Disney released the film through its Touchstone Pictures division on June 22, 1988, to critical and commercial success, becoming a blockbuster. The film brought a renewed interest in the Golden Age of American animation, spearheading modern American animation and the Disney Renaissance.
In 2016, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
In 1947, "toons" act out theatrical cartoon shorts as with live-action films; they regularly interact with real people and animals and reside in Toontown, an animated portion of Los Angeles. Private detective Eddie Valiant and his brother, Teddy, once worked closely with the toons on several famous cases, but after Teddy was killed by a toon, Eddie lapsed into alcoholism and vowed never to work for toons again. One day, R.K. Maroon, head of Maroon Cartoon Studios, is concerned about the recent poor acting performances of one of his biggest stars, Roger Rabbit. Maroon hires Valiant to investigate rumors about Roger's voluptuous toon wife Jessica being romantically involved with businessman and gadgets inventor, Marvin Acme, owner of both Acme Corporation and Toontown. After watching Jessica perform at the underground Ink & Paint Club, Valiant secretly takes photographs of her and Acme playing patty-cake in her dressing room, which he shows to Roger. Maroon suggests to Roger that he should leave Jessica, but a drunken Roger refuses and flees.
The next morning, Acme is discovered dead at his factory by the Los Angeles Police Department with a safe dropped on his head, and evidence points to Roger's being responsible. While investigating, Valiant meets Judge Doom, Toontown's Superior Court judge, who has created a substance capable of killing a toon: a toxic "Dip" made of turpentine, acetone, and benzene. Valiant runs into Roger's toon co-star, Baby Herman, who believes Roger is innocent and that Acme's missing will, which will give the toons ownership of Toontown, may be the key to his murder. He then finds Roger hiding in his office, who begs him to help exonerate him. Valiant reluctantly hides Roger in a local bar where his ex-girlfriend, Dolores, works. Later, Jessica approaches Valiant and says that Maroon had forced her to pose for the photographs so that he could blackmail Acme.
Doom and his toon-weasel henchmen discover Roger, but he and Valiant escape with Benny, an anthropomorphic taxicab. They flee to a theater, where Valiant explains to Roger that a toon killed Teddy when they were investigating a crime in Toontown. As they leave with Dolores, Valiant sees a newsreel detailing the sale of Maroon Cartoons to Cloverleaf, a mysterious corporation that bought the city's trolley network shortly before Acme's murder. Valiant goes to the studio to confront Maroon, leaving Roger to guard outside, but Jessica knocks Roger out and puts him in the trunk. Maroon tells Valiant that he blackmailed Acme into selling his company so that he could then sell the studio, but is killed before he can explain the consequences of the missing will. Valiant spots Jessica fleeing the scene and, assuming she is the culprit, follows her into Toontown. Jessica reveals that Doom killed Acme and Maroon and that the former had given her his will for safe-keeping, but she discovered that the will was blank. She and Valiant are soon captured by Doom and the weasels.
At the Acme factory, Doom reveals his plot to destroy Toontown with a giant machine loaded with dip to build a freeway, the only way past Toontown since Cloverleaf (which Doom owns) has bought out Los Angeles' tram system. Roger unsuccessfully attempts to save Jessica, and the couple is tied onto a hook in front of the machine's hose. Valiant then performs a comedic vaudeville act, causing the weasels to die of laughter; Valiant kicks their leader, Smart Ass, into the machine's Dip vat, killing him instantly. Valiant then fights Doom, who is eventually flattened by a steamroller, but survives. Eddie is shocked when Doom reveals that he is a toon in disguise—the same toon who killed Teddy. Valiant uses a toon mallet with a spring-loaded boxing glove and fires it at a switch that causes the machine to empty its dip onto Doom, dissolving him.
The empty machine crashes through the wall into Toontown, where it is destroyed by a train. Numerous toons run in to regard Doom's remains, and Roger discovers that he inadvertently wrote his love letter for Jessica on Acme's will, which was written in disappearing-reappearing ink. Roger then shocks Valiant with a joy buzzer, and Valiant gives him a kiss, having regained his sense of humor. Valiant happily enters Toontown with Dolores, and Roger with Jessica, followed by the other toons.Bob Hoskins as Eddie Valiant, an alcoholic private investigator who resents Toons. Executive producer Spielberg's first choice for the role was Harrison Ford, but Ford's price was too high. Bill Murray was also considered for the role; however, due to his method of receiving offers for roles, he missed out. Eddie Murphy reportedly turned down the role and later regretted it.
