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Why Trying to be the Next “Roger Rabbit” may Doom the Nicktoons Film

Why Trying to be the Next "Roger Rabbit" may Doom the Nicktoons Film

Last
week it was announced that Paramount has a plan in
the works to produce a feature film using a variety of Nicktoons characters
that would be brought together in a single universe for the first time. For all
the promise that such a film holds, it could be doomed for the same reasons
that made Who Framed Roger Rabbit so great.

That
film’s blend of live-action and animation was nothing new, but a cast of
cartoon characters drawn from across the artform’s history certainly was truly
unique and hasn’t been seen since. That hasn’t stopped plenty of producers from
suggesting the idea as a way to bring multiple characters together in one film.
Given how badly that can go wrong though, it
prompts pause for thought. Is it really the best idea, and can it truly honour
the characters and their place in people’s memories?

Who
Framed Roger Rabbit
has many unique attributes that are extremely difficult to
replicate. Aside from the fact that money was quite literally thrown at the
screen, the most expensive film ever made up to that point took the concept of
a live-action/animation hybrid film and showed what it could really do.
Audiences were bowled over at the prospect of cartoons and humans interacting
with each other, and the critics agreed.

Fast
forward 27 years, and the landscape is vastly different. Nowadays hybrid films
are everywhere, albeit with 3-D CGI in place of hand-drawn cels. Their quality
is also, uh, up for debate. The Smurfs, Yogi Bear, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and
personal favourite Scooby Doo, are all fine examples of what the technique has
become in the minds of producers and audiences alike. Where once the concept
was rare, now it is commonplace, and rather derided in almost all corners. A
Nicktoons film could dispel the stereotypes, but to do so wouldn’t come cheap.

The
film also faces a hurdle related to its potential cast: they’re all from the
same studio. Roger Rabbit garnered cross-sectional appeal because it featured
characters from more than one studio, and in fact featured about as many as it
could, even the more obscure ones! While Nickelodeon’s library is more than
enough to sustain a film on its own, its appeal may be limited by the fact that
it won’t feature any characters from Cartoon Network, Hanna-Barbera, Disney, et
al. To go one step further, the international market is more important than
ever, and many of the Nicktoons that hold nostalgic appeal in the US, were
either not as popular, or not broadcast at all in other countries. The classic
Hollywood shorts used for Roger Rabbit’s inspiration were not only shown around
the world, they were also shown relentlessly for decades.

Which
brings up another important point, the characters in Roger Rabbit were much,
much older than even the oldest Nicktoons are today. The youngest members of
the former were 40 years old by the time the film was released, in contrast,
the oldest Nicktoons are still technically in their mid-twenties!

All
this plays into the nostalgia factor because at 40 years, characters have
weathered more than one storm. They’ve been through their first flirt with
fame, survived the lean years, and have probably come back more than once since
then. Cartoons from the 90s haven’t even begun their lean years primarily
because they have always been accessible in one form or another. The classic
Hollywood shorts were rerun constantly and entertained multiple generations of
kids and adults alike.

Other
aspects can also influence the film’s success. Like how will 2-D and 3-D
characters be integrated on the same screen? Will one be chosen over the other
thereby causing characters to have an appearance different than what audiences
are used to seeing? That was a problem Roger Rabbit didn’t have as every
character was two dimensional by default.

Another
question is which characters will be featured, will every Nicktoon character
get some time in the limelight, or will the more popular, revenue-friendly ones
get to hog the screen? The latter could leave some fans out in the cold, and
given Nickelodeon’s scheduling history, there is a real danger the film becomes
dominated by Spongebob Squarepants anyway.

These
are all questions that the creative team will grapple with as they make the
film, but they’re all very real concerns for viewers. Who Framed Roger Rabbit
is exemplary of what great filmmaking is all about, not just great animation.
The Nicktoons movie won’t raise that bar, but by attempting to compare itself
against it, audiences will be able to see how far short it eventually falls.

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