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Movies of 1988 Bracket Game: Beetlejuice Vs. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

It’s time to pick our last finalist for the Movies of 1988 bracket game.  We have two offbeat comedies with cartoonish sensibilities.  Who Framed Roger Rabbit? blended actual animated footage of iconic cartoon characters with a live-action spoof of film noir.  While Beetlejuice basically introduced American audiences to the full glory of the Tim Burton aesthetic for the first time.  Which one will get a shot at the crown?  That’s up to you.

But first, let’s check and see who the winner of today’s match will be facing in the final round.

Much to the dismay of action fans everywhere (or at least the handful who voted in yesterday’s bracket game), yesterday’s contest resulted in an upset.  When I was originally putting these brackets together, I was actually a bit disappointed to see that Die Hard was released in 1988 because I figured it would easily walk away with the whole thing.  Well, once again I was proven wrong.  With two-thirds of the votes, A Fish Called Wanda claimed the victory.  That means we will have an all-comedy final round which is probably appropriate for a year that was so strong in cinematic funny business.

Yesterday’s write-up dealt with the follow-ups to Die Hard and Wanda.  So today, I am going to continue that theme with today’s movies.  What’s that you say?  Neither Beetlejuice nor Roger Rabbit ever had a sequel?  Well, that’s true.  But both movies had sequels planned that for various reasons never came to pass.  Rumors have persisted for three decades that someday we would see Beetlejuice go Hawaiian or a Roger Rabbit prequel.  Given the success of the original movies, why didn’t these sure-fire sequels come to pass?

Believe it or not, it was Burton’s idea to set a Beetlejuice sequel in Hawaii.  He liked the idea of mixing the Gothic imagery of his after-life with an old-fashioned surf movie because they don’t go together at all.  In 1990, Burton hired a writer to start working on a script.  Both Michael Keaton and Winona Ryder were interested, but then came Batman.  In 1989, Burton and Keaton topped the success of Beetlejuice with their take on the Dark Knight.  It was a good problem to have.  With two successful movies, which one do you make a sequel to first?  The obvious answer was for Batman to return.

Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian was still in development through the mid-nineties.  At one point, Kevin Smith was offered a chance to write the script.  He passed in favor of rebooting Superman.  Ironically, Tim Burton eventually came on board to direct what would have been Superman Lives. Burton didn’t like Smith’s script and tossed it out.  Eventually the whole project collapsed over budget concerns.  Meanwhile, interest in Beetlejuice had cooled off.  Winona Ryder and Micahel Keaton faded from the spotlight and Burton remained busy with other projects.

Today, there are still rumors of a Beetlejuice sequel.  Burton, Ryder and Keaton have all expressed their willingness to return to the characters.  It’s just a matter of finding “the right script”.  I have my doubts that there needs to be a Beetlejuice 2 and with every passing year it becomes less likely we will ever actually get one.  That might be a good thing.  Aside from the sequel, Beetlejuice has lived on in other media.  From 1989-1991 there was a Beetlejuice animated series.  There have also been video game adaptions including a Lego Dimensions Fun Pack released last year.  Up until recently, Beetlejuice starred in a stage show at Universal Studios theme parks and there has a been a steady stream of merchandise.  Thirty years later, it’s still pretty easy to find a Beetlejuice T-shirt if you want one.

Immediately following the success of Roger Rabbit, everyone involved had big plans for a follow-up.  Disney was cranking out merchandise, they Roger-themed attractions in their theme parks and they produced three shorts which were attached to theatrical films like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Dick Tracy.  A script was being developed for a prequel which was tentatively titled Roger Rabbit: The Toon Platoon.  The story involved Roger and a human friend trying to save Jessica from the Nazis during World War II.  It would have revealed the Bugs Bunny was actually Roger’s father.  But Spielberg was uncomfortable using Nazis as bad guys in a cartoon after having directed Schindler’s List, so he walked away from the project.

