5. Pee-Wee Herman Was the Original Voice of Roger Rabbit
I can’t imagine anyone in the role of Roger Rabbit other than the wonderfully manic Charles Fleisher. Not only did he provide the voice of Roger and Benny the Cab, he was on the set of the film the whole time (just out of frame), reacting to Bob Hoskins’ Eddie Valiant while dressed in a rabbit suit recording his dialog live, making for one of the first vocal “mo-cap” performances in the days long before Peter Jackson was gluing balls to actors faces.
Fleisher on the set of Who Farmed Roger Rabbit
But Who Framed Roger Rabbit’s production at Disney began as far back as 1982. Obviously, a lot of changes can take place in six years, one of which was Roger’s original voice actor, a relatively unknown Paul Reubens, several years before his famous Pee-Wee Herman character received his own TV show and movie trilogy.
Roger Rabbit’s original design
Roger Rabbit’s original casting is a well-known bit of Roger Rabbit trivia, however, what’s more fascinating is how hard it was to actually see his performance for over thirty years. I wrote about my years-long quest to find this mythic footage extensively here, but to make that long story short: The Disney Channel, desperate to fill its airwaves during its debut year as a Pay TV channel, aired a behind-the-scenes look at a vastly different Who Framed Roger Rabbit back in 1983.
As I put it in this piece, “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.” Thankfully the mystery was finally laid to rest in 2014 when the once-lost footage miraculously resurfaced. Scrub to 6:23 in the video below to finally hear Pee-Wee Herman as the lost voice of Roger Rabbit! (Fear not, PW would eventually voice a character in an amazing 1986 Disney film!)
6. Roger Rabbit Made His Semi-Official Debut in 1987
If you’ve read the entry above, you’re well aware of how long Who Framed Roger Rabbit was in gestation before coming to theaters in 1988. Disney films tend to take a lot of time in the oven, and not every project emerges as successfully as Roger Rabbit. For example, the rightfully-obscure “Sports Goofy in Soccermania,” an insipid cartoon from Disney’s branding department, made to shill a European line of Goofy-themed sports wear. Yes, Goofy is literally referred to “Sports Goofy” throughout. (Learn more about the bizarre odyssey of DuckTales, Soccer Mania and *shudder* Sports Goofy in our candid interview with Disney Afternoon creator Tad Stone!) Years in the making, the “special” was dumped onto NBC in May of 1987, never aired again, and has never been released on any home video format in the United States.
Soccermania is far more interesting as a bit of DuckTales trivia, since it was the first 1980s animated collaboration of Scrooge McDuck and Huey, Dewey & Louie well before the premiere of their beloved Disney Afternoon TV show. It’s also the first time Russi Taylor voiced Donald’s nephews and the only time Alan Young didn’t voice Scrooge from 1974 up until his recent passing.
But given both Roger Rabbit and Soccermania’s lengthy development time, the productions shared numerous animators, so a pre-Zemeckis Roger Rabbit made his official, fully-animated “debut in a brief cameo as a background character, during Soccermania in 1987.
7. The Weasels Got More Acting Work Than Roger and Jessica
I remember being bummed out that the likes of Mickey and Bugs never appeared in any Roger Rabbit merchandise. All you’d get is Roger, Jessica, Benny, Herman, and if you were lucky, maybe the Toon Patrol Weasels. What you might not know it that they’re technically pre-existing characters who were born a helluva lot close to to every other Disney character who makes a cameo in the film.
Deleted Weasels. The kids woulda loved Flasher!
Originally designed as a semi-parody of The Seven Dwarves, the The Weasels go entirely unnamed in the film. As it turns out, there’s a bit of tradition there. The weasels design is inspired by the thuggish Weasels who originally debuted in The Wind and the Willows portion of 1949’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.
The design appeared again in 1952’s Goofy short “How to be a Detective”
And then again in 1983’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol.
Everything you’ve seen above is from before Who Framed Roger Rabbit ever hit cineplexes. Following that, Roger and Jessica only appeared in a trio of short cartoons and an occasional TV special, but that’s really about it in terms of animated appearances. The Weasels, on the other hand, continued appearing in Disney cartoons, usually in nameless, one-off goon roles. Like in 1990’s Prince and the Pauper theatrical short.
