Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a film that most of us saw when we were far too young to have seen it. But, through your child self, watching a film where there was definitely too much adult material for, you and your family (or whoever it was that you saw this film with) helped to save a studio and an entire film genre.
During the 1980s, the Walt Disney Company was in a crisis. Animation was a dying art. Most of the animators who had been there for years left when Don Bluth chose to leave. Bluth had been one of the animators who stepped up after Walt Disney’s death. He had worked on The Rescuers and Pete’s Dragon, as head of animation. However, the quality of the animation throughout the 1970s was not up to par with what Walt Disney himself had done or what he would have wanted. And there was a lot of buzz about a possible takeover. So, in one instant, Don Bluth and several other animators led a walkout, leaving the studio permanently. If there wasn’t going to be a takeover before, there definitely would be now. With all the major animators gone, what was the company to do?
Well, long story short, the company didn’t get taken apart. Instead, the Bass Brothers gave the company money, on the condition that they could choose the people in charge. The Walt Disney Company agreed, and Michael Eisner was placed in charge of the company with Frank Wells, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Roy Disney all in major positions in the company.
So, The Walt Disney Company was saved. But, what was to come of animation? Animation was a dying art form, a dying film genre. There was only one thing to do. Make a movie that captured people’s attention. Make a movie that incorporated everybody’s favorite characters. Make a movie that everybody just had to see. And that movie, my friends, was Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
This was the one chance that the Walt Disney Company had to revive animation as a film genre. And, they got the right people to help. Warner Brothers was brought in, largely due to their vast number of popular animated characters. Now, I need to make something clear here. Animation was not dead. Animation was still very much alive. However, it was alive on television and in shorts. That’s where Warner Brothers was still succeeding. That’s where a number of other animation companies, such as Fleischer Studios, had found success. Feature length American animated films were hard to come by outside of Walt Disney. It was on film, in theaters, where animation was struggling. Warner Brothers agreed to help.
Now, Who Framed Roger Rabbit was being made and produced by the Walt Disney Company. The deal that was made was that Warner Brothers would lend Disney their biggest characters i.e. Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, as long as they have equal screen time with Disney’s biggest characters, i.e. Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck (and, when you watch the film, you’ll notice that, at the end, when Porky Pig does his “that’s all folks”, Tinkerbell closes out the circle that he has made.) No character from one company got more screen time than another and no character appeared more talented than another.
Warner Brothers was on board. Awesome. Producing the film was Amblin Productions, Steven Spielberg’s company, and Spielberg retained a good chunk of creative control. With an overall budget of $30 million dollars, this was the most expensive animated film to date.
June 22nd, 1988: Who Framed Roger Rabbit opens in theaters, bringing in over $11 million dollars in its first weekend, placing it in the number one spot. Worldwide, the film grossed nearly $330 million dollars. It opened to good reviews and greatly pleased audiences. And, they ended on a high note, winning three Academy Awards: Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects, and Best Film Editing.
Had Who Framed Roger Rabbit not been made, what would have rekindled the world’s interest in “The Golden Age of American Animation”? Had the film not been made, what would have become of The Walt Disney Company? For what followed for them after the success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, was more success than any of them, probably even Walt himself, could have ever imagined.