Christopher Lloyd as Judge Doom, the cold and power-hungry judge of Toontown District's Superior Court. Lloyd was cast because he previously worked with Zemeckis and Amblin Entertainment in Back to the Future. Lloyd compared his part as Doom to his previous role as the Klingon commander Kruge in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, 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.
Charles Fleischer as the voice of Roger Rabbit, an A-list Toon working for Maroon Cartoons, who is framed for the murder of Marvin Acme, and requests Eddie's help in proving his innocence. To facilitate Hoskins' performance, Fleischer dressed in a Roger bunny suit and "stood in" behind camera for most scenes. Animation director Williams explained Roger Rabbit was a combination of "Tex Avery's cashew nut-shaped head, the swatch of red hair...like Droopy's, Goofy's overalls, Porky Pig's bow tie, Mickey Mouse's gloves and Bugs Bunny-like cheeks and ears."Fleischer also voices Benny the Cab and two members of Doom's Weasel Gang, Psycho and Greasy. Lou Hirsch, who supplied the voice for Baby Herman, was the original choice for Benny the Cab but was replaced by Fleischer.
Stubby Kaye as Marvin Acme, the jester-like owner of the Acme Corporation. This was Kaye's last film before his retirement in 1988.
Joanna Cassidy as Dolores, Eddie's on-off girlfriend who works as a waitress.
Kathleen Turner provides the uncredited voice of Jessica Rabbit, Roger Rabbit's beautiful and flirtatious Toon wife, She loves Roger because, as she says, "he makes me laugh". Amy Irving supplied the singing voice, while Betsy Brantley served as the stand-in.
Alan Tilvern, in his final film role, portrays R.K. Maroon, the short-tempered and manipulative owner of "Maroon Cartoon" studios.
Lou Hirsch provides the voice of Baby Herman, a mentally middle-aged smoker baby and co-star in Maroon Cartoons. Williams said Baby Herman was a mixture of "Elmer Fudd and Tweety crashed together".
April Winchell provides the voice of Mrs. Herman and the "baby noises". Additionally, Richard LeParmentier has a minor role as Santino, a Lieutenant of the Los Angeles Police Department. Joel Silver has a cameo appearance as Raoul J. Raoul, a director frustrated with Roger Rabbit's antics. David Lander voices Smart Ass, the leader of the weasels, Fred Newman voices Stupid and June Foray voices Wheezy. Foray also voiced Lena Hyena, a hag Toon woman who resembles Jessica Rabbit and provides a comical role which shows her falling for Eddie and pursuing him.
Mel Blanc voiced Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety, and Sylvester (Roger Rabbit was one of the final productions in which Blanc voiced his Looney Tunes characters before his death the following year). Joe Alaskey voiced Yosemite Sam and Foghorn Leghorn (in place of the elderly Blanc), Wayne Allwine voiced Mickey Mouse, Tony Anselmo voiced Donald Duck (with an archival recording of Clarence Nash, the original voice of Donald, used at the beginning of the scene), Tony Pope voiced Goofy (also partially voiced by Bill Farmer) and The Big Bad Wolf, Mae Questel reprised her role of Betty Boop, Russi Taylor voiced Minnie Mouse and some birds, Pat Buttram, Jim Cummings and Jim Gallant voiced Valiant's animated bullets, Les Perkins voiced Mr. Toad, Mary Radford voiced Hyacinth Hippo from Fantasia, Nancy Cartwright voiced the Dipped shoe, Cherry Davis voiced Woody Woodpecker, Peter Westy voiced Pinocchio, and Frank Welker voiced Dumbo. Animation director Richard Williams voiced Droopy.
