Since the movie was being made by Disney (Touchstone Pictures), Warner Brothers would only allow the use of their biggest toon stars, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, if they got an equal amount of screentime as Disney's biggest stars, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Because of this, both sets of characters are always together in frame when on the screen.
Bob Hoskins said that, for two weeks after seeing the movie, his young son wouldn't talk to him. When finally asked why, his son said he couldn't believe his father would work with cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny and not let him meet them.
The first test audience was comprised mostly of eighteen and nineteen-year-olds, who hated it. After nearly the entire audience walked out of the screening, Robert Zemeckis, who had final cut, said he wasn't changing a thing.
When Eddie takes Roger Rabbit into the back room at the bar, where Dolores works, to cut apart the handcuffs, the lamp from the ceiling is bumped and swinging. Lots of extra work was needed to make the shadows match between the actual room shots and the animation. Today, "Bump the Lamp" is a term used by many Disney employees to refer to going that extra mile on an effect just to make it a little more special, even though most audience members will never notice it.
Every frame of the movie which featured a mixture of animation and live-action had to be printed up as a still photograph. An animator would then draw the particular illustration for that frame on tracing paper set on top of the photo. The outline drawing then had to be hand-colored. Once that was done, the drawing had to be composited back into the original frame using an optical printer.
On the Special Edition DVD, Robert Zemeckis recounts that he had stated in a newspaper interview that Bill Murray was his and Executive Producer Steven Spielberg's original choice for the role of Eddie Valiant, but neither could get in contact with him in time. Bill Murray, in turn, has stated that when he read the interview, he was in a public place, but he still screamed his lungs out, because he would have definitely accepted the role.
To give Jessica's ample bosom an unusual bounce, her Supervising Animator Russell Hall reversed the natural up-down movements of her breasts as she walked. They bounce up, when a real woman's breasts bounce down and vice versa.
Another scene that came about by accident was when Roger and Eddie Valiant arrive at Maroon Studios to interrogate Mr. Maroon. As Bob Hoskins delivered his lines, he looked straight ahead, instead of down at a three-foot rabbit. The animators decided to have Roger stand on tiptoe against the wall to cover up the gaffe.
Several voice actors make cameos as the voice of the character(s) they have played before. These are Tony Anselmo (Donald Duck), Wayne Allwine (Mickey Mouse), and Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester, and Tweety Bird). But most noticeable is Mae Questel as Betty Boop. Mae did Betty's voice from 1930 until the character was retired in 1939. Mae Questel then became Popeye the Sailor's girlfriend, Olive Oyl.
Bob Hoskins claimed that Jessica Rabbit was not yet sketched by the animators when filming wrapped, and he had no idea what the character would look like. Robert Zemeckis told Hoskins to imagine his ideal sexual fantasy. Hoskins claimed that his mental image was less risqué than what Jessica looked like in the completed film.
In the original VHS release, when Eddie and Jessica are thrown out of the car, you can see for a few short frames that Jessica was not wearing any underwear. This was edited out in all future versions for obvious reasons.
Judge Doom's master plan to dismantle the Red Car trolley is based in fact. Private corporations conspired to eliminate public transit in the late 1940s and 1950s in order to generate demand for automobiles and ancillary industries to keep said automobiles running.
The Ink and Paint Club's policy of only letting toons onto the premises as entertainers and employees, not as customers, is a reference to numerous "segregated" venues during the mid twentieth century, such as Harlem's Cotton Club. The venue was located in an African-American neighborhood, the performers and staff were African-American, and the shows often had pandering jungle themes, but only white people were allowed in as customers.
For this movie, Animation Director Richard Williams set out to break three rules that previously were conventions for combining live-action and animation: first, move the camera as much as possible so the Toons don't look pasted on flat backgrounds; second, use lighting and shadows to an extreme that was never before attempted; third, have the Toons interact with real-world objects and people as much as possible.
Three hundred twenty-six animators worked full-time on the film. In total, eighty-two thousand eighty frames of animation were drawn. Including storyboards and concept art. Animation Director Richard Williams estimates that well over one million drawings were done for the movie.
