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Austin American-Statesman from Austin, Texas • 166

Austin, Texas
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Sunday, July 3, 1988 22 Austin American-Statesman Roger Rabbit Jessica, Roger Rabbit's sultry wife, wows Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins, left) and gag king Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye) in a scene from Roger Rabbit. Just for the fun of it, Jessica will star in television spots to promote Diet Coke. ond scene for that spot," Levin said. "Roger is at the Ink and Paint Club (one of the film locales) and Jessica sings "just for the taste of it Diet Coke" Levin said an extensive retail program will follow, but "we want the audience to control how much merchandise becomes available. And everything we do will be in keeping with the spirit of the character, like the early Snoopy and Garfield items you used to see.

Or, actually, more like Mickey Mouse, who has been a success in the marketplace for years because the Disney people understood what he signifies to the public." There'll be T-shirts with phrases from the movie, coffee cups, a series of Roger Rabbit stuffed toys in different sizes for different ages and tastes, and a line offering the supporting cast including Benny the Cab, Jessica and Baby Herman. "What we hope to do is offer people an opportunity to extend their enjoyment beyond the movie theater," Levin said. Ultimately, that lucrative bunny trail leads right back to the big screen. Michael Eisner, Disney's chief executive officer, is so pleased with Roger's performance, he's announced plans for a sequel a move which apparently surprised even the film's stars. At the New York premiere, Hoskins, Zemeckis and Kathleen Turner (the uncredited voice of Jessica) were besieged with inquiries.

The stars were interested, but Zemeckis was talking about his commitment to Back to the Future 2 and working with Michael J. Fox and Lloyd again. But the Son of Roger Rabbit is scheduled for release in 1991, and to hit that projected release date, the creators will have to start working again in another six weeks. Only three weeks old, and this rabbit is ready to multiply. died on the vine because its hype outweighed its substance.

"When your name is Disney and you're doing an animated film," Levin said, "a lot of people are going to think the movie is for kids. That's why we didn't want to do a 'Happy Meal' promotion with McDonald's, because that's the kind of thing they normally do for movies like this. Instead, they told us they had a 'super-size' promotion coming up, where you get a large hamburger, large fries and large soft drink. It's designed to appeal to teen-agers and young adults, the same as the movie's audience. So Roger Rabbit will appear on the 32-ounce soft drink cups.

In the commercial, Roger and Jessica drive through and pick up their super-size order." Diet Coke, which also appeals to teens and young adults, wants to continue adding new celebrities to endorse its beverage. Move over, Whitney Houston, here comes Jessica. "We shot a special new 30-sec- commercial instead of a show. I feel well-protected in that area. The people at Disney and Amblin have been very strict about how they're going to do it." Disney, its subsidiary Touchstone Pictures, and Amblin began considering how to introduce Roger Rabbit to the world more than a year-and-a-half ago.

Last week, the Cable News Network reported $20 million had been spent to publicize and promote the film. Levin said Disney doesn't reveal such figures, and he calls the estimate "far off-base on the high end." Levin said, "When we first started talking about the movie, we had a lot of thoughts about the kinds of items we wanted to see. We knew that if we had entertained the audience, we'd have success in our merchandising and promotional programs." The plan was to allow Who Framed Roger Rabbit to enter the marketplace first as a piece of cinema. So far, the gamble is paying off handsomely. In its first day, the movie grossed $1.8 million, outpacing Three Men and A Baby, the Touchstone picture that opened the day before Thanksgiving in 1987 with receipts of $1.7 million.

After five days of release, Roger Rabbit had already amassed $14.9 million the kind of figures generally associated with a blockbuster opening on a holiday weekend. In fact, first-day grosses for Zemeckis' new film surpassed his last film, Back to the Future (also $1.7 million) the summer '85 smash that opened in 35 percent more theaters than Roger Rabbit. A painstaking blend of live and animated footage has earned widespread critical acclaim for the film, but that technical wizardry is only one element of the Rabbit phenomenon. Moviegoers are eager to watch a believable relationship develop between a cartoon rabbit and the human detective (played by Bob Hoskins) who befriends him. Christopher Lloyd, once the scatterbrained scientist of Back to the Future, is cast in Rabbit as "the heavy" opposite a cuddly bunch of Toons.