Walt Disney Productions purchased the film rights to Gary K. Wolf's novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? shortly after its publication in 1981. Ron W. Miller, then president of Disney, saw it as a perfect opportunity to produce a blockbuster. Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman were hired to write the script, penning two drafts. Robert Zemeckis offered his services as director in 1982, but Disney declined as his two previous films (I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Used Cars) had been box office bombs. Between 1981 and 1983 Disney developed test footage with Darrell Van Citters as animation director, Paul Reubens voicing Roger Rabbit, Peter Renaday as Eddie Valiant, and Russi Taylor as Jessica Rabbit. The project was revamped in 1985 by Michael Eisner, the then-new CEO of Disney. Amblin Entertainment, which consisted of Steven Spielberg, Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy, were approached to produce Who Framed Roger Rabbit alongside Disney. The original budget was projected at $50 million, which Disney felt was too expensive.
Roger Rabbit was finally green-lit when the budget decreased to $30 million, which at the time still made it the most expensive animated film ever green-lit. Walt Disney Studios chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg argued that the hybrid of live action and animation would "save" Disney's animation department. Spielberg's contract included an extensive amount of creative control and a large percentage of the box office profits. Disney kept all merchandising rights. Spielberg convinced Warner Bros., Fleischer Studios, King Features Syndicate, Felix the Cat Productions, Turner Entertainment, and Universal Pictures/Walter Lantz Productions to "lend" their characters to appear in the film with (in some cases) stipulations on how those characters were portrayed; for example, Disney's Donald Duck and Warner's Daffy Duck appear as equally-talented dueling pianists, and Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny also share a scene. Apart from this agreement, Warner Bros. and the various other companies were not involved in the production of Roger Rabbit. Additionally, the producers were unable to acquire the rights to use Popeye, Tom and Jerry, Little Lulu, Casper the Friendly Ghost or the Terrytoons for appearances from their respective owners (King Features, Turner, Western Publishing, Harvey Comics and Viacom).
Terry Gilliam was offered the chance to direct, but he found the project too technically challenging. ("Pure laziness on my part," he later admitted, "I completely regret that decision.") Robert Zemeckis was hired to direct in 1985, based on the success of Romancing the Stone and Back to the Future. Disney executives were continuing to suggest Darrell Van Citters to direct the animated sequences, but Spielberg and Zemeckis decided against it. Richard Williams was eventually hired to direct the animation. Zemeckis wanted the film to imbue "Disney's high quality of animation, Warner Bros.' characterization and Tex Avery humor".
Harrison Ford was Spielberg's original choice to play Eddie Valiant. Bill Murray was also considered for the part, but due to his method of receiving offers for roles, Murray missed out on it. Eddie Murphy reportedly turned down the role of Eddie, but later regretted it. Several other actors were also considered for the role of Eddie Valiant including Chevy Chase, Robert Redford, Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone, Wallace Shawn, Ed Harris, Charles Grodin and Don Lane.
Tim Curry original auditioned for the role of Judge Doom, but after his audition, the producers found him too terrifying for the role. Christopher Lee was also considered for the role, but turned it down. Several other actors were also considered for the role of Judge Doom including John Cleese, Roddy McDowell, Eddie Deezen and Sting.
Price and Seaman were brought aboard to continue writing the script once Spielberg and Zemeckis were hired. For inspiration, the two writers studied the work of Walt Disney and Warner Bros. Cartoons from the Golden Age of American animation, especially Tex Avery and Bob Clampett cartoons. The Cloverleaf streetcar subplot was inspired by Chinatown. Price and Seaman said that "the Red Car plot, suburb expansion, urban and political corruption really did happen," Price stated. "In Los Angeles, during the 1940s, car and tire companies teamed up against the Pacific Electric Railway system and bought them out of business. Where the freeway runs in Los Angeles is where the Red Car used to be." In Wolf's novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, the Toons were comic strip characters rather than movie stars.