Nearly ten years after the release of the original, Michael Eisner was still trying to get a sequel off the ground.  The new script traded in the Nazi plot for the story of Roger’s rise to fame in Hollywood.  This one got far enough along that Alan Menken was hired to write five songs for the movie.  “This Only Happens in the Movies” was recorded by Broadway actress Kerry Butler and released in 2008.

Despite the removal of the Nazis, Spielberg wasn’t interested.  He had moved on and was forming DreamWorks with partner Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen.  DreamWorks animation would become one of Disney’s strongest competitors.  Disney pushed on, but Eisner was unhappy with animation tests that combined live action, traditional animation and CGI.  As time went on, Disney became convinced that Roger was a relic of hand-drawn animation which was an art-form whose time had passed.

Producer Frank Marshall and director Robert Zemeckis remained interested.  After Eisner left Disney, they continued trying to develop a Roger Rabbit sequel.  Unsurprisingly, Zemeckis wanted to employ his pet technology, motion capture.  That expensive technique fell out of favor when Zemeckis’ Mars Needs Moms flopped at the box office.  As recently as 2016, Zemeckis was still talking about his ideas for a Roger Rabbit sequel, but he says the odds are slim.  “The current corporate Disney culture has no interest in Roger, and they certainly don’t like Jessica at all.”

And just like with Beetlejuice, I think that’s probably for the best.

Which of these cinematic oddities do you want to see take on A Fish Called Wanda in the final round?

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Posted on January 14, 2018, in Bracket Game, Movies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. In one of his performance videos, Kevin Smith talks about getting offered the “Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian” script. His response was perfect: “Didn’t we say everything there was to say in the first Beetlejuice? Must we go tropical?”

    In this case, I agree it’s for the better than the planned sequels were never made. Considering how many really good comedies (Wayne’s World, Friday, Austin Powers, The Blues Brothers, House Party etc etc etc) got burdened with weak sequels, it;s best to let these movies have their moment in the spotlight as one movie.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What we have here are two movies with high concepts, delightful moments, and strong branding. I have a good deal of affection for Beetlejuice and Who Framed Roger Rabbit despite disappointing third acts in both cases. Surely somebody involved could have come up with zanier and more satisfying final scenes for us. Instead, both are a little too scary and not nearly funny enough. When it came down to it, my love of animation and the period details led to me choosing Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

    My favorite flicks are already out of the bracket, so it’s all about mitigating shortcomings from here on out.

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    • In reference to questions about Roger Rabbit living in a hand drawn animated world versus today’s CG landscape, well…..that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned. I still haven’t seen much from straight computer animation that has the warmth that was routinely achieved by traditional cel cartoons. They’re getting closer, but they’re not there yet. While I agree that there isn’t much need for a Roger Rabbit sequel or prequel, if one appeared and employed all hand-drawn art I would be the first one in line for a ticket.

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      • Whether or not audiences prefer CG animation is up for debate. The studios are convinced that is the case and it’s hard to argue otherwise based solely on box office. I don’t have nearly as strong of a preference as you do, but I do enjoy traditional animation. Someone at Disney could probably eventually convince them to give hand-drawn animation another try if it weren’t for the fact that in addition to being viewed as out of style, it is also a lot more time consuming and expensive than the CG animation audiences seem to prefer.

        If there was a movie that demanded the hand-drawn approach, it’s Roger Rabbit. The original is an ode to the long tradition of the art form. You could reboot Roger Rabbit with CG animation if you wanted, but it would be a completely different animal from the original movie. From the sound of things, Disney would rather we all forget about these characters. Clearly, Jessica Rabbit is problematic for the brand but really the whole thing is a bit too mature for modern Disney which prefers not to take any chances if they can be avoided. It’s a business decision.

        My guess is some time in the very distant future, Disney will remember it has the rights to the original book and adapt it again in a way that barely resembles the ’88 version. Until then, they will make a bit of money off of video sales and merchandise.

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