Animation Director Richard Williams strove for three things while creating this film's animation: Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes-type characters; Disney-quality animation, and Tex Avery-style humor, "but not so brutal".
Judge Doom picks up a record and reads its label: "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down". Then he says, "quite a loony selection for a bunch of drunken reprobates." The song "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down" is the familiar theme song for the Looney Tunes cartoons.
The gag of the toon pelican falling off his bicycle came about by accident. Originally, the pelican would have ridden straight past the camera, but the effects technicians were unable to keep the bike upright. The filmmakers decided to let the bicycle fall and animate the pelican losing his balance.
During filming, Charles Fleischer delivered Roger Rabbit's lines off-camera in full Roger costume including rabbit ears, yellow gloves, and orange cover-alls. During breaks when he was in costume, other staff at the studios would see him and make comments about the poor caliber of the effects in the "rabbit movie".
Benny the Cab drives across a bridge while being pursued by the Weasels. It's the "Hyperion Bridge", which crosses a freeway near the old Disney Studio down in Hollywood, which they occupied before they built the one in Burbank (around 1939).
Famous characters Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl, Superman, Little Lulu, and Casper the Friendly Ghost, as well as Pat Sullivan's Felix the Cat, and MGM's Tom & Jerry, were all scripted to appear in a scene revolving around Marvin Acme's funeral, but the rights to the characters could not be obtained in time, although a photo of Felix shaking hands with R.K. Maroon is seen in Maroon's office when he first hires Eddie.
Joel Silver's cameo as the director of the Baby Herman cartoon was a prank on Disney Chief Michael Eisner by Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg. Eisner and Silver hated each other from their days at Paramount Pictures in the early 1980s, particularly after the difficulties involved in making 48 Hrs. (1982). Silver shaved off his beard, paid his own expenses, and kept his name out of all initial cast sheets. When Eisner was told, after the movie was complete, who was playing the director, Silver was nearly unrecognizable, he reportedly shrugged and said, "He was pretty good."
Roger Rabbit is described (design-wise) as having a "Warners face", a "Disney body", a "Tex Avery attitude", Goofy's overalls, Mickey Mouse's gloves, and Porky Pig's bowtie. Richard Williams says he based his Roger color model on the American flag (red overalls, white body, blue tie) so that "everyone would subliminally like it".
During production, one of the biggest challenges faced by the makers of the film was how to get the cartoon characters to realistically interact with real on-set props. This was ultimately accomplished in two different ways. Certain props (such as Baby Herman's cigar or the plates Roger smashes over his head) were moved on-set via motion control machines hooked up to an operator, who would move the objects in exactly the desired manner. Then, in post-production, the character was simply drawn over the machine. The other way of doing it was by using puppeteers. This is most clearly seen in the scene in the "Ink & Paint Club". The glasses held by the octopus bartender were in fact being controlled by puppeteers from above, while the trays carried by the penguin waiters were on sticks being controlled from below, the wires and the sticks were simply removed in post-production, and the characters added in.
To convince the Disney and Amblin executives that they could make the movie, the filmmakers shot a short test involving Roger bumping into some crates in an alley and then getting picked up by a version of Valiant played by Joe Pantoliano (this test can be seen in the Behind the Ears: The True Story of Roger Rabbit (2003) documentary on the Vista Series DVD). After viewing the test, several of the Disney executives were convinced they had seen a traditional "man-in-a-suit" gag with added animation. They couldn't believe it when they were told that it was one hundred percent animation.
Disney's Bonkers Bobcat was created because Amblin Entertainment, co-owner of all of the characters created for this movie, refused to allow Disney to produce a television series incorporating characters from the film. At the time, Amblin was working with Warner Brothers on the animated series Tiny Toon Adventures (1990) and Animaniacs (1993).
At the movie theater where Eddie tells Roger his backstory, the short being played is Goofy Gymnastics (1949), which came out two years after the film takes place. Crew members claimed to have chosen this particular short, despite its anachronism, because it was the zaniest thing they could find in the Disney Vault.