And on Disney TV shows like DuckTales…
As well as Bonkers, House of Mouse and possibly other stuff I don’t care to grab images for. Also unlike Roger and Jessica, The Weasels became low-level enemy fodder in numerous Disney video games outside the Roger Rabbit universe. Here’s one as a boss in Chip and Dale’s Rescue Rangers 2…
And another alongside other baddies in Mickey’s Magical Tetris Challenge…
And a group of ’em as the Pluto-napping villains of Mickey’s Speedway USA…
As of late, they’ve had a couple more cameos, up to and including the recently deceased Disney Infinity as an unlockable costume. Doesn’t matter if you care about the videogames, it’s still better than the interactive treatment given to Roger and Jessica, who haven’t appeared in a single game since 1991, and even then, never appeared in a good one.
8. It’s the First Time Disney and Warner Bros. Characters Have Official Met. (Except For That Other Time)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit marked the first time Disney and Warner Bros. animated icons had ever come together in their 50+ years of existence to intermingle in a single production. It might not seem like a big deal now, but in a time before Marvel movies and Cartoon Network, these were some of the most recognizable characters on the planet. Much to my personal dismay, today’s kids are basically the first generation to essentially be denied plentiful access to Disney and Warner Brothers’ theatrical shorts. Even after they became unprofitable to produce for movie houses of the 1940s, they still ran every day on television from the 1950s on, and by the time Who Framed Roger Rabbit premiered, both Disney and WB’s animated shorts were enjoying yet another renaissance on home video. But if I really need to put this in perspective for the younger folks miraculously still reading this, that’s like if Stephen Universe, The Walking Dead, Rocket Raccoon and your favorite Minecraft YouTuber starred in the same movie together.
This is official art and it still amazes me
It’s kind of beautiful, actually. At the time of the film, these characters were still as popular as ever. Neither Disney or WB were desperate to give them screentime. Bugs and Mickey didn’t need to play ball with one another but they did so anyway for sake of a film celebrating them, so Who Framed Roger Rabbit marked the first time Looney Tunes and Disney characters could legally, officially, hang. And it never happened again… except for the time they did in 1990!
The second greatest union of cartoon characters sadly belongs to a 1990 anti-drug PSA called Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue. Among the many other notable animated stars, Bugs and Daffy got to officially exist in the same space as Disney characters. And even though they weren’t A-listers like Mickey and Goofy, Winnie the Pooh and Donald’s nephews were hardly bad company.
You can read more about this bizarre obscurity here, or just watch the whole thing with our commentary below. I personally hate the thing. First of all, it sucks to see my favorite animated miscreants act like buzzkills over a drug you can now legally obtain in several US states. Even worse, premiering less than two years after Roger Rabbit (and no doubt inspired by it), it gave little-ass me the impression that my favorite cartoon characters could come together officially on a regular basis! But no, nothing of this magnitude has ever happened since.
9. There’s Even More Character Cameos on the Roger DVD
Again, I can’t recommend the Who Framed Roger Rabbit Blu-ray enough. (Buy it on Amazon!) You can find more intel on just about everything we’ve talked about, deleted scenes, astonishing behind-the-scenes footage, documentaries, and perhaps most importantly, the picture below of Bob Hoskins riding Benny the Cab without skin.
Bear in mind that Who Framed Roger Rabbit already contains OVER 140 ANIMATED CHARACTER CAMEOS, so it’s hard to complain about the characters that didn’t make it in. But since this is a Disney release, somebody went to the trouble of adding in even more characters to what would otherwise be a very obnoxious DVD menu. Keep an eye out for Elliot from Pete’s Dragon, the Wicked Stepmother from Cinderella, and most bizarrely… David Spade’s Kuzco from The Emperor’s New Groove?
Okay, this is an admittedly weak entry, but I thought it was pretty cool. But admit it: You totally didn’t know that! Hah… anyway, we’ve saved the best for last.
10. What Ever Happened to Roger Rabbit?