Disney Stuck on the Drawing Board: Maroon Studios & Roger Rabbit’s Hollywood
With the recent rumors swirling around the placement of two new lands within Disney’s Hollywood Studios, it seems necessary to look at part of the first real expansion that was planned for the then Disney-MGM Studios.
As one of the major components of the Disney Decade, Michael Eisner used his connections within the movie industry to expand on an EPCOT pavilion concept: the movie pavilion. By expanding this idea, the Disney-MGM Studios was born, and through that creation, so did a completely different direction for the Walt Disney Company in Florida. Eisner’s idea was a full year ahead of rival Universal’s own park opening (although we can argue if Eisner knew what Universal was doing, and what would have happened if Universal didn’t have continual construction problems), which in turn gave Disney the edge.
Disney-MGM Studios was originally conceived to be a half-day park, as it was meant to just be a behind-the-scenes type experience. Fortunately for them, guests wanted more. The park became an immediate success, and more to do was demanded by park goers. This led to the addition of such things as Muppet-Vision 3-D and the entire Sunset Boulevard area to the park. With all that the park had up until recently, as well as all of the additions over the years, it is a wonder that there were many concepts left on the drawing table, and ones that simply were shelved during development. One of these projects was Roger Rabbit’s Hollywood.
In an attempt to capitalize on the success of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”, Imagineers came up with a concept for a new area for park. This area would mimic the sets of the film with a slew of new attractions, including a Toontown Trolley simulator, a Benny the Cab Ride (which eventually was built as Roger Rabbit’s Car-Toon Spin in Disneyland and Tokyo), and The Baby Herman Buggies attraction.
The Baby Herman’s Runaway Baby Buggy would take guests right into the middle of a Roger Rabbit/Baby Herman cartoon, notably the Tummy Trouble short as guests loaded into dark ride style baby carriages, to be Baby Herman’s replacement for a shoot. It was described by one Imagineer as being a ride that, ” … guests zoom through the cartoon sets of Toontown Hospital, fly down stairs, crash through doors and bound over beds.” Though the concept had promise, and would have added a completely new dimension to the park, it never made it past the concept stage.
One attraction from this concept that did make it off the drawing board and into reality was a Benny the Cab attraction, which eventually was built in Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland in California. Roger Rabbit’s Car-Toon Spin takes guests today on a ride aboard Lenny, Benny the Cab’s brother. Through scenes in the film and eventually allowing guests to control the steering wheel, the attraction became a hit for both parks, though never making it to Hollywood Studios.
The land would also include a version of the Terminal Bar, which might have even been below the launch for the trolley car that would have went up and down the planned street that became Sunset Boulevard. The rumor always went that most of the land would encompass the parcel that now is home to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, though the land sadly never made it past the concept and planning stage.
There have been many rumors as to why Roger Rabbit’s Hollywood never came to fruition. Some point the finger at Eisner and Frank Wells being a bit too bold during the Disney Decade, and others blame the character’s fleeting popularity for its eventual cancellation, but the truth seems to lie somewhere in the middle. One major issue that seemed to be a sticking point was the ownership of the character and Disney’s disagreement with Amblin Entertainment (Steven Spielberg’s production agency) led to multiple delays. Being that both Touchstone (Disney’s live-action production company) and Amblin were responsible for the creation of the film, disagreements arose over the profits, the usage, and the design of the land and attractions. Considering Spielberg’s affiliation with Universal, it is unsurprising that this became a major issue moving forward. The other problem that may have contributed to the lands cancellation was the rising costs of construction of EuroDisney, though planning and construction of the Tower of Terror was not far behind this cancellation. As the disagreements finally seemed to be ending with Amblin, Disney found that it had a capital issue which led to much of the plans from the Disney Decade to be shelved. Once this capital issue was resolved however, it seemed that the Roger Rabbit character had lost its luster and popularity, so the company went in a different direction as they eventually decided on a project that eventually became Sunset Boulevard and the Tower of Terror which opened in July 1994.
Though this attraction was never officially green lit, and therefore never has been created, much of the technology developed for it has found itself in other attractions, notably the Winnie-the-Pooh attraction in Magic Kingdom with its “bouncing” and “floating” honeypots. Again, Roger Rabbit’s Car-Toon Spin was opened in Disneyland in January 1993 and in Tokyo in April 1996, allowing some guests to enter the world of Roger Rabbit, but never for those visiting Walt Disney World.