Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin opened in Disneyland’s Toontown on January 26, 1994, a year after the area opened, and the Tokyo Disneyland version opened on April 15, 1996. Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin was the first dark ride built at Disneyland in over a decade and the first Disney attraction where the rider can turn the steering wheel of the ride vehicle to change direction. In a recent segment of The DIS Unplugged Podcast: Disneyland Edition, I talk about the history of Roger Rabbit and how he came to be a resident of Disneyland.
Our historical journey through this attraction begins with Disney President Ron Miller, who against the advice of CEO Card Walker, purchased the rights to the 1981 book Who Censored Roger Rabbit by Gary Wolf for $25,000, even before it was published and put the book into development. During the development process, the screenwriters abandoned most of Wolf’s original storyline, whilst retaining most of his character names as well as the book’s core concept – a clever parody of the old detective novels from the 30s and 40s.
The early 1980s were a time of turmoil for the Disney Company with falling revenue and stock prices, a hostile takeover attempt and internal dissension. By 1984 Ron Miller was out and Michael Eisner and Frank Wells were in charge. Eisner knew that a Roger Rabbit film would be expensive and difficult, and to minimize the financial impact to the Disney Company, he made arrangements for Steven Spielberg to help with the production.
Spielberg negotiated a contract that resulted in his production company, Amblin Entertainment, getting not only major creative control but also 50 percent rights to box-office receipts, licensing, merchandise, theme park attractions and just about everything else. A joint copyright would appear on everything related to Roger Rabbit. Anything involving the original characters for the film including Roger Rabbit, Jessica, Baby Herman and more would require mutual approval from both Amblin and Disney.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit opened to critical and financial success. The success of the film inspired Eisner to immediately increase the promotion of the character who the public perceived as a Disney character, not connected with Amblin.
The film was released in the summer of 1988 and, by the fall of 1988, a costumed Roger Rabbit character was appearing at Disneyland, a theatrical short called Tummy Trouble had been put into production, a film sequel was being discussed, and Roger was planned to become an important presence for the Disney MGM Studios.
At this time, The Disney Company realized that Disney MGM Studios was so popular it needed to be expanded. As part of the plans for the Disney Decade, one idea being discussed for Disneyland was to convert the area behind Main Street U.S.A. into a Hollywood Land with a section devoted to Roger Rabbit featuring some attractions. In May 1991, Disney officially cancelled the project claiming in a statement to the Los Angeles Times that the primary reason was “proposed construction would come at the same time as development of the proposed Westcot theme park nearby.”
These same Roger Rabbit elements were suggested for an expansion at the Disney MGM Studios at the same time, located approximately where Sunset Boulevard is today near the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Known as Roger Rabbit’s Hollywood and sometimes as Maroon Studios, the fictitious animation studio where Roger works, it would have been an entire Toontown street with wacky architecture and attractions based on the film. After the financial difficulties of the Euro Disney Resort, plans were dramatically cut back with only Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland receiving any Roger Rabbit-themed attractions.
In 1989, Walt Disney Studios was interested in bringing the concept of Mickey’s Star Land in WDW’s Magic Kingdom out to Disneyland. Joe Lanzisero was the project lead for Disneyland’s Toontown and had also worked on the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Marcelo Vignali was the design lead for Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin. Joe Lanzisero did a rough storyboard for the ride. However, much of that initial storyboard changed as the attraction evolved. It was Joe’s Lanzisero’s idea to end the ride with a portable hole. Marcelo came up with the chase through Toontown storyline for the attraction. Art Verity wrote out the dialogue and humor. Andrea Favilli designed the exterior of Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin.
The queue is designed so guests can see only about a dozen people in front and behind them which hides the size of the crowd. This queue is one of the best features of the attraction and serves as the first act of the attraction with gags lifted straight out of the film and cartoon world.
Entering the Toontown Cab Company, the queue winds its way through darkened Toontown streets and alleys, passing through the Ink and Paint Club’s backstage areas like Jessica Rabbit’s dressing room and the prop cage, then past the window of Baby Herman’s apartment. In a window on the upper floors, the shadows of the Toon Patrol can be seen plotting to dip the city. The queue then takes guests through their Dip Refinery. In the film, DIP is made up of equal parts of acetone, benzine and turpentine and is the only way to kill toons. There are license plates hanging on the walls of the queue which have code-like puns of various Disney films and characters, including 2N TOWN (Toontown), BB WOLF (Big Bad Wolf), MR TOAD (Mr. Toad), 1DRLND (Wonderland), 1D N PTR (Wendy & Peter Pan), IM L8 (I’m late – The White Rabbit), CAP 10 HK (Captain Hook), L MERM8 (The Little Mermaid), 101 DLMN (101 Dalmatians), FAN T C (Fantasy), RS2CAT (Aristocat), ZPD2DA (Zip-a-dee-doo-dah), and 3 LIL PIGS (Three Little Pigs).
For folks who have not taken a whirl on Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, let’s ride through the attraction together.
The original budget for Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin was 40 million dollars The budget was later cut nearly in half due to the onset of a recession and the disappointing opening for Euro Disneyland, the final budget for the Car-Toon Spin ride was closer to 22 million. There are 16 audio-animatronic figures in the attraction and 59 animated props. The ride is approximately 3 1/2 minutes long.
After 20 years, Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin continues to be as popular as the day it opened. Marcelo Vignali believes one reason for its popularity is because they designed a unique ride experience that can hold up with or without the film. Joe Lanzisero said the concept worked out well, since Roger is closer in temperament to what Toontown is all about, which is the cartoon shorts. “We aren’t trying to tell the entire story of Who Framed Roger Rabbit but rather highlighting its essence. I think our dark rides work best when we can take you someplace where you can’t go in reality.”
And isn’t that the fundamental nature of Walt’s Disneyland?
To learn more about the history of Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin and Roger Rabbit’s Hollywood at the Disney-MGM Studios, what happened to the much-rumored film sequel, and why Roger Rabbit gradually disappeared from Disneyland and Walt Disney World, please listen to my segment on the DIS Unplugged Podcast: Disneyland Edition.
Click here to download the mp3 version of the DIS Unplugged: Disneyland Edition Roger Rabbit 20th Anniversary show.