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What if "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" was a Box Office Flop?

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by Charles Kenny
September 16, 2013 7:30 PM
10 Comments
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Roger Rabbit Reviews

Regarded as one of the most memorable and critically acclaimed films of all time, Who Framed Roger Rabbit was the standout animated film of the 1980s thanks to its seamless blend of live-action and animated characters. 

This pioneering approach was complicated and, naturally, costly. Who Framed Roger Rabbit was the most expensive film ever made until then with a production budget of $70 million. Thankfully this deft blend of film noir and cartoon mayhem managed to reap a total box office draw of almost $330 million worldwide and secure a place in ever animation fans heart.

What would have happened if the film had, through some deus ex machina, managed to flop spectacularly?

Would the spike in popularity that many classic cartoons received as a result of exposure in the film have never occurred? 

Would the concept of blending live-action with animation have been as taboo in Hollywood as CGI was for a decade after TRON's mediocre performance? 

Would Disney's much lauded renaissance starting with the Little Mermaid the following year have been met with a more muted response from both the studio and public? 

Would Disney itself have seen out the end of the century after being hobbled by losses from the film? 

Lastly, would CGI have come to prominence even sooner if traditional animation became tainted by a Roger Rabbit-shaped failure?

Of course the film has stood on its own merits since its release and has overshadowed Robert Zemeckis' last animated feature, Mars Needs Moms. That film, it could be argued, has hobbled motion-capture to such an extent that only an effort like James Cameron's Avatar could even hope to rectify. 

Aren't we thankful that it wasn't preceded by Who Framed Roger Rabbit?


Charles Kenny writes prolifically on his own blog, The Animation Anomaly.


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10 Comments

  • Gijs Grob | September 17, 2013 4:31 AMReply

    I don't think I can add anything to this discussion, but at the time 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' really felt as a very welcome restoration of classic animation. I was only in my teens then, but to me the film stood at the beginning of a renaissance, reinforced by Ren & Stimpy, the 'new' Disney, Cartoon Network, and the BBC program 'Stay Tuned', hosted by Tony Robinson, which was totally devoted to classic cartoons. In the early nineties I filled several VHS-tapes with classic cartoons shown on television. I'm surprised how many classic cartoons were available then on Dutch, German, English and Belgian television, were they're totally absent nowadays. On the other hand, television animation luckily never went back to the dark ages of cheap saturday morning animation of the seventies and eighties, which gave me no pleasant child memories whatsoever. To me 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' is one of those very rare films raising high expectations and fulfilling them, too.

  • Tony McCarson | September 17, 2013 3:55 AMReply

    But what would happen if Walt Disney's "Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs", "Cinderella" or "The Jungle Book" were box office flops?

    Walt Disney's "Fantasia" was technically a box office flop, but I think it already made an impact on animation history & had a great legacy. & it has gained a sequel "Fantasia 2000 (1999-2000)", thanks to Roy E. Disney!

  • SJ | September 16, 2013 10:56 PMReply

    Don't know but we'll find out what happens if a CGI mo-capped Roger Rabbit2 is made. Yuck!

  • Mr. Semaj | September 16, 2013 10:22 PMReply

    If Roger Rabbit had flopped, we would be reading a different story behind The Thief and the Cobbler.

  • Jeff Harris | September 16, 2013 9:45 PMReply

    That's an interesting question.

    If Roger Rabbit had been a flop, it would have been a domino effect on the entertainment paradigm as we know it. Like the article suggested, there probably would have been a quick end to a rising classic animation movement, at least in the mainstream. Guys like Jerry Beck would continue spreading the good word about classics, but it'd be more of an underground niche movement without much participation from the big studios.

    There wouldn't be a Cartoon Network, whose very existence was attributed to this film's success, and Time Warner wouldn't buy out Turner uniting their film units and unifying Warner Bros. Animation once more (WBA would be dead too considering Roger Rabbit also brought renewed life to the studio bringing Roger Rabbit producer Steven Spielberg to the studio to produce the next generation of Looney Tunes, Tiny Toons Adventures and other shows).

    Disney would be somewhat smaller than they are now, and by "smaller," I mean they'd still be a production company, not the mega corporation that bought ABC, Marvel, or Lucasfilms.

    The need to create a 24-hour animation channel and a Best Animated Picture Oscar would be rallying cries for the classic animation fanbase to prove animation is an important institution in America.

    I doubt studios inspired by the classic animation movement this film brought on would even exist. There certainly wouldn't have been a Dreamworks since two of its founders were responsible for the production of Roger Rabbit in the first place, but I wonder if guys like Fred Seibert would even bring together many of this generation's animation titans at his tenure at Hanna-Barbera or on his own at Frederator.

    Roger Rabbit, like it or not, is the catalyst of the modern animation industry.

  • Joseph Martinez | September 17, 2013 12:23 AM

    *appaluse* Well said man, well said! ;)

  • Joseph Martinez | September 16, 2013 8:38 PMReply

    Like I said on facebook, We would never have gotten the Disney Renaissance, Pixar, The Simpsons, Tiny Toon Adventures, Batman: The Animated Series, Animaniacs, every original animated series from Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, and pretty the modern age of animation, in general.

  • Treadwell | September 16, 2013 8:19 PMReply

    So you're just going to post a bunch of questions without coming up with some theories on your own? Is this just a "talk amongst yourselves" post? Maybe there's a missing link to a Page 2 where the substance is...

  • Charles Kenny | September 17, 2013 1:42 PM

    Yes, the purpose of the post was to incite comment and debate.

    My own theories follow my line of questioning:
    - Classic cartoons would have undoubtedly suffered. the exposure they received was priceless but if the film had failed, it would have served to convince the studios that owned them that there was no value left in them.
    - Live-action/animation hybrids would have suffered for years afterwards. No, wait, maybe that's a good thing...
    - The Little Mermaid itself would have had to do a lot more heavy lifting given that Disney would not have been able to devote as many resources to the marketing effort. it would probably still be a success, but not to the extent that it was. The films following behind it would undoubtedly have seen their budgets cut. Perhaps beauty & The Beast may not have had the ballroom scene at all.
    - Disney's survival would have been dependent on the size of the loss, but assuming it was total, it would absolutely have been swallowed up by someone else. The purchase of ABC/Capitol Cities is what allowed them to expand so much throughout the 90s. Without that, they would have been a sitting duck for giants like Sony, GE, or Warners.
    - This last one's tricky, but I would say yes. Even if Disney did not fund Toy Story, someone else would have and CGI would quickyl dominate over a comatose traditional regime at Disney.

  • Andrew J. Lederer | September 16, 2013 7:53 PMReply

    Well, for one thing, we wouldn't have had to watch cereal hawked by a dimensionalized Toucan Sam.

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