Why did one of the most profitable movies of all-time never get a sequel? Furthermore, if Tron can get one why not Roger Rabbit?!
[NOTE: The following was originally the 10th and final entry in our 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Roger Rabbit feature. Rather than cut it down, we thought it might be better to expand it a bit and make it its own article.]
10. A Roger Rabbit Sequel Will Never Happen
Given that Who Framed Roger Rabbit was the second highest-grossing movie of 1988 (after Rain Man, really?!) and is still beloved to this day, it’s a wonder Disney never got around to making a sequel. But let it be known: They tried! After all, several scripts were commissioned and even written, including one by JJ Abrams and a prequel set in WWII where Roger learns his dad is Bugs Bunny.
Even as recently as 2013, there were reports of a pitch within Disney to essentially remake The Stooge (a 1952 Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis movie), following Roger and Mickey Mouse as best friends coming up through vaudeville. It sounded wonderfully meta.
Hope survives among fans, but yeah, it’s been years since news of anything Roger-related has emerged, and I think with Disney’s relatively recent acquisitions of both Star Wars and Marvel, they have far more lucrative pasts to mine than a sequel to a thirty year old movie with little franchise potential. But why exactly has a sequel never materialized before now? We’ll, in the article’s longest entry, I’ll try and answer that to the best of my knowledge to provide the two biggest reasons.
BAD TIMING: Disney didn’t have anything against the idea of a Roger Rabbit sequel, but it wasn’t exactly gung ho about it either. For a sad example, a sequel was seriously considered back in 1998. However, by that point it was looking like traditional, hand-drawn animation was on its way to becoming passe and computer generated imagery was now the bee’s knees in Hollywood! A CG Roger Rabbit test was even conducted to test the waters for a potential sequel.
Sadly, at the time, CGI was even more expensive than it is today. Studio heads understandably couldn’t balance the risk of an even pricier ten-year-old sequel to the (then) most expensive movie of all-time, especially considering that audiences (especially kids) might not even remember the characters. Genius executive Michael Eisner balked at the price tag, and Roger’s sequel budget was said to be funneled into a much more sure-fire cinematic bet; Pearl Harbor. If you haven’t seen it, rest assured that event will always and forever be associated with tragedy long after WWII has been forgotten.
Allegedly one of many reasons we don’t have a Roger Rabbit 2
But don’t get depressed! Bad timing is the only reason Roger exists. Who Framed Roger Rabbit came out at a very different time for Disney, and part of the reason it was allowed to happen at all, take so many chances, and do something so unprecedented was because Disney as a company was doing, well… pretty shitty.
THE DARKEST DISNEY TIMELINE: Note that Midnight Madness contains no mention of Disney. The studio itself assumed its name was poisonous with its intended audience.
The early-to-mid 1980s may go down as the worst period in Disney’s history. The Black Cauldron nearly cratered is animated division, Don Bluth and other animators had left Disney to beat it at its own game (An American Tale outgrossed fellow vermin-based movie The Great Mouse Detective in 1986), and high-profile bombs like Tron and Return to Oz meant the live-action branch wasn’t doing any better. In terms of both budget and content, the company was more willing to take risks with Roger Rabbit because Disney didn’t have a whole lot to lose.
Allegedly, Disney’s survival as a studio was hardly guaranteed during certain parts of the 1980s, and was a bit of a joke in the movie business, as they continued to coast by on the remaining legacy of its earlier days. That desperation for contemporary legitimacy forced the company to work well outside its wheelhouse, and fortunately for Disney fans like me; Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a gamble that paid off big time! However, so did another one just a year later.
Roger Rabbit may’ve brought Disney out of a slump, but The Little Mermaid (Disney’s first genuine blockbuster in over a decade), literally launched a renaissance of Disney animated entertainment. Not only was Little Mermaid more traditional Disney fare at a substantially lower cost (see next reason), it didn’t contain the racy content and was therefore more easily adapted into kids pajamas, action figures and features within the Disney parks. To compound things, after Ariel, the hits kept on coming — Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. Who Framed Roger Rabbit eventually became just “Roger Who?”
THE PEOPLE INVOLVED: The other ingredient to unraveling the Roger Rabbit mystery is the people involved. Quick: Name any director from any Disney movie in the 1980s! Doesn’t matter who you named, or how many people, none of them are Robert Zemeckis and Stephen Spielberg. The duo was hot off Back to the Future, among many other things, and were certainly much more high-profile filmmakers than Disney was used to working with.