The piece played by Daffy Duck and Donald Duck, in the Ink & Paint Club, is the Second Hungarian Rhapsody by Franz Liszt, a piece featured in numerous cartoons, including the Oscar winning Tom & Jerry cartoon, The Cat Concerto (1947), and the Bugs Bunny cartoon, Rhapsody Rabbit (1946).
Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, who briefly appear in the final "roll call" shot, actually had not been created at the time the movie was set (1947). The characters were given a small cameo anyway at the insistence of Steven Spielberg.
A list of the classic cartoon cameos in the film (which is supposed to be set in 1947, though quite a few post-1947 characters appear), grouped by studio: Warner Brothers (Looney Tunes): Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety, Sylvester, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Marvin the Martian, Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, Marc Anthony the bulldog from Feed the Kitty (1952), Sam the Sheepdog from Don't Give Up the Sheep (1953), and Speedy Gonzales. Max Fleischer and Paramount: Koko the Clown (Out of the Inkwell (1919)) and Betty Boop. Walter Lantz: Woody Woodpecker. MGM: Droopy.
One of the photos in Roger's wallet is of him and Jessica dining at the Brown Derby. The caricatures on the walls are of some of the filmmakers, including Robert Zemeckis, Richard Williams, and Steven Spielberg, as well as one of Mickey Mouse.
Eddie Valiant's initial thirty second stroll through Maroon Cartoon Studios was so complex, that it involved over one hundred eighty individual elements, that when assembled with the film pieces, created stacks eight feet in height.
Bob Hoskins had to do a lot of his acting in front of a greenscreen, only visualizing the cartoon characters that were added later. In a 1988 interview for Danish television, he said, "I had to learn to hallucinate to do it. After doing it for six months, for sixteen hours a day, I lost control of it, and sort of had weasels and rabbits popping out of the wall at me." Hoskins didn't take another job for a year.
According to Robert Zemeckis, a major brewing company offered to pay to have their name visible on the liquor bottle, from which Roger drinks, early in the film. Zemeckis reminded them that Roger "turns into a steam whistle" after taking a shot, but the brewing company reps didn't care, apparently figuring that the publicity they would receive would be priceless. Ultimately, this product placement could not be included, as the film was being distributed by Touchstone Pictures (Disney).
During production, there was disagreement over the way the Looney Tunes characters should look. Warner Brothers wanted the filmmakers to use the characters as they appeared in their merchandising at the time, while the producers insisted on having the characters looking the way they had looked at the time period where the film is set, the mid to late 1940s. Dummy footage using the modern designs was sent to Warner Brothers for approval, while the animators used the period-appropriate designs in the actual film.
Screenwriters Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman admired Chinatown (1974). There were two sequels planned to that film; the first was The Two Jakes (1990), which was eventually made. The second was to be about corruption in Los Angeles when the streetcar system was undermined, and freeways were built to replace them. It was to be called "Cloverleaf". Although it is an animated comedy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) pretty much tells the story that would have been covered in the never-filmed, post-noir sequel.
Judge Doom originally had a vulture on his shoulder, and seven weasels accompanying him, rather like the Seven Dwarfs. He ended up only having five. He was also to have a jury of kangaroos, as in "Kangaroo Court". These elements were all dropped, because animating these extra characters would be too costly.
Lena Hyena, the hideously ugly toon whom Eddie mistakes for Jessica Rabbit in Toontown, is based on the creation of the same name by artist Basil Wolverton. She was first conceived in 1946 for a contest by Al Capp to depict "the world's ugliest woman" to be featured in his "Lil' Abner" comic strip.
Judge Doom was originally going to have an animated pet vulture that sat on his shoulder, but that idea was dropped in the interest of saving time. However, the vulture later resurfaced with Judge Doom, when a bendable action figure was produced.
