Who Framed Roger Rabbit SHOULD be your favorite movie of all-time, but even if it isn’t you should still watch this newly unearthed footage of Pee-Wee Herman playing the infamous bunny…
Recently on an episode of Laser Time, we were talking about the double-edged sword that is YouTube and the modern internet. Everything EVER is on the internet! Except for the stuff that isn’t, and that’s the realm you find some of the few remaining mysteries popular culture has to offer. There are few things from our childhood we can’t revisit whenever we want, and for me, that’s what makes those things, the ones we don’t have at a search engine’s beck and call, all the more alluring. They live on in rumor and Wikipedia entries with no citation. So… STORY TIME! (Skip to the video below if you give nary a shit about this personal anecdote.)
A few years ago I was at a press junket that just so happened to take place in Disneyland (it was for Epic Mickey, and this technically took place in Disney’s California Adventure park if there are any NeoGAFers in need of superfluous disclosure.) While eating dinner, a bonafide Disney artist dropped by and offered to custom draw each of us an animated character of our choosing. I’m a massive Disney nerd, and the only thing more mind blowing than having to decide on a single character from a 100-year-old cartoon company, was that this woman could draw EVERY ONE OF THEM from fucking memory. I stood in awe as I watched her almost effortlessly crank out Bambi, Darkwing Duck and Stitch as they were all part of the Cyanide and Happiness universe. I believe she had been with the company for like thirty years, and was currently working in Disney’s commercial/licensing department, which was why she was so intimately, and impressively familiar with every damned character in their stable.
I want to say Roger Rabbit was my instant choice, but looking back on it, I think I kind of wanted to surprise or maybe even challenge her. I’m an expert in few things, but I’ve read damn near everything written on or about Who Framed Roger Rabbit, easily my favorite movie of all time. Yes, there’s a prickish male side of me that probably wanted to impress her with my superior Roger Rabbit knowledge, since I did also overhear her offering some trivia for every drawing request that I considered bush league. And yeah, who knows, maybe I’d get surprised and hear something I didn’t know?! Boy, did I.
“Oh, Roger Rabbit! I haven’t done him in a while. Any particular style or version?”
“Oh, I’m pretty much an expert-HUH?!”
It was at that point she began to tell me about the long and storied process of getting Who Framed Roger Rabbit made, dispensing with intel even the most strident Roger fan (or maybe just me) had never heard of. She asked me if I’d seen the Who Framed Roger Rabbit special that aired in 1983 (seriously, she even nailed the year.) I hadn’t, I was three and we didn’t have cable let alone a channel that cost an extra $10 a month. Anyone who’s listened to LT’s uncharacteristically informative Pay TV episode knows that 1983 was the year The Disney Channel launched, and it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, with the then-premium cable channel only showing 16 hours of content a day to less than half a million possible viewers. These days The Disney Channel is literally the most-watched channel on cable. It recently ended the near two decade dominance Nickelodeon has held over cable, but back before it was making original content exclusively for preteens, it consisted solely of movies and cartoons from the Disney archives (good luck finding a Donald Duck cartoon airing there today) and promotional content pimping the Disney company’s current in-store/theatrical offerings (okay, not much has changed there.)
With all that airtime to fill back then, and zero commercials to do it with, the company was all about lengthy, inexpensive, very Tim & Eric-esque pieces showcasing its upcoming product. How little did Disney care about keeping Roger Rabbit’s conceptual phase under wraps? It aired a substantial look at the film FIVE YEARS before it ever hit theaters in 1988, and the Disney artist described footage and character designs that no one would recognize today. I was blown away and I had to know more. Please, my Google-Fu is fucking unparalleled. I’ve routinely searched for this promotional footage for years without coming up with so much as a single NTSC screenshot. While I was able to confirm its existence through a handful of message board testimonials, the Venn Diagram of people who owned VCRs, subscribed to The Disney Channel, and cared enough about Roger Rabbit all the way back in 1983 refused to overlap into that very special someone capable of encoding a video for YouTube. It was real, but still a myth. Fucking Batman! So there’s no one happier than me to see that the legendary special finally made its way to YouTube last week, courtesy of TheThiefArchive, a channel dedicated to the work or Roger Rabbit animation director, Richard Williams.
I’m guessing I’ve mentioned this previously on a podcast, so I can’t thank all of you for bringing this to my attention. It really is everything I could’ve hoped for. We can finally see the characters that didn’t make the cut. We can finally see a Roger Rabbit sans bow tie and Jessica Rabbit, arguably the film’s most enduring character, looking completely unrecognizable. While I was aware Paul “Pee-Wee Herman” Reubens originally did some voice work for Roger, I’ve never actually heard it with my own ears and it’s fucking surreal in the most beautiful way possible (jump to 6:25 to hear it for yourself.) Also of note, the names Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg are never once uttered.
Previously, the only footage we had of this version of Roger in motion (pictured above) is another project Disney’s either forgotten about or swept under the rug, is from “Sports Goofy in Soccermania.” The semi-infamous, somewhat-excruciating, and long-shelved TV special was allegedly based around a licensing rebrand of the familiar Disney character (literally referred to as fucking “Sports Goofy” throughout) and aired only once on NBC and only been commercially released in foreign “football” lovin’ territories. However, Soccermania did serve as a successful Launchpad (har har) for DuckTales, teaming up Donald’s nephews with their Uncle Scrooge for the first time on television, and it’s also notable as one of the sole (if not the only) occasions Alan Young hasn’t provided the voice for Scrooge since 1983’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol to this very day.
As for Roger, I always kind of expected we’d see him again. He was a huge deal, although it’s undoubtedly well past time we gave up hope of anything further. I could go on, but that’s for another time, another article. Until then, the movie will remain, as always, forever beautiful.
If you’d like to watch Roger Rabbit with your pals from Laser Time, we’ve got a highly informative full-length commentary available for you over on our Bandcamp page!