When Bugs Bunny met Mickey Mouse: The story of ''Who Framed Roger Rabbit''
Robert Zemeckis reveals the key to bringing Looney Tunes characters into a Disney world.
LOONEY TUNES and all related characters and elements are ™ of & © WBEI
Everybody loves a good crossover. There is something about taking beloved characters from different properties and mashing them together that feels so rewarding. A great example is "The Thanksgiving Spirit," a 1968 episode of The Beverly Hillbillies that sees the show's characters traveling to Hooterville, home of Green Acres and Petticoat Junction. Jethro, Billie Jo and Oliver Douglas all meet up and share Thanksgiving dinner. The celebration was an exciting chance to see all these characters in one place. All three shows were produced by Paul Henning, meaning it was all perfectly legal. But what happens when we take characters from different, rival studios and put them in the same movie?
In 1988, Disney's Touchstone Pictures and director Robert Zemeckis released Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The movie was a joint production between Disney and Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment. They needed all the Hollywood might they could muster for their daunting undertaking: The ambitious cartoon crossover brought together characters like Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Betty Boop and Woody Woodpecker in one Toontown setting. The historical and silly summit saw scenes like Daffy Duck battling Donald Duck in a piano duel. It was the first time these characters appeared together in the same movie.
In a 1988 Chicago Tribune interview, Zemeckis told the secret to corralling all those different toons. "I think Steven [Spielberg] is the only person who could have pulled that off," said Zemeckis, "because of his tremendous clout within the industry. People want to work with him, and they knew he would do a quality job. We paid Warner Bros. $5,000 for each character with an original limit of five characters and no more than one minute of animation for each one.
"Later, when we came up with the idea to have a final shot that included about 250 animated characters, including Foghorn Leghorn and the Road Runner, Steven got that permission too, at no extra fee. By then, word had filtered back that the animation was terrific, and most everyone cooperated. Mel Blanc did the Warner Bros.' characters' voices, and Mae Questel, who's 75 now recreated the voice of Betty Boop."
The toons' inclusion wasn't just homage; there was lots of attention paid to ensuring they were all done incredibly well. Because the animators were using such beloved characters, audiences expected the characters to move around the way they did in their respective heydays.
"The key was research," supervising animator Andreas Deja said in Disney Channel Magazine. "The characters changed over time, so we had to decide which version was most suitable for the film. For example, the best Mickey shorts are from the late '30s and early '40s: Brave Little Tailor, The Pointer, and Mickey's Parrot: Mickey changed after that and became a different mouse. Roger Rabbit was set in the mid-40s, so we couldn't use a version of a character from after 1945."
Animator Mark Kausler was tasked with bringing Tex Avery's iconic basset hound Droopy back to life. Kausler agreed that research was absolutely fundamental to the film's success. "Droopy was kind of a challenge," he recalled. "My first stuff had too much action in it. I studied the films and discovered the best Droopys have the least movement. he tends to move quickly when he does move, but the movement is mainly in the mouth and eyes, and the way the ears overlap when he turns his head."
Kausler spoke for the entire animation team when he concluded, "The past was not a burden on the film: We were having fun with the past."