An elaborate funeral scene for Marvin Acme, set at the famous Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, was discarded from the shooting script in pre-production. It came complete with Foghorn Leghorn delivering the eulogy, and the Harvey Toons jack-in-the-box logo springing out of Acme's casket to the tune of "Pop Goes the Weasel", with a giant funeral wreath attached; also in this scene, were many cartoon cameos that were eventually cut, including Casper the Friendly Ghost (who eventually sends everyone fleeing), Tom & Jerry, Screwy Squirrel, Superman and Lois Lane, Felix the Cat, Chip and Dale, Baby Huey, Mighty Mouse, Crusader Rabbit, Little Lulu, Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto, Wimpy, Heckle and Jeckle, Cinderella, Alice, the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Peter Pan and Wendy, Herman and Catnip, and Little Audrey amongst others.
A brief sequence was prepared to test the techniques used to combine live-action with animation. The footage, which showed Eddie Valiant (played by Joe Pantoliano) walking in an alley with Roger Rabbit, touched on all the challenges expected of the production, shading on the cartoon characters, interaction with the live-action cast members and environment, matching with the constantly moving camera, et cetera. The brief, one-minute film, budgeted at one hundred thousand dollars, convinced the filmmakers that the effects could create the illusion of cartoons and live cast members occupying the same reality.
Before he was the official voice of Goofy, Bill Farmer had his first job as a voice over artist singing ensemble for the closing song, "Smile, Darn Ya, Smile!". He snuck in the voice of Goofy during this song.
Robert Zemeckis wanted to use the Robert Clampett version of Daffy Duck, but Chuck Jones wanted to use his version of the character, and had personally disliked Clampett. Zemeckis had his way, and this was one of the main factors in Jones' stated distaste for the film.
The film's original budget was projected at fifty million dollars, which Walt Disney Productions felt was too expensive. The film was finally green-lit when the budget decreased to thirty million dollars. However, when the film's shooting schedule lasted longer than originally expected, the budget escalated until it reached seventy million dollars.
Four phrases appear in this film and Zemeckis' previous film, Back to the Future (1985): "Didn't hear you come in", "You're a sight for sore eyes", "I'm gonna ram him", and (referring to a piece of land) "As far as the eye can see". The latter was said in both films by Christopher Lloyd (Judge Doom).
To create the animation, over eighty-five thousand hand-inked and painted cels were created and composited with the live-action backdrops, live-action characters, and hand-animated tone mattes (shading), and cast shadows using optical film printers. No computer animation was used in creating the animations. Some scenes involved up to one hundred individual film elements. Any live-action that had to be later composited was shot in VistaVision to take advantage of the double-area frame of the horizontal 35mm format. The finished film thus does not suffer from the increased grain that plagued previous live-action and animation combos, such as Mary Poppins (1964).
The photograph that Eddie takes of Marvin Acme and Jessica playing "patty-cake" was created during pre-production, and features an earlier design of Jessica, than the one that is used in the final character animation. The one shot that was re-done to incorporate the new Jessica design, was the insert shot of the picture after it is first developed.
Originally, when Lena Hyena caught Eddie in her arms, as she kissed him, she was to stick her tongue in his ear and it would come out through the other ear, it was cut, because they didn't want too many cartoonish things happening to him.
Given the extraordinary process of making this film, shooting the live-action first, then the animation, which took twice as long, there were little-to-no options in the editing of the final composite. This, coupled with the fact that animation could not begin until all of the dialogue was recorded, practically meant finishing the film before it was finished. This also ruled out alternate takes or re-shoots, since the animation for alternate scenes would have been too expensive, and the animation had already been completed for any scenes that the filmmakers might have wanted to film again. As such, cutting even part of a scene for timing, meant that the entire scene had to be taken out, animation and all.
Among the song selections on the Acme "Select-a-Tune" (the device, to which Eddie "sings", in order to make the weasels laugh themselves to death) are "Jolson Medley", "Merry-Go-Round Broke Down", "Broadway Selection", and "Mickey's Melody".
