posted this in part 1 a little bit ago but since we are now in part 2:

    And while most times Little Mermaid is credited with starting the 2nd golden age of animation, it was WFRR that pryed the doors open and got people excited about animation at a time when feature animation was at a pretty low point.

    I think the film captured the imagination and showed what animation was capable of being, beyond the typical fare.  As for the shorts.......I don't know how you can gauge whether they went over well or not.  I saw all three in the theater and everyone was laughing and enjoying them.  TT came out in front of HISTK, RR with Dick Tracy and TMU with Far and Away (think that was it).....the last short probably got the least viewings because it was in front of a "eh" film......

    The public liked Roger.  I worked at the Disney Store during the height of Roger mania and people were nuts for anything Roger.  As shown in the articles, Disney tried working him in wherever they could......After the big snafu with Spielburg, Disney tried "recreating" Roger with Bonkers....which didn't work...
  • ^ You'll find that most Disney fans are mixed on which film started the second wave of animation: Little Mermaid or Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and much is left to history to decide if Ariel would sink or swim (pun not intentional but pretty funny now that I look at it) had the public not been so ga-ga for an animated rabbit.

    I for one, love Roger and wish he would come back into the parks.  I know of many that really hate him for the same reasons I've seen posted--his voice and antics.  If we just look at the film for what it was trying to show--toons in the 1940s--the big hitters included the Bugs and Daffys out there, and they too, were kooky, and most enjoy Bugs Bunny...Roger isn't really any zanier.

    I think it was mentioned in the earlier article down in comments that Stitch is perhaps the next Roger Rabbit: he's everywhere, and you either like that, or hate it.  I agree...marketing has made certain that Stitch is available.  Every now and then the public attaches to a character...and (s)he is moved to the forefront of everything.  I see nothing wrong with that.  It does get tiring after a while, but it hurts when they disappear completely instead of just scaling back the appearance of that character.

    Speilberg and Iger if you're reading...bring back Roger (preferrably before I go to WDW in April 2007). :-p

    ~Meeko

  • Raccoon Meeko said:
    ^ You'll find that most Disney fans are mixed on which film started the second wave of animation: Little Mermaid or Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and much is left to history to decide if Ariel would sink or swim (pun not intentional but pretty funny now that I look at it) had the public not been so ga-ga for an animated rabbit.
    ---
    And history says...it was Mermaid--I remember being floored by the first five "Broadway opening" minutes of "Fathoms Below", and thinking that this was -NOT- your grandfather's Ron Miller "Robin Hood".  0_0
    WFRR was Touchstone's most popular movie, but then, most popular late-80's/early-90's movies before the animateds took off -were- from Touchstone...As opposed to Disney.  Consider how Whoopi Goldberg in "Sister Act" was rampantly cash-marketed at the time, and an offer to write in to see how many good reviews "Dick Tracy" had gotten.

    And going back to the billboard and the office window, consider the fact that Roger was being promoted as The Next New Classic Character around the same time as Disney/MGM was first being built and needed a "theme" character (ie., movie studios, old-Hollywood) that Eisner's company could take credit for.
    The same reason why there's so much Alice at Disneyland, or so much Robin Hood at WDW, or so much Pocahontas and Hunchback in Fantasmic, or, ftm, so much Stitch at the latest Tomorrowland renovation...They just happened to be around during construction.
  • Roger's one of my favorite characters, too. The scene in WFRR where Roger wanders into the alley, looks at his photos of Jessica, and breaks down in tears made my sympathies go out to the poor slob, and I've been a fan ever since. One of the many great, heart-warming things about WFRR is one simple character point about Roger: He tries to see the best in everybody. He *knew* Eddie Valiant couldn't possibly be a grouch to the core, and, most importantly, he never lost faith in Jessica. Early in the film, he refuses to believe the evidence, sobbing "Someone must have made her do it." In the end, when it turns out he was right the whole time, well...there's a reason beyond gimmickey that WFRR was such a hit.

    That's my long-winded way of saying there's more to the rabbit than a lot of folks give him (and the filmmakers) credit for. I would love to see the character get more exposure in film and the parks.

    And, speaking of the parks, Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin remains one of Disneyland's most popular rides twelve years after its opening. Give the public the rabbit, and they will come.
  • One more thing.

    WFRR was the movie that made animation "cool" again. As in okay for teenagers to be seen in public at. As in, okay to admit that you love Droopy, Betty Boop and Pat Buttrams's voice, because, apparently, so does *everyone* (WFRR was an amazing packed theater experience). Little Mermaid probably would've been a hit anyway (because it's a solid, terrific film), but I do believe WFRR helped open the market and make it more palatable to anyone over the age of 10.

    WFRR wasn't a fully animated film, so comparing it to Little Mermaid is a bit apples and oranges. Great Mouse Detective marked the return of solid film making to animated features, and Little Mermaid was the first big hit of the new Golden Age. Roger Rabbit was there to break down barriers. He was a true crusader...rabbit...
  • Rich T said:
    WFRR wasn't a fully animated film, so comparing it to Little Mermaid is a bit apples and oranges. Great Mouse Detective marked the return of solid film making to animated features, and Little Mermaid was the first big hit of the new Golden Age. Roger Rabbit was there to break down barriers. He was a true crusader...rabbit...
    ---
    There was plenty of 80's animation revival around long before Roger, just that...we never expected it would come from Disney.  0_o?