During the writing process, Price and Seaman were unsure of whom to include as the villain in the plot. They wrote scripts that had either Jessica Rabbit or Baby Herman as the villain, but they made their final decision with newly created character Judge Doom. Doom was supposed to have an animated vulture sit on his shoulder, but this was deleted due to the technical challenges this posed. Doom would also have a suitcase of 12 small animated kangaroos that act as a jury, by having their joeys pop out of their pouches, each with letters, when put together would spell YOU ARE GUILTY. This was also cut for budget and technical reasons. Doom's five-man "Weasel Gang" (Stupid, Smart Ass, Greasy, Wheezy and Psycho) satirizes the Seven Dwarfs (Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy and Dopey) who appeared in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). There were originally seven weasels to mimic the dwarf's complement, but eventually two of them, Slimey and Slezey, were written out of the script. Further references included The "Ink and Paint Club" resembling the Harlem Cotton Club, while Zemeckis compared Judge Doom's invention of "The Dip" to eliminate all the Toons as Hitler's Final Solution. Doom was originally the hunter that killed Bambi's Mother, but Disney objected to the idea. Benny the Cab was first conceived to be a Volkswagen Beetle before being changed to a Taxicab. Ideas originally conceived for the story also included a sequence set at Marvin Acme's funeral, whose attendees included Eddie, Foghorn Leghorn, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Tom and Jerry, Heckle and Jeckle, Chip n' Dale, Mighty Mouse, Superman, Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto, Clarabelle Cow, and The Seven Dwarfs in cameo appearances. However, the scene was cut for pacing reasons and never made it past the storyboard stage. Before finally agreeing on Who Framed Roger Rabbit as the film's title, working titles included Murder in Toontown, Toons, Dead Toons Don't Pay Bills, The Toontown Trial, Trouble in Toontown, and Eddie Goes to Toontown.
Animation director Richard Williams admitted he was "openly disdainful of the Disney bureaucracy" and refused to work in Los Angeles. To accommodate him and his animators, production was moved to Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire, England. Disney and Spielberg also told Williams that in return for doing Roger Rabbit, they would help distribute his uncompleted film The Thief and the Cobbler. Supervising animators included Dale Baer, James Baxter, David Bowers, Andreas Deja, Chris Jenkins, Phil Nibbelink, Nik Ranieri, and Simon Wells. The animation production, headed by associate producer Don Hahn, was split between Richard Williams' London studio and a specialized unit in Los Angeles, set up by Walt Disney Feature Animation and supervised by Dale Baer. The production budget continued to escalate while the shooting schedule lapsed longer than expected. When the budget reached $40 million, Disney president Michael Eisner seriously considered shutting down production, but Jeffrey Katzenberg talked him out of it. Despite the budget escalating to over $50 million, Disney moved forward on production because they were enthusiastic to work with Spielberg.
VistaVision cameras installed with motion control technology were used for the photography of the live-action scenes which would be composited with animation. Rubber mannequins of Roger Rabbit, Baby Herman and the Weasels would portray the animated characters during rehearsals in order to teach the actors where to look when acting with "open air and imaginative cartoon characters". Many of the live-action props held by cartoon characters were shot on set with either robotic arms holding the props or the props were manipulated by strings, similar to a marionette. The voice of Roger, Charles Fleischer, insisted on wearing a Roger Rabbit costume while on the set, in order to get into character. Filming began on December 2, 1986, and lasted for seven months at Elstree Studios, with an additional month in Los Angeles and at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) for blue screen effects of Toontown. The entrance of Desilu Studios served as the fictional Maroon Cartoon Studio lot.
Post-production lasted for fourteen months. Because the film was made before computer animation and digital compositing were widely used, all the animation was done using cels and optical compositing. First, the animators and lay-out artists were given black and white printouts of the live action scenes (known as "photo stats"), and they placed their animation paper on top of them. The artists then drew the animated characters in relationship to the live action footage. Due to Zemeckis' dynamic camera moves, the animators had to confront the challenge of ensuring the characters were not "slipping and slipping all over the place." After rough animation was complete, it would run through the normal process of traditional animation until the cels were shot on the rostrum camera with no background. The animated footage was then sent to ILM for compositing, where technicians would animate three lighting layers (shadows, highlights and tone mattes) separately, in order to make the cartoon characters look three-dimensional and give the illusion of the characters being affected by the lighting on set. Finally, the lighting effects were optically composited on to the cartoon characters, who were, in turn, composited into the live-action footage. One of the most difficult effects in the film was Jessica's dress in the night club scene, because it had flashing sequins, an effect accomplished by filtering light through a plastic bag scratched with steel wool.
Regular Zemeckis collaborator Alan Silvestri composed the film score, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) under the direction of Silvestri. Zemeckis joked that "the British [musicians] could not keep up with Silvestri's jazz tempo". The performances of the music themes written for Jessica Rabbit were entirely improvised by the LSO. The work of American composer Carl Stalling heavily influenced Silvestri's work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The film's soundtrack was originally released by Buena Vista Records on June 22, 1988, and reissued by Walt Disney Records on CD on April 16, 2002.
