Who Framed Roger Rabbit is one of those classic films that everybody needs to see at least once in their lifetime. Long before CGI took over and made the merger between real and fantasy worlds an easier prospect, traditional animation was king. And the end result, was a film that boasted an insane amount of quality and polish when it was released in 1988. A film that took seven years to make.
That’s because the book that the movie was based on, was snapped up shortly by Disney after it was published in 1981. Disney began to development on the film, with test footage from animation director Darrell Van Citters that had Paul Reubens voicing Roger Rabbit, Peter Renaday and Mike Gabriel as Eddie Valiant, and Russi Taylor as Jessica Rabbit.
That footage was briefly seen in 1983 on the Disney Studio Showcase, and then never ever seen again. But Thief Archive (viaCartoonBrew) has found the footage of the television airing of the early animation tests. Check it out below.
The John Culhane hosted show on the Disney Channel has a behind the scenes look at the unmade Darrell Van Citters 1983 version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, with animator Mike Giamo and producer Marc Sturdivant, which was quite different from the finished film:
While Roger was a villain in the book, trying to solve his own murder, this Roger is a loveable goofball in white fur and red overalls – a prototype for the final film. Baby Herman is glimpsed only briefly, and Jessica Rabbit appears to be the villain of the piece. Still, this version clearly laid some groundwork for the Zemeckis/Williams production a few years later.
Van Citters added:
“Roger was to be voiced by the then barely known Paul Reubens. Paul had both an excitability and a naïve quality to his voice that we felt was essential to the character’s personality. Despite his firmly established role as Pee Wee Herman, Paul is an excellent voice actor, and gave us exceptional readings. We patterned his appearance after both Tex Avery and Bob Clampett design sensibilities. For some reason, big noses figure prominently in many of their character designs. This was for us the archetypal cartoon look. We had no interest in a more complex style—the purpose of this simple comic design was to belie Roger’s interior, for our aim was to imbue an outwardly zany character with emotional depth and heart. … We chose to play against Herman’s appearance with a rather haughty Ronald Colmanesque voice. To make him an elitist actor who resented his typecasting in films and lived, instead, for ‘the theater.’”
When Michael Eisner got the job as Disney CEO, he tried to get Steven Spielberg to make the movie through Amblin Entertainment, with Robert Zemeckis coming on board to direct. And thus history was made. Although the idea that PeeWee Herman was almost Roger Rabbit, is going to haunt me until the day I die.
Last Updated: September 9, 2014