    Don Bluth had been the industry darling since '82 with "Secret of NIMH", Spielberg snapping him up for "American Tail" had been a considerable hit, and "Land Before Time 1" was considered the new standard for its time--Especially considering the "old" 70's-style Disney "Oliver & Company" came out around the same time.
    Mermaid's John Musker & Ron Clements got their start on '86's "Great Mouse Detective", and I remember seeing GMD a year after "Black Cauldron" and thinking, "Wait...Here's a Disney that's actually entertaining--How did that happen all of a sudden?  :)  "
  • Make no doubt about it - more than anything it was the bitter legal dispute between Disney and Spielberg that put an end to Roger Rabbit. I was working in the WDW Marketing Art department at the time and had just completed the character art of Roger that went on the WDW 20th Anniversary presskit cover. Then came that fateful memo that was circulated around our office shortly thereafter, telling us to discontinue any projects that currently featured Roger. Yep, Eisner and Spielberg were like a couple of bickering parents, each one denying the other legal custody of the idiot child. So poor Roger Rabbit ended up stuck in legal limbo, never to be seen again.

    Personally I didn't care about the loss, having had many reservations about the dangerous precedent in the original film of portraying other studios' creations alongside the Disney characters. The shorts were kind of fun, though too frenetically timed for my taste. I always thought that Roger was to Eisner what Mickey was to Walt : the cartoon alter-ego, and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" seemed to be a microcosm of everything I despised about the Eisner era.
  • DerekJ said:
    "this was -NOT- your grandfather's Ron Miller "Robin Hood""- What's wrong with "Robin Hood"?  It's a good movie.  
    DerekJ also said:
    "and I remember seeing GMD a year after "Black Cauldron" and thinking, "Wait...Here's a Disney that's actually entertaining--How did that happen all of a sudden?"  I love TGMD, but I must say that TBC is also entertaining.  :-)

    I haven't noticed Roger at Pop Century...I dunno how I missed him.  I wonder if the legal stuff will eventually get worked out and Roger can come back to the screen or parks again.  I would like to meet him still.
  • One of the neatest things for me about that movie was aside from the compositing aspects of post-production the whole thing was HAND-DRAWN, mostly "on ones" (a full 24 drawings per second, as opposed to doubling up on frames) to make the characters blend better with the live action.

    I definitely miss Roger too.  Who knows ... maybe Disney is turning their attention to that OTHER long-forgotten rabbit (Mr. O ... the Lucky one)?
  • If Bonkers had been about Roger, I wonder if they wouldn't have had to rehaul the show after the first few episodes came back from overseas. The original show centered around Bonkers having an "are they/aren't they" relationship with the female human cop he was partnered up with. The first episodes produced ended up being the last in the show's continuity.
  • There is no doubt that Bluth had some success in the 80's (American Tail and Land Before Time being the biggest successes until Anastasia years later) however it was nothing compared to the financial success and popularity of WFRR.  In fact not only did WFRR make more coin that all the 80s Bluth films combined, it also made more than Mermaid and B&B in their intial domestic runs.

    WFRR was a HUGE deal in regards to putting animation back on the map as popular entertainment and still ranks as one of the top five traditionally animated films of all time.
  • If Bonkers had been about Roger, I wonder if they wouldn't have had to rehaul the show after the first few episodes came back from overseas.
    ----------------------------------

    Well the Bonkers show was about Bonkers and never intended for Roger, although one story I heard was that Disney wanted a Roger show...couldn't happen and that is how Bonkers came into being.  But the thinking behind the creation of the Bonkers character was basically "hey lets create a character like Roger Rabbit..that we[Disney] fully own".  If you really look at the design of the Bonkers character he is a cat version of Roger.  A Bonkers short was released in theaters and there was the TV series, but he never caught on as a replacement for the rabbit.....
  • Roger Rabbit was and still is one of my favorite Disney Characters. It's a shame things soured so badly between Eisner and Spielberg.  The only character that comes close to the hilarity that was Roger is Goofy, which ironically is a character that Roger himself praised for his genius.  (The scene where Roger and Eddie are hiding out in the movie theater for those who might question.)  The animated shorts were hysterically funny, capturing the manic energy that was so prevalent in the classic Looney Tunes cartoons of old.  The short, "Hare in My Soup" was supposed to have followed "Rollercoaster Rabbit"and it's a shame that Spielberg nixed that idea. Perhaps now that Eisner is out of the picture, Mr Iger will be able to heal this festering wound as well...
  • This might be a bit random, but as a kid, I used to get Roger Rabbit and the Quik bunny mixed up. Any body else have the same problem? Haha. They both had pink noses, and for some reason, I just thought Roger was the mascot for the strawberry version of Quik (because of his red overalls), while the brown bunny was the mascot for the chocoalte Quik.
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