From Left: Zemeckis, McFly, Spielberg
A few years ago, Zemeckis couldn’t stop crowing about wanting to do a Roger Rabbit sequel. Furthermore, he kept bringing Roger up during interviews promoting his co-production of Disney’s A Christmas Carol, a movie brought to life with with motion capture animation from Zemeckis’ Disney-backed ImageMovers Digital studio. You didn’t need to be an animator or an engineer to see how Roger Rabbit could benefit from the tech, plus the right people were in bed together, so fans had plenty of reason to be excited. Everything seemed legit!
Then came Zemeckis’ Mars Needs Moms, a movie that bombed so hard in 2011 most people don’t even remember it existed (besides trivia hounds citing it a one of the biggest money losers of all-time). If that weren’t bad enough, Disney opted to shutter ImageMovers Digital entirely that same year. Zemeckis has been much quieter about a Roger Rabbit sequel ever since.
Remember this? Okay, now go back to forgetting it!
But both Zemeckis and Spielberg are Disney outsiders. We can speculate all day about their backend deals, however, one thing we do know is that Roger Rabbit is at least partially owned by Amblin and Spielberg. It doesn’t take a genius to understand why Disney wouldn’t like co-owning characters, and as the legend goes, anything done with Roger requires the express permission of Spielberg.
Everything seemed so rosy in 1990! Roger Rabbit essentially rekindled the public’s interest in animation, and Roger found immediate success in theatrical cartoons meant to intro feature films. Just like the old days! His first short, “Tummy Trouble” was heavily promoted on a bill with Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (see the tiny print at the bottom of that poster.) Roger Rabbit was more popular than ever, so you can understand the movie bigwigs attributing some of that Moranis movie’s success to the Roger short preceding it.
Roger Rabbit literally lead the parade for Disney World’s 25th anniversary festivities
The notion became that a Roger Rabbit short could bolster a film’s box office potential, so of course Disney wanted Roger’s next short, “Roller Coaster Rabbit,” attached to its troubled blockbuster, Dick Tracy. Thing was, Spielberg also wanted the same short in front of his next production, Arachnophobia. Arguments ensued, Spielberg lost the battle, Arachnophobia performed poorly, Dick Tracy sucked anyway, and worst of all, relations between Senor Spielbergo and Disney studio head Michael Eisner were pretty scorched.
Let the record show: This man has nothing against cartoon rabbits
It’s said Spielberg vetoed just about every Roger Rabbit script that came his way after that, from proposed sequels to a nearly-completed theatrical short called “Hare in My Soup.” I find it hard to be mad at Spielberg, since the evidence shows he’s a guy seemingly more motivated by creative interest than money. “Fine, I’ll go make animated throw backs somewhere else!” I can think of a ton of amazing things he just never bothered to revisit, seemingly due to lack of interest, just so he could go off and produce something else amazing and never revisit that. Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, ET, An American Tale, the original The Land Before Time, and that’s just to name a few. And none of those projects burned him on the level Disney did with Roger Rabbit. The acrimony between the man and the company certainly stalled the process, and things are only going to become exponentially harder as time goes on. (The box office performance by The BFG, Disney and Spielberg’s first major collab since Roger Rabbit, certainly doesn’t seem likely to mend any fences.)
When it comes to Disney sequels, there is no justice in this world
Earning 330 million dollars worth of 1988 money means Who Framed Roger Rabbit might be one of the highest grossing films to never receive a sequel. But as we’ve laid out above, those very unique scenarios that denied Roger a follow-up film are the same circumstances that allowed Who Framed Roger Rabbit to exist in the first place. The right (wrong) company, the right (wrong) time, the right (actually right) people. If the situation were solely about money, we’d probably have a Roger Rabbit sequel by now… perhaps a subpar one, or something made CGI from the late 90s. Other than that digital paint covering up Betty Boop’s nipples and Baby Herman’s middle finger, there’s not so much as a single blemish on the original, and the silver lining about not getting a sequel means there never will be.
Aaaaaaaaand… That’s All Folks!
Be sure to check out the 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Roger Rabbit feature that inspired this article. To read more animated factoids, be sure to check out our 15 Aladdin Facts You Never Knew, or if you want to see how Who Framed Roger Rabbit references Back to the Future, this article is for you!