Peter Renaday auditioned for the role of Eddie Valiant. In the test footage with an animated Jessica Rabbit (animated by Darrell Van Citters), he resembled Eddie as he appeared in the books: slender and with a beard.
An exposure sheet (a chart for keeping track of the drawings to be shot for animation) can be seen in R.K. Maroon's desk. The exposure sheet can also be seen clinging to Eddie Valiant as Roger jumps up screaming after drinking scotch in Maroon's office.
When panning over the newspaper articles on Eddie's desk of past cases he and his brother worked on, one heading reads "Mayor Mouse Awards ..... Toontown," indicating that Mickey Mouse is the mayor of Toontown.
Because Mel Blanc was in his late 70s during production, he was no longer able to properly perform the voice of Yosemite Sam, which was provided by Joe Alaskey. This makes Alaskey the only credited voice actor to have replaced Blanc as a Looney Tunes character during Blanc's lifetime, and Alaskey would later become a recurring non-consistent Looney Tunes voice actor up until his own death in 2016 (none of those times were reprising Yosemite Sam).
Chuck Jones received a credit as "animation consultant", but disavowed the movie forever after, complaining that there was something wrong with a movie where the live-action hero got more sympathy than the animated-cartoon star did.
While the film was very well received by critics, it has not been without detractors, especially, and surprisingly, among actual Golden Age veterans and fans. Chuck Jones, in particular, who worked on the film, ended up loathing the final product. He called it an obnoxious, witless misunderstanding of the old cartoons it set out to honor, and he even accused Robert Zemeckis of robbing Richard Williams of any creative input, and for apparently ruining the piano sequence that he and Williams had planned together. Cartoon historian Michael Barrier derided the animation direction as "disastrous", and Frank Thomas of Disney's Nine Old Men was strongly disappointed in Richard Williams' failure to have any actual pathos come from the main character himself. John Kricfalusi has also not spoken highly of it, thinking that it had "great animators" but was "misdirected", "filled with takes and zany movement, but no character or wit."
Unusual for an optical effects-heavy production of the 1980s, this film used no matte paintings. Robert Zemeckis comments, "You name an effect, and we have it somewhere in the film. When we realized we were missing only one type, we thought maybe we should do a matte painting just for the hell of it, but in the end, we decided against it."
Surprisingly very little merchandise was made for this film. Only a few small plastic figures of Roger, The Weasels and Baby Herman where made, able to be purchased from selected video rental stores at the time of the movie's release on home video.
The second time Marvin Acme appears on-screen, there is a piece of paper in front of him on the table, presumably the will, that has disappeared by the third time he appears on-screen. Consistent with the ink stain on Eddie's shirt, the ink on the will returns at the same time.
Christopher Lloyd compared his part as Judge Doom to his previous role as Klingon Commander Kruge in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), both being overly evil characters, which he considered being "fun to play". Lloyd avoided blinking his eyes while on-camera, in order to perfectly portray the character.
Bob Hoskins (Eddie Valiant) and Charles Fleischer (Roger Rabbit) voiced the character "Boris Goosnivov" in the Balto film trilogy. Hoskins voiced Boris in the original, and Fleischer voiced him in the sequels.
Terry Gilliam was initially offered the job of directing this movie, but turned it down because he considered it "conceptually inauthentic to use the Looney Tunes genre/character stable as a springboard for a variation on the Howard the Duck (1986) story."
In the original take for the scene where Eddie and Roger run from Judge Doom and the Weasels at the bar, Roger said "Come on Eddie, we've got to get the hell out of here!" This was to be the only time Roger cursed in the film. For unknown reasons, in the final cut, the line was changed to "Come on Eddie, we've got to get out of here!"
While most of Donald Duck's lines were recorded by Tony Anselmo (the character's official voice since 1985), an archival recording of the late Clarence Nash was also used for the beginning of the scene where Donald competes with Daffy Duck. Only Anselmo is credited in the finished film.
Bob Hoskins was cast as Eddie Valiant largely due to his acclaimed performance in the crime drama, Mona Lisa (1986). Ironically, the previous film includes a scene where Hoskins buys a white rabbit in a pet shop, to give to his boss, played by Michael Caine.
