Jeff Lange's Roger Rabbit photo essay has once again got me thinking about the film that started it all, 1988's "Who Framed Roger Rabbit."
But this time around, I'm not thinking about the Academy Award-winning motion picture that we got. But -- rather -- the movie that we almost got.
You see, "Roger Rabbit" is one of these projects that's just loaded with these tantalizing what-ifs. For example, what if ... The studio had stuck with the actor that they had originally hired to do Roger's voice, Paul Reubens AKA Pee Wee Herman? Or -- better yet -- what if ... Disney had actually gone with Steven Spielberg's first choice for animation director on this particular project? Which was Don Bluth.
But it's with the human lead of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" (I.E. the part of private eye Eddie Valiant) where things could have gone very differently. Now you have to understand that -- as brilliant as Bob Hoskins may have been in this role -- he was not the studio's (or Spielberg's, for that matter) first choice for this part.
No, according to Disney insiders, the role of Eddie Valiant was first offered to Paul Newman. Seriously, folks. The Mouse originally wanted Butch Cassidy to be the guy who faced down Judge Doom.
Photo courtesy of Google Image
Now I know that -- just on the face of things -- that this sounds like a pretty ridiculous casting choice. But you have to remember that Newman had already made memorable appearances as private investigator Lew Harper in big screen versions of two Ross Macdonald books, 1966's "Harper" and 1975's "The Drowning Pool." So Paul was already familiar to fans of the film noir genre. Which is why it wouldn't be all that big a stretch for audiences to accept Newman as a down-on-his-luck detective working in 1947 Hollywood.
More to the point, back in 1986 (I.E. Back when Michael Eisner & Jeffrey Katzenberg were initially trying to put "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" into production), Newman was already under contract to the Mouse to appear in two motion pictures. You see, Disney had recently hired Paul to reprise his acclaimed performance as pool shark Fast Eddie Felsen in a sequel to 1961's "The Hustler," "The Color of Money." So while Newman was working with Tom Cruise on this Martin Scorsese film, someone from the studio slipped Paul the "Roger Rabbit" screenplay. With the hope that he then might consider this still-in-development project as a worthy follow-up to "The Color of Money."
Not all surprisingly, Paul passed on the project. But not for the reasons that you might think.
The way I hear it, Newman really enjoyed reading Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman's script. He thought that it would make a dandy movie. Paul just didn't believe that it was possible that anyone in Hollywood could actually pull this project off. As in: Create a credible film noir where humans & toons seamlessly interacted.
So Newman said "No" to playing Eddie Valiant in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." Opting instead to fulfill his two-picture-deal with Disney by playing colorful Lousianna governor Earl K. Long in the studio's 1989 release, "Blaze."
Once Paul officially passed, Disney & Spielberg still hoped to find a major star to fill this gunshoe's shoes. So Steve then began working the "A" List. First sending the "Roger Rabbit" screenplay off to Harrison Ford, then to Bill Murray. But these two superstars also passed on the project.
Why For? Well, you have to remember that the Summer of 1986 was when George Lucas' notorious bomb, "Howard the Duck," first hit theaters. And given that this Willard Huyck film didn't come close to recovering its then-astromonical $30 million production costs ... Well, it suddenly didn't seem all that smart for any "A" list actor to attach themselves to a high profile production where they'd then be playing second banana to some hyper-active cartoon rabbit.
So given that the "A" list was no longer an option, Disney & Spielberg began looking in different directions. Instead of trying to land some big-name actor to come play Eddie Valiant (Which -- in theory -- would have then enhanced "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" 's marquee value), these two went another way. They began looking at critically acclaimed films, to see if they could then hire a critic's darling to come be their private detective.
And it was just about this same time that Neil Jordan's "Mona Lisa" debuted. Which featured Bob Hoskins as a man who'd recently been released from prison. Who -- because Hoskins' character had been unable to land a decent job due to his ex-con status -- winds up as a chauffeur for a high-priced prostitute (Cathy Tyson).
Bob's turn in "Mona Lisa" was so good that he not only won the 1986 Golden Globe for best actor in a drama, Hoskins was also nominated for an Academy Award. More to the point, all of the good notices that this British-born actor had received for this Handmade Films Ltd. production put Bob on Disney & Spielberg's radar. So -- almost as a reflex action -- they sent Hoskins the screenplay for "Who Framed Roger Rabbit."
Bob then read the script and immediately thought that it was the nuttiest thing that he had ever seen. And yet there was something genuinely compelling about the character of Eddie Valiant. This hard-boiled dick who seemed doomed to drink himself to death. Until one day this case came along that not only allowed Eddie to dry out but also redeem himself.
Plus "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" would be Bob's chance to play the lead in a big-budget Hollywood picture. Which is something that this Brit had never done before. Plus this was Hoskins' chance to work with Robert Zemeckis, who had just directed 1985's top grossing film, "Back to the Future." More to the point, the check that Spielberg & Disney were dangling in front of the actor was the biggest that Bob had ever seen. So -- in spite of some of the initial misgivings that Hoskins may have had about appearing alongside a cartoon rabbit -- he quickly signed on to appear in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit."
And the rest of the story ... You know.
Except for (perhaps) the part where -- as part of the contract that Bob signed for "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" -- Hoskins actually agreed to appear in the film's sequel.
Mind you, if Disney & Spielberg had opted to go ahead with their "Roger Rabbit" prequel, "Toon Platoon" in the early 1990s (Which -- believe it or not -- was originally envisioned as a co-starring vehicle for that then-recently married couple, Tom Cruise & Nicole Kidman), Bob's part in the proceedings would have been confined to one rather clever cameo.
"And how would that cameo have gone?," you ask. Well, picture -- if you will -- that a young and very green Roger Rabbit has just arrived in Hollywood. And as he's listening to the radio, Roger hears something that compells him to go to the radio station that's actually broadcasting that particular program. So the rabbit then races up Hollywood Boulevard, asking random people about how to get to that radio station.
Eventually he ends up inside a barber shop, again asking for directions to that radio station. A man who sits in a barber chair, his face completely covered by a hot towel, quickly gives Roger directions to the station. The rabbit's so overjoyed to receive this news that he leaps right into the anonymous man's lap and plants a big wet kiss directly on his still-hot-towel-covered face.
Roger then races out of the barber shop. After a beat, the man in the barber chair removes his hot towel to reveal that (surprise, surprise) he's Eddie Valiant. As the camera moves in for a close-up, Eddie (echoing his very first line from "Who Framed Roger Rabbit") was supposed to have dismissively muttered: "Toons."
Which would have been pretty cool, don't you think?
Beyond that ... I have to admit that I find it kind of intriguing that -- after both Paul Newman & Bill Murray took a pass on appearing in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" reportedly because of concerns about playing second fiddle to a toon bunny -- that these two performers would then go on to do voices for cartoon characters. With Newman providing vocals for Doc Hudson in Pixar's latest release, "Cars," while Murray did the voice for the CG version of Garfield the Cat not once but twice. In 20th Century Fox's 2004 release, "Garfield," as well as that film's 2006 sequel, "Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties."
As for Harrison Ford ... To date, he's been able to resist the siren call of animation work. Mind you, in the late 1990s, Disney Feature Animation pulled a full court press on Ford. With the hope that they'd then been able to convince Harrison to come voice Kerchak in "Tarzan." But in the end, Ford took a pass on this project too.
Anyway ... That's a look at the actors who almost played the part of Eddie Valiant in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." Sooo ... Do you think any of these guys could have improved on Bob Hoskins' portrayal of the role?