As Judge Doom, he's evil incarnate, the most despicable screen character since Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch of the West. "He's such a great actor," the director said, "incredibly professional and completely spontaneous. When you're working with him, you never know exactly what's going to happen until you roll the camera. And if that take doesn't come off, he's great about going back and doing it again." Some scenes were shot 45 times. Hoskins, who buried his elegant English dialect beneath the voice of a hardboiled '40s gumshoe for the movie, said performing to thin air nearly drove him insane.

Zemeckis said, "That's what made editing the spookiest part of making the movie. I found myself having to make decisions that were final, that were based on nothing more than a gut reaction. Arthur Schmidt, who is a live-action film editor, had to cut the film when we basically only had half the movie done. Then I took it over to London and tried to explain to (ani mator) Richard Williams what I thought the rabbit should be doing and how he should be doing it. The rest was up to Richard." The last great pairing of live action and animation occurred in a scene from Disney's Mary Poppins.

The camera was locked down onto a single spatial plane and the scene was lit almost entirely without shadow so that animators could illustrate the sequence more manageably. But Zemeckis' camera was constantly in motion. He filmed as if the movie starred only live performers and multiplied the animator's duties a hundredfold. The result is breathtaking: Nimble use of robotics, wires, puppetry, and the work of Industrial Light and Magic's special effects team brings the cartoons of Roger Rabbit to the brink of reality. When Jessica, Roger's curvaceous spouse, enters with a supper club torch song, she sends everyone's blood pressure through the roof Hoskins' included.

The once-sexy Betty Boop can only look on with disappointment. "I'm always afraid of saying something too positive about my own movie," Zemeckis said, "but the response so far has really been something else. And that's the best I could hope for, really. It would be nice to have created cartoon characters that might go on and have lives of their own, because it really hasn't happened for about 30 years now." Not only is Roger Rabbit expected to create a cult all his own, but chances are he'll rekindle interest in many of the other characters featured in the film, among them Daffy Duck and Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse, Dumbo and Yosemite Sam. "We wanted the movie understood first as entertainment, not as part of a larger business puzzle," Levin said.

"We wanted people to come out of the theater saying, 'Wow, I've never seen anything like that rather than going in with the kind of 'show me' attitude." Levin said the Roger Rabbit campaign is going to be extensive, but slow-paced. "I was instantly reminded of Star Wars," he said. "I have two young sons, and when I took them to see the first Star Wars movie, none of us was prepared for what that movie did. We're looking for that same sense with Roger Rabbit, that there's a lot of surprise in the movie that people will not be expecting." In marketing, as in comedy, timing is everything. McDonald's and Diet Coke will be first to test Roger Rabbit's popularity as a pitchman.

Businessmen and critics alike have warned that even sure-fire hits can misfire when promotion gets more attention than product. Last year, Michael Jackson used the melody of Bad to hawk Pepsi before the song had a life of its own, perhaps resulting in a shorter chart run for the single. More recently, Willow BETTE LILY 2 HOLIDAY FIREWORKS! BETTE MIDLER LILY TOMLIN BIG BUSINESS Sean Mark Gonnery Harmon -J THE TOUCHSTONE PICTURES SILVER SCREEN PARTNERS I BETTE MIDLER ULY TOMLIN "BIO BUSINESS" DORI PIERSON RUBEL STEVE TISCH MICHAEL PEYSER ABRAHAMS JJSZST PRESIDIO FRfSHMO THEATRES L--J A PARAjVWXJNT PICTURE rfTSI TO A Covtfci NtfS 1 rm Cnno. AH fUftkit kcr4. "7 I PRESICXO THEATRES IHX ooreRto) KSW I stereo ULTRA STEREO MESIOIO THEATRES I III I 10000 figsaCh I eenWMe 447-2260 THX.

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