First live-action and traditional animation hybrid Disney film to be rated PG by the MPAA, mainly due to its adult based content and situations. It would've been PG-13 if it came out after the 1980s, when the MPAA got stricter about the themes that this film has to offer.
Orginally, during the piano duel between Donald Duck and Daffy Duck, Animator David Spafford snuck in a frame of Daffy using a dead baby as a prop, with which to play the piano, in addition to the rubber chickens, the baby was later removed at Richard Williams insistence.
Based on Robert Towne's story for the third J.J. "Jake" Gittes (Jack Nicholson) movie, this film has several parallels to Chinatown (1974): Both films begin with the detective being hired to investigate an infidelity case. Both result in one of the targets of that investigation (Hollis Mulwray, R.K. Maroon) being killed. In both films, the real guilty party is a public official (Noah Cross, Judge Doom), who hoped to gain control of a public utility (water, transportation). Just as Jake is haunted by a tragedy that took place in Chinatown, Eddie lost his brother in Toontown.
In addition to a negative test screening that unfazed Robert Zemeckis, an "experimental" teaser trailer was test-marketed several months prior to its release to similarly dismal response. Bob Levin, President of marketing at Buena Vista, was so horrified to overhear one audience member compare the teaser to Howard the Duck (1986), that the trailer was discarded without evaluation of the scores.
Invisible ink appear in this film and another Steven Spielberg production, Young Sherlock Holmes (1985). Also, both films have a scene where the lead character or characters go to a club or tavern and someone behind a grill or slot reluctantly admits them, and than violently ejects them. The exotic clientele also recalls Spielberg's Indiana Jones films. Also, Sherlock Holmes and Eddie Valiant get almost an exact same line, "I'm/we're on the verge of wrapping up/cracking this case."
There are numerous clues to the fact that Judge Doom is a toon. 1 - Despite Dip being harmless to live-action humans, Doom always wears gloves when demonstrating it. 2 - His waxy skin, fake Adam's Apple, and oversized teeth. 3 - His cloak is always blowing with a slight breeze, even when indoors, a common cartoon villain staple. 4 - His stiff, exaggerated movements resemble that of a toon. 5 - Getting around quickly in a toony sort of way. 6 - Wearing his clothes well, with no exposed skin showing around his body. 7- The fact that he jumped out of the way when The Dip was tipped over when Roger Rabbit had a drink and went ballistic. 8- He was not in any pain after being shot by the gun Jessica had in Toontown, being able to get away easily unharmed.
The weasel's names are not mentioned in the film. They are Smart Ass (who is the leader with the hat), Psycho (in the straight jacket and spiky hair), Stupid (in the striped shirt), Greasy (the "suave" one in green with the Hispanic accent and dark skin), and Wheezy (the blue smoker).
The opening track on the Sting album "...Nothing Like the Sun", the song "The Lazarus Heart" was originally written as the movie's musical finale, at an early stage of the movie's production when the book's tragic ending, where Roger is killed in the crossfire during the final duel, was still in the script. When the studio ordered its default ending to be used at the film's end, in which Roger is alive at the end of the duel, however, the song was deleted from the script and ended up on Sting's album instead.
One of the scripts called for Eddie to become a toon for the Toontown sequence. The scene was produced, but not used, causing the animators given the scene to waste a reported seven weeks of work. (They still got paid for it though.)
In the first scene that takes place in R.K. Maroon's office, there is a poster of a character named Pistol Packin' Possum holding a long gun. The gun is always pointing in Maroon's direction, "foreshadowing" his death later in the film. Coincidentally, the Pistol Packin' Possum character sports the same "burnin' red eyes" as toon Judge Doom, as well as the same gun used to kill Maroon.
John Lithgow, Willem Dafoe, John Malkovich, Gabriel Byrne, Tim Robbins, Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Richard Gere, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Ron Perlman, and Jeff Goldblum were considered to play Judge Doom.