Michael Eisner, then CEO, and Roy E. Disney, Vice Chairman of the Walt Disney Company, felt Who Framed Roger Rabbit was too risqué with sexual references. Eisner and Zemeckis disagreed over various elements of the film, but since Zemeckis had final cut privilege, he refused to make alterations. Roy E. Disney, head of Feature Animation along with studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg, felt it was appropriate to release the film under their Touchstone Pictures banner instead of the traditional Walt Disney Pictures banner.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit opened in the United States on June 22, 1988, grossing $11,226,239 in 1,045 theaters during its opening weekend, ranking first place in the domestic box office. The film went on to gross $156,452,370 in North America and $173,351,588 internationally, coming to a worldwide total of $329,803,958. At the time of release, Roger Rabbit was the twentieth highest-grossing film of all time. The film was also the second highest-grossing film of 1988, behind only Rain Man.
Zemeckis has revealed a 3D reissue could be possible.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit was first released on VHS on October 12, 1989. A Laserdisc edition was also released. A DVD version was first available on September 28, 1999.
On March 25, 2003, Buena Vista Home Entertainment released it as a part of the "Vista Series" line in a two-disc collection with many extra features including a documentary, Behind the Ears: The True Story of Roger Rabbit; a deleted scene in which a pig's head is "tooned" onto Eddie's own; the three Roger Rabbit shorts, Tummy Trouble, Roller Coaster Rabbit, and Trail Mix-Up; as well as a booklet and interactive games. The only short on the 2003 VHS release was Tummy Trouble.
On March 12, 2013, Who Framed Roger Rabbit was released by Touchstone Home Entertainment on Blu-ray Disc and DVD combo pack special edition for the film's 25th Anniversary. The film was also digitally restored by Disney for its 25th Anniversary. Frame-by-frame digital restoration was done by Prasad Studios removing dirt, tears, scratches and other defects.
Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gave the film an approval rating of 97% based on 61 reviews and an average score of 8.4/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit is an innovative and entertaining film that features a groundbreaking mix of live action and animation, with a touching and original story to boot." Aggregator Metacritic calculated a score of 83 out of 100 based on 15 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four stars out of four, predicting it would carry "the type of word of mouth that money can't buy. This movie is not only great entertainment but a breakthrough in craftsmanship." Ebert and his colleague Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune spent a considerable amount of time in the Siskel & Ebert episode in which they reviewed the film analyzing the film's painstaking filmmaking. Siskel also praised the film, and ranked it #2 on his top ten films list for 1988, while Ebert ranked it as #8 on a similar list. Janet Maslin of The New York Times commented that "although this isn't the first time that cartoon characters have shared the screen with live actors, it's the first time they've done it on their own terms and make it look real". Desson Thomson of The Washington Post considered Roger Rabbit to be "a definitive collaboration of pure talent. Zemeckis had Walt Disney Pictures' enthusiastic backing, producer Steven Spielberg's pull, Warner Bros.'s blessing, Canadian animator Richard Williams' ink and paint, Mel Blanc's voice, Jeffrey Price's and Peter S. Seaman's witty, frenetic screenplay, George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic, and Bob Hoskins' comical performance as the burliest, shaggiest private eye." Gene Shalit on the Today Show also praised the film, calling it "one of the most extraordinary movies ever made". Filmsite.org called it "a technically-marvelous film" and a "landmark" that resulted from "unprecedented cooperation" between Warner Bros. and Disney.
