“Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” is a 1988 film that combines live action with hand-drawn cel-animation. It was made mainly by Disney, along with Amblin Entertainment who assisted in the production. The movie is based on Gary K. Wolf’s book “Who Censored Roger Rabbit?”, but it is vastly different than the source material. Agreements were made with many other studios, including Warner Bros., Felix the Cat Productions, Universal Pictures, and the Fleischer Studios, among many others, to allow many of the most famous cartoon characters to make cameos in this film. The guidelines for some of the character appearances were rather strict. For example, for the scene with Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny, as well as the scene with Daffy Duck and Donald Duck, each character had to speak the exact same amount of words and be on screen for the exact same amount of frames as the other character in the scene. Some of the other characters that make cameos include Betty Boop, Yosemite Sam, Tweety Bird, Droopy Dog, and many Disney characters from the 1930s and 1940s.
The combining of hand-drawn animation and live-action was not a new thing at all; It had been around since the early days of animation. However, this film was easily one of the most successful attempts at merging live-action and traditional animation believably. The cartoon characters interact with many live-action props and the live-action people, appearing to directly affect the live-action environment. Even the lighting on the cartoon characters such as Roger Rabbit and Jessica Rabbit is made to match the live-action footage—especially in Jessica’s famous dance scene where all the different colored spotlights hit her as the camera pans around her. The character of Roger Rabbit was created by combining elements of famous Golden Age cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny and Disney characters in general. The character of Jessica Rabbit was mostly inspired by Tex Avery’s character Red.
The film itself was quite a large undertaking technologically. There weren’t any films being made quite like this one at the time. It was quite a challenge for the actors, because they had to do a lot of interacting with thin air, since the cartoon characters could only be added through cel-animation after the live-action footage had been filmed. Charles Fleischer, the voice actor for Roger Rabbit, even wore a Roger Rabbit on set and delivered his lines off camera to help the actors on camera imagine his invisible character. Many tricks and devices had to be used for the objects that the characters would interact with. The guns that the weasels carry were suspended by wires and devices such as mechanical arms were used to move the live action props that the hand-drawn characters would interact with, such as the plates that Roger Rabbit smashes in one scene. The hand-drawn characters would then be painted onto the live-action footage afterwards, covering up any evidence of wires, mechanical arms, and the like.
This movie was made at a time when Disney had really gone downhill, particularly in its animation department. They were desperately attempting to recover from a series of flops, such as “The Black Cauldron,” “The Rescuers,” and “The Great Mouse Detective.” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” is generally credited as being the movie that saved Disney animation and increased the general reputation of Disney animation in general at the time. It was a huge box office success and received highly positive reviews. Disney even added a Toontown-themed land to Disneyland, based on the fictional Toontown in the film. It was one of the first and only films to feature so many different characters from different companies alongside each other. It was the first time that Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny appeared on-screen together, and likely won’t happen again. The technical accomplishment of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” has stood the test of time and still remains impressive to this day.