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

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

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

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

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
. 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

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.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged


Gijs Grob

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

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!


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

Mr. Semaj

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

Jeff Harris

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

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.


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…

Andrew J. Lederer

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

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