Conversely, Richard Corliss, writing for Time, gave a mixed review. "The opening cartoon works just fine but too fine. The opening scene upstages the movie that emerges from it," he said. Corliss was mainly annoyed by the homages to the Golden Age of American animation. Animation legend Chuck Jones made a rather scathing attack on the film in his book Chuck Jones Conversations. Among his complaints, Jones accused Robert Zemeckis of robbing Richard Williams of any creative input and ruining the piano duel that both he and Williams storyboarded.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit won three competitive Academy Awards and a Special Achievement Award. It became the first live-action/animation hybrid film to win multiple Academy Awards since Mary Poppins in 1964. It won Academy Awards for Best Sound Effects Editing (Charles L. Campbell and Louis Edemann), Best Visual Effects and Best Film Editing. Other nominations included Best Art Direction (Art Direction: Elliot Scott; Set Decoration: Peter Howitt), Best Cinematography and Best Sound (Robert Knudson, John Boyd, Don Digirolamo and Tony Dawe). Richard Williams received a Special Achievement Academy Award "for animation direction and creation of the cartoon characters". Roger Rabbit won the Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film, as well as Best Direction for Zemeckis and Special Visual Effects. Hoskins, Lloyd, and Cassidy were nominated for their performances, while Alan Silvestri and the screenwriters received nominations. The film was nominated for four categories at the 42nd British Academy Film Awards and won for Best Visual Effects. Roger Rabbit was nominated the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy), while Hoskins was also nominated for his performance. The film also won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and the Kids' Choice Award for Favorite Movie.American Film Institute Lists
AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs—Nominated
AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
"I'm not bad. I'm just drawn that way."—Nominated
AFI's 10 Top 10—Nominated Fantasy Film
The success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit rekindled an interest in the Golden Age of American animation, and sparked the modern animation scene. In 1991, Walt Disney Imagineering began to develop Mickey's Toontown for Disneyland, based on the Toontown that appeared in the film. The attraction also features a ride called Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin. Three theatrical animated shorts were also produced; Tummy Trouble played in front of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Roller Coaster Rabbit was shown with Dick Tracy and Trail Mix-Up was included with A Far Off Place. The film also inspired a short-lived comic book and video game spin-offs, including two PC games, the Japanese version of The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle (which features Roger instead of Bugs), a 1989 game released on the Nintendo Entertainment System, and a 1991 game released on the Game Boy.
In December 2016, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
With the film's Laserdisc release, Variety first reported in March 1994 that observers uncovered several scenes of antics from the animators that supposedly featured brief nudity of the Jessica Rabbit character. While undetectable when played at the usual rate of 24 film frames per second, the Laserdisc player allowed the viewer to advance frame-by-frame to uncover these visuals. Whether or not they were actually intended to depict the nudity of the character remains unknown. Many retailers said that within minutes of the Laserdisc debut, their entire inventory was sold out. The run was fueled by media reports about the controversy, including stories on CNN and various newspapers.
Another frequently debated scene includes one in which Baby Herman extends his middle finger as he passes under a woman's dress and re-emerges with drool on his lip. There is also controversy over the scene where Daffy Duck and Donald Duck are playing a piano duel, and, during his trademark ranting gibberish, it is claimed that Donald calls Daffy a "goddamn stupid nigger"; however, this is a misinterpretation, with the line from the script being "doggone stubborn little—."
Gary K. Wolf, author of the novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, filed a lawsuit in 2001 against The Walt Disney Company. Wolf claimed he was owed royalties based on the value of "gross receipts" and merchandising sales. In 2002, the trial court in the case ruled that these only referred to actual cash receipts Disney collected and denied Wolf's claim. In its January 2004 ruling, the California Court of Appeal disagreed, finding that expert testimony introduced by Wolf regarding the customary use of "gross receipts" in the entertainment business could support a broader reading of the term. The ruling vacated the trial court's order in favor of Disney and remanded the case for further proceedings. In a March 2005 hearing, Wolf estimated he was owed $7 million. Disney's attorneys not only disputed the claim but said Wolf actually owed Disney $500,000–$1 million because of an accounting error discovered in preparing for the lawsuit. Wolf won the decision in 2005, receiving between $180,000 and $400,000 in damages.
With the film's critical and financial success, Disney and Spielberg felt it was obviously time to plan a second installment. J. J. Abrams says that he met Spielberg in 1989 to discuss working on a sequel, to the extent of preparing an outline and storyboards. More substantial work was done by Nat Mauldin, who wrote a prequel titled Roger Rabbit: The Toon Platoon, set in 1941. Similar to the previous film, Toon Platoon featured many cameo appearances by characters from the golden Age of American animation. It began with Roger Rabbit's early years, living on a farm in the Midwestern United States. With human Richie Davenport, Roger travels west to seek his mother, in the process meeting Jessica Krupnick (his future wife), a struggling Hollywood actress. While Roger and Ritchie are enlisting in the Army, Jessica is kidnapped and forced to make pro-Nazi Germany broadcasts. Roger and Ritchie must save her by going into Nazi-occupied Europe accompanied by several other toons in their Army platoon. After their triumph, Roger and Ritchie are given a Hollywood Boulevard parade, and Roger is finally reunited with his mother, and father: Bugs Bunny.
Mauldin later re-titled his script Who Discovered Roger Rabbit. Spielberg left the project when deciding he could not satirize Nazis after directing Schindler's List. Eisner commissioned a rewrite in 1997 with Sherri Stoner and Deanna Oliver. Although they kept Roger's search for his mother, Stoner and Oliver replaced the WWII subplot with Roger's inadvertent rise to stardom on Broadway and Hollywood. Disney was impressed and Alan Menken was hired to write five songs for the film and offered his services as executive producer. One of the songs, "This Only Happens in the Movies", was recorded in 2008 on the debut album of Broadway actress Kerry Butler. Eric Goldberg was set to be the new animation director, and began to redesign Roger's new character appearance.
Spielberg had no interest in the project because he was establishing DreamWorks, although Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy decided to stay on as producers. Test footage for Who Discovered Roger Rabbit was shot sometime in 1998 at the Disney animation unit in Lake Buena Vista, Florida; the results were a mix of CGI, traditional animation and live-action that did not please Disney. A second test had the toons completely converted to CGI; but this was dropped as the film's projected budget escalated well past $100 million. Eisner felt it was best to cancel the film. In March 2003, producer Don Hahn was doubtful about a sequel being made, arguing that public tastes had changed since the 1990s with the rise of computer animation. "There was something very special about that time when animation was not as much in the forefront as it is now."
In December 2007, Marshall stated that he was still "open" to the idea, and in April 2009, Zemeckis revealed he was still interested. According to a 2009 MTV News story, Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman were writing a new script for the project, and the animated characters would be in traditional 2D, while the rest would be in motion capture. However, in 2010, Zemeckis said that the sequel would remain hand-drawn animated and live-action sequences will be filmed, just like in the original film, but the lighting effects on the cartoon characters and some of the props that the toons handle will be done digitally. Also in 2010, Don Hahn, who was the film's original associate producer, confirmed the sequel's development in an interview with Empire. He stated, "Yeah, I couldn't possibly comment. I deny completely, but yeah... if you're a fan, pretty soon you're going to be very, very, very happy." In 2010, Bob Hoskins stated he was interested in the project, reprising his role as Eddie Valiant. However, he retired from acting in 2012 after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease a year earlier, and died from those complications in 2014. Marshall has confirmed that the film is a prequel, similar to earlier drafts, and that the writing was almost complete. During an interview at the premiere of Flight, Zemeckis stated that the sequel was still possible, despite Hoskins' absence, and the script for the sequel was sent to Disney for approval from studio executives.
In February 2013, Gary K. Wolf, writer of the original novel, said that he, as well as Erik Von Wodtke were working on a development proposal for an animated Disney buddy comedy starring Mickey Mouse and Roger Rabbit called The Stooge, based on the 1952 film of the same name. The proposed film is set to a prequel, taking place five years before Who Framed Roger Rabbit and part of the story is about how Roger met Jessica, his future wife. Wolf has stated the film is currently wending its way through Disney.
In November 2016, while promoting his latest film, Allied, in England, Zemeckis took some time to have an interview with Robbie Collin of The Daily Telegraph. As the conversation shifted focus to the Roger Rabbit sequel, Zemeckis stated that the sequel "moves the story of Roger and Jessica Rabbit into the next few years of period film, moving on from film noir to the world of the 1950s". He also stated that the sequel would feature a "digital Bob Hoskins", as Eddie Valiant would return in "ghost form". While the director went on to state that the script is "terrific" and the film would still utilize hand-drawn animation, Zemeckis thinks that the chances of Disney green-lighting the sequel are "slim". As he explained more in detail, "The current corporate Disney culture [the current studio management of The Walt Disney Company] has no interest in Roger, and they certainly don't like Jessica at all."
Roger Rabbit was the inspiration for a popular dance move in the early 1990s, called "the Roger Rabbit" due to the floppy movements of the character in the film.