ANIMATION ANECDOTES
April 3, 2020 posted by Jim Korkis

The Funeral of Marvin Acme

Suspended Animation #261

Many sequences were storyboarded and some even animated for Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) but were then left out of the final feature film for a variety of reasons including cost and time issues, pacing and the fact that while they might have been clever or fun but were not really necessary to tell the story.

Perhaps one of the saddest casualties was the funeral of Marvin Acme. Marvin Acme (played by the adorable, irrepressible and talented Stubby Kaye) is the head of the Acme Corporation and owner of Toontown. He genuinely cares about all Toons and has promised that in the event of his death, they will inherit Toontown, as stated in his will.

After Roger Rabbit discovers that Marvin is playing Patty Cake with his wife Jessica, Acme is found murdered the following morning in his factory warehouse. A large safe was dropped on his head and fortunately that action occurs offscreen. Roger is made the prime suspect and hires human detective Eddie Valiant to clear him of the charges.

In the original screenplay, an entire day went by between the time Eddie exited the Terminal Bar & Grill and the moment that Valiant encountered Jessica Rabbit as he stepped out of his office bathroom.

While amusing, some in the audience were puzzled why Valiant was taking a shower while Judge Doom and the weasels were in hot pursuit and time was running out for Roger.

The short answer was that Valiant had to wash off a toon pig head that the weasels had painted on him (in a scene animated but cut from the film) after a confrontation with Doom in Jessica’s dressing room and that earlier Valiant had put in a very busy and sweaty day including attending the funeral of Marvin Acme.

The original production schedule was for three days of live action shooting for Marvin Acme’s funeral. However, when some of the photography for other composite scenes came back with a scratch on the negative and needed to be re-shot, it would put the production in jeopardy of missing its Christmas deadline.

Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg decided the funeral scene which would require complicated animation and physical gags to be included with the live action and negotiations unsure for the use of some characters in the scene, that it should be cut even though it was known that it was producer Steven Spielberg’s favorite scene in the script.

After Valiant leaves Roger and Dolores at the bar, he hops a red car to the Inglewood cemetery (that was originally going to be a real cemetery somewhere in the San Francisco area) where the Marvin Acme funeral is taking place.

There were many variations in the actual funeral proceedings but here is probably the most likely version that I have patched together from Mel Blanc’s vocal script, the storyboard done by Amblin artist Marty Kline offered for sale on eBay in 2014, talking with some of the people who worked on the film and other sources:

R.K. Maroon’s Packard roars up amidst all the black limos and hearse parked along the roadway near the site of Acme’s funeral. The ceremony is already in progress.

At this point, there was no confirmation as to what toons would be available to mourn so there are multiple “blue sky” drawings. A Terrytoons Mighty Mouse is crying while in the hand of a Fleischer Superman who is on his knees sobbing away.

Drawings were made of Tom and Jerry, Heckle and Jeckle, Tex Avery’s MGM wolf character, Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, Porky and Petunia Pig, Droopy, Andy Panda, Katnip the Cat, Tex Avery’s George and Junior, Sylvester the Cat, Baby Huey, Tubby the Tuba and the Three Little Pigs among many others. They would be seen doing a pan shot while the eulogy is given.

The eulogy is being given by Foghorn Leghorn who intones: “Today we commit the body of brother Acme to the cold, I say cold, cold ground. We shed no tears for we know that Marvin is going to a better place. That high, high, I say that high-larious place up in the sky.

“We say goodbye to a man who was more generous than a homely widow with Sunday supper. Why when toonkind splattered forth upon this landscape, we wandered the hills without a home. That is until brother Acme painted up his backyard for us to live in. Thereby creating the old…I say old… neighborhood we know as Toontown.”

This whole scene is being shown from the point of view of Valiant who is in the distance leaning against a palm tree. Maroon wends his way through the crowd and grabs Jessica Rabbit’s and pulls her to the side. He is angrily confronting her.

Valiant can’t hear what is being said but by the pantomined actions can see it is on the verge of becoming violent. At one point Maroon points to his pocket. Toward the end, Jessica knees Maroon in the groin and he crumples to the ground as she storms off.

The pallbearers of the coffin kept shifting but generally included Yosemite Sam (who is struggling to carry the coffin from underneath it), Elmer Fudd, the silent screen version of Felix the Cat (with a “Sob” thought bubble above him), Popeye, Bluto, Herman the Mouse and in at least one version, Goofy.

Goofy: Gawsh! Paul Bearin’s shore hard work, ain’t it? A-hyuck.

Popeye: We’re bearing Paul? I thought we were bearing Acme. Arf Arf Arf.

Bluto thinks that Popeye’s comment is disrespectful. So a fight between them ensues that evolves to include others. From that point on, there are several different variations of what happens to Acme’s coffin so that there were multiple options depending upon what character rights could be obtained.

In one version, Yosemite Sam gets so angry that he yells, “Hold it, ya varmints! I’ll plant him muhself!” He hoists the casket over his head and stomps toward the grave where he tosses it into the hole and turns to Foghorn Leghorn, “Awright, you big-mouth bantam…preach.”

In another version, when the coffin was lowered down into the grave, it landed on a whoopee cushion and a little Tex Avery style sign popped up out of the coffin saying “Sad, ain’t it?”

In yet another version, to the human funeral director’s amazement as the coffin is being lowered, the crank starts plinking out the tune to Pop Goes the Weasel like a jack-in-the box and the Toon mourners sing the lyrics. When it reaches the bottom, there is a “boing” sound and the harlequin clown mascot from the Harvey cartoons’ introductions pops out.

The final version and the one that is most often referenced seems to be that as the coffin touches the bottom of the grave, Casper the Friendly Ghost rises up and asks, “Will you be my friend?”

The appearance has all the mourners (both toon and human) screaming “A Ghost!!” and running off in terror, knocking down chairs, wreaths, loudspeakers and trampling Maroon, who has now recovered and is standing up, in the process.

During this chaos, a convertible pulls up near Valiant. A live action look-alike for actor Humphrey Bogart is driving. An animated Bugs Bunny is sitting next to him. In the back seat is a live-action look-alike of actor Clark Gable sitting next to Mickey Mouse. They are all dressed in golf attire and there are bags of golf clubs in the back.

Bugs, chomping on a carrot, leans out to ask Valiant, “Pardon me, Doc. I hate to interrupt your boid watchin’ but is this the right boneyard for the Acme funeral?

The final shot for the scene would be Valiant saying, “When it comes to funerals, Toons are worse than the Irish!”
It would have been a fun scene with all those disparate Toons but Katzenberg was right that it wasn’t necessary to tell the story.

21 Comments

  • Ah yes, this takes me back. With the 50th anniversary re-release of Snow White in 1987, Roger Rabbit in 1988, and the Little Mermaid in 1989, I felt optimistic about the future of animation for the first time in my life.

    That said, I was well aware at the time that many of the creative decisions in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” were the result of legal negotiations in the boardroom. For example, in the scene where sky-diving Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny offer the plummeting Eddie a “spare” (parachute, he thinks, but of course it’s a tire), the lawyers for Disney and Warners demanded that not only were Mickey and Bugs to appear on screen for exactly the same length of time, down to the last frame of film, but they were also to have the same number of lines, and even exactly the same number of words, of dialogue. If the funeral scene had been included in the film, no doubt the same stipulation would have been made for the bit with Bugs, Mickey, Humphrey and Clark in the convertible.

    Bravo for a wonderful reconstruction of a lost scene from disparate sources. No wonder Steven Spielberg liked it so much.

  • No doubt, that dialogue between Bugs and Mickey had the stink of being written by a dozen high-priced attorneys. Really stilted. Missed opportunity for this once-in-a-toontime summit meeting. They should have studied a print of Jasper Goes Hunting to see how it’s done.

    Conversely, the pairing of Donald and Daffy was on-the-nose!

    Thanks for the storyboard pix, Jim!

    • Honestly, I thought the whole scene was good enough as is, lawyer problems aside (which got worse for Warners as time went on).

  • One of those great examples of falling in love with a concept that doesn’t fit. I think King Features wouldn’t let Popeye, and therefore Bluto, be used in the picture. I was wondering if they had other characters they controlled that weren’t used.

  • Wow…Popeye, Herman, Felix, and Avery Wolf. More more MORE!!!!

  • Hi Jim,
    All the storyboard drawings you see here were mine (Foghorn Leghorn was traced over from my sketch), except the crowd shot of all the characters at the burial site. I think they made the right decision, looking back, in eliminating the sequence. It is pretty morbid, really, not funny enough. I have a lot more of the drawings, including the Casper ones, I think Joe Ranft drew several of the Casper sequence, including the “A GHOST!” one. Sorry I declined to participate in this post, just too much work for nothing, I guess. Thanks for all your dedicated work for Roger Rabbit history.
    Mark

    • No problem, Mark. When I contact anyone for information, I am always prepared for them to decline or not have the answer. When I ask, it is a favor so the person is under no obligation to respond. That being said, I want to publicly state that Mark has helped me many, many times in the past. I consider him a true animation treasure and always encourage him to share more of his animation knowledge.

  • but sorta makes you MISS the appearance[s] of Tom & J, Popeye, Casper, Herman & K , Baby H, Little A, etc. etc. etc.

  • Another great piece about this great film. I just think Popeye’s insensitive remark would suit Bluto better, with Popeye reacting to it, in a “face-heel” fashion. Notwithstanding it would be a great scene.

  • I seemed to recall reading in some Harvey Comics issues from 1988 shortly after they came back in business that already stated licensed their characters for other animation studios (all of which didn’t get off the ground) which might be why the characters did not appear in “Roger Rabbit”. What I remember is that for Ruby-Spears, they licensed the girls (hopefully they didn’t tamper their designs much unlike a certain studio that owns them right now) and most bizarrely, Herman & Katnip (I’m not sure this was a smart idea).

    • Also many iconic Harvey characters didn’t even appear until after 1947, when RR’s set:
      Little Audrey
      Herman & Katnip as a team
      Baby Huey
      Tommy Tortoise and Moe Hare
      Casper (the definitive version)

      (H&K seperately, and Buzzy,m Katnip’s longtime crow star, already were established by 1947).

    • Just because a character didn’t make his screen debut by the late 1940s doesn’t mean the character didn’t exist in the RR world… it would be about 15 years before those penguin waiters would get their chance in Mary Poppins.

    • Also the Goons from Sleeping Beauty & the Jungle Book vulture (seen briefly at the end) as well.

  • Popeye’s a living comic strip.

  • People who own public domain tapes (and closeted Paramount cartoon fans at the time) would have freaked out with excitement if this was in the movie.*Sigh* I bet the story artists either bought a bunch of PD tapes, or toured the Paramount studios (and found the hidden “Max & Dave Fleