Never let it be said that Jessica Rabbit doesn't know how to make an entrance. On June 22, 1988, Roger Rabbit's better half extended her shapely leg through the stage curtains at Los Angeles's famed Ink and Paint Club. Then the curtains part revealing the rest of her shape, and everyone in the room — not to mention everyone in movie theaters around America — sat up and took notice. By the end of her flaming hot torch song, a new femme fatale superstar was... well, drawn.
Thirty-five years later, Jessica Rabbit's first appearance in Who Framed Roger Rabbit remains a seminal pop culture moment, and one that very nearly broke our collective Kinsey scale. Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment on the movie's 30th anniversary in 2018, the screenwriting team of Peter Seaman and Jeffrey Price revealed how they and director Robert Zemeckis set out to upend moviegoers' expectations for what Mrs. Roger Rabbit would look like.
"You think, 'Well, it's Jessica Rabbit and he's Roger Rabbit, so he's married to a rabbit,'" Price explains. "So when the curtain parts, all of a sudden this hyper-sexualized cartoon character comes out! That was the big reveal — that she's a femme fatale, not some silly character."
"We wrote [the Ink and Paint sequence] to be as crazy as it could be," Seaman adds. "We did gags for the octopus bartender where he's got eight arms and is making all these different cocktails. We wrote gags for the penguin waiters. But it's all overwhelmed by Jessica Rabbit. Everything [else] goes away when Jessica comes out. That’s what makes it, you know?"
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While Seaman and Price came up with the idea that a bombshell would be calling Roger "honey bunny," it was left to famed animation supervisor, Richard Williams, to sculpt Jessica's improbable figure. "We didn't write that she had 48D's or whatever," Seaman says. "That was in the animator's imagination, not ours." (Williams died in 2019.)
And the writers remember that Williams took his time getting her appearance just right before showing it to the filmmakers or Walt Disney executives, who were bankrolling the expensive production. "Bob Zemeckis would say, 'Hey Richard, I need to see what Jessica looks like,'" Price recalls. "And he would say, 'Well, I’m not ready to show her to you yet.' Everyone was kind of concerned about whether he was gonna come up with this."
But those concerns fell away when Williams finally showed Zemeckis and the rest of the Roger Rabbit team how Jessica would look... and, more crucially, how she would move when approaching private eye Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins). "He spent a lot of time working on the mechanics of Jessica's body and how her hips swayed and counterpoints the way her bosoms swayed," remembers Price. "He was very much into that. That whole thing of her taking [Eddie's] necktie and pulling him closer — people went nuts when they saw that, because it was pretty sexy for a cartoon."
"We had a friend who called up [after the movie's release]," Seaman adds, laughing. "He said, 'Hey, well done. My son just went through puberty watching your movie.'"
Emboldened by Williams's bold take on the character, the writers went back to the script and added new Jessica-related gags that definitely weren't the kind of standard family movie fare that Disney specialized in. "There was a lot of silly, sexual stuff," Price recalls, pointing to a "booby trap" joke towards the end of the movie as one example. "Roger Rabbit really isn't a typical Disney film anyway — it's a lot zanier and crazier."
"There were also some 'knocker' jokes that got written in," Seamen says. "There's a scene where she visits Eddie in his office, and he stands up and bumps his head on her breasts. That's not something you normally see in a Disney movie! So stuff like that that was eventually added in — why fight it?"
While Williams may have created Jessica's look, it was Kathleen Turner who really brought her to life. The Body Heat star wasn't credited for her performance, but her voice is unmistakable. (For the record, Carrie star Amy Irving sang vocals on Jessica's Ink and Paint Club number.) Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment in 2014, Turner revealed that she was pregnant while recording Jessica's dialogue, and actually went into labor on her final day in the booth. "I was not my most attractive at that point," she says, laughing. "And yet I've got this bombshell I’m voicing."
Jessica Rabbit may make the biggest impression in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but there's so much more to love about Zemeckis's 1988 classic. Read on for more behind the scenes stories told by the duo that wrote the movie.
Paint the town inky
If you're trying to single out one scene that best encapsulates the magic of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, look no further than the Ink and Paint Club sequence, where Eddie mixes and mingles with some of the most famous 'toons ever, from Betty Boop to Daffy and Donald Duck. "That was where the rubber meets the road," Seaman explains. "If that [scene] didn't work, the whole thing wasn't gonna work. It was very, very complicated to shoot."
According to the writers, Betty Boop's cameo came with its own complications. Because Roger Rabbit was being produced at Disney, the writers had access to the studio's library of characters and, thanks to an unprecedented arrangement with Warner Bros. — brokered by none other than Roger Rabbit executive producer Steven Spielberg — the Looney Tunes catalogue was open to them as well. But the rights to Betty had passed through multiple hands over the years, requiring a separate deal.
"We wrote that scene for Betty, and if she were lost to us, we would have slotted somebody else in or just written a new scene," Seaman says. "They weren't shy about having us rewrite stuff, that's for sure! The cool thing is, because we shot the live action first, there was another two-and-a-half years to rewrite the movie. You were a little bit locked in to what the action was, but you could put any toon you wanted and have them say whatever you wanted."
One moment that didn’t require any rewrites was the face-off between Daffy and Donald, who are in the midst of an epic piano battle when Eddie enters the Ink and Paint Club. Seaman and Price credit Zemeckis with dreaming up that idea, and note that Williams's animation team deliberately drew Daffy in his earlier, loonier phase as opposed to the more refined (if still explosive) fowl he became later on. "They mellowed him out over the years," Price says of Daffy’s evolution. "They made him suave. Originally, he was psychotic, like somebody who escaped from the asylum."
"I don't think people really appreciated at the time how historic that was," Seaman says of uniting those two icons of animated duck kind. "People thought, 'Wait a minute, weren't they ever in a picture before together?'" adds Price. "Don't they work for the same studio?' They didn't! That was an amazing thing never to happen again."
Baby Herman saved their bacon
When Disney snapped up the rights to Gary K. Wolf's novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? in the early '80s, Price and Sherman were the first writers the Mouse House hired to transform his cult book into a potential blockbuster. One of the earliest creative decisions they made was to open the film with a cartoon that illustrates Roger's star power, as well as his collaboration with the character they most enjoyed writing, cigar-chomping troublemaker Baby Herman.
"We thought, 'How is the audience going to appreciate the fact that Roger is this famous guy?'" Price says. "We decided that the movie would open with a cartoon, and that stayed from the very first draft all the way until the movie you saw."
Over the course of Roger Rabbit‘s multiyear journey to the screen, the project fell into the hands of other writers, but Zemeckis brought the original team back when he officially came aboard as the director. "He remembered that cartoon, and several of the newer drafts hadn't included it. So he said, 'Find the guys who wrote that draft,' and that's how we were brought back on the movie."
DeGreasy before Doom
Although Roger, Jessica, and Eddie all originated in the pages of Wolf's novel, the film's nightmarish villain, Judge Doom (played by Christopher Lloyd), was entirely the invention of the screenwriters. In their earliest drafts, Price and Seaman did hew closer to the book, designating Rocco DeGreasy — a cartoon syndicate magnate whose murder kicks off the plot of the book — as the heavy. But as the focus of their story changed from a simple "whodunit" to a larger mystery that touches on the history of Los Angeles itself, the duo realized the story required a more threatening foe.
"We needed someone to represent what was ultimately going to be the conspiracy of the movie, and not the red herring of Roger being a murderer," Price says. "We decided that it would be revealed that he was not a human being, but was just posing as someone who hated toons and was very draconian in his treatment of them." Seaman remembers scripting one of the scariest moments in the film — when Doom drops his human façade and reveals himself to be a toon. "We call it the 'Oh f*** moment,'" he says, laughing. "That was a big breakthrough for us."
In a recent Role Recall with Lloyd, the veteran actor told Yahoo Entertainment that he specifically set out to make kids in the crowd go "Oh f***!" by taking inspiration from the villains of classic Disney cartoons. "I thought back to films like Bambi, Snow White and Pinocchio which I watched eagerly when they first came out just as young kids do today," Lloyd says. "And there was more than one time when I would have horribly nightmarish kind of thoughts! So it was satisfying to deliver that kind of payback: 'He scared me, so I'm gonna scare you.'"
Taking the plunge with Mickey and Bugs
Donald and Daffy aren"t the only Disney and Warner Bros. creations to meet for the first — and only — time during the course of Roger Rabbit. While paying a visit to the positively psychedelic neighborhood of Toontown, Eddie crosses paths with none other than Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse while he's plunging from a great height. Over the years, rumors have crept out that the two studios demanded that their respective flagship characters have equal amounts of dialogue, but the writers don't recall that being an issue at the time.
"I'm sure somebody was keeping score, but we were trying to give them both bits to do so it wasn't one-sided," Seaman says. "There was a certain amount of pressure because Zemeckis would go, 'Hey, this is Mickey and Bugs for the first time in history. It's gotta be good!' But we also had to think of situations where the plot was still moving along."
Who censored the 'Roger Rabbit' sequel?
Who Framed Roger Rabbit remains the rare beloved blockbuster that didn't spawn a sequel, let alone an entire cinematic universe. While Disney produced several Roger Rabbit cartoon shorts and comic books in the wake of the film, Roger and Jessica never starred in another feature. (Wolf has written several follow-up novels to Who Censored Roger Rabbit that haven't been adapted into other mediums.)
The lack of a sequel isn't for lack of trying, though. At one point, screenwriter Nat Mauldin developed a World War II-era prequel about Roger's experiences in the so-called "Toon Platoon." That idea was later revised into Who Discovered Roger Rabbit, which depicted the rabbit's rise to stardom. Seaman and Price also confirm that they took their own shot at a second installment at Spielberg's behest. "We thought it would have been a noble sequel," Seaman says. "But it doesn't look like it's gonna happen. In some ways, just having it stand on its own probably helped it be the iconic film that it's become. So maybe it's for the best."
Just in case the powers that be change their minds, though, the duo declines to specify what the storyline would have been or which characters would return. (Hoskins died in 2014, but Zemeckis has said that he'd hope to bring the late actor back via digital technology.) "Both Zemeckis and Spielberg were interested so who knows?” remarks Seaman, optimistically. “It happened with the first one, so maybe it’ll happen with this. You never know if it comes around again."
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is currently streaming on Disney+.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article was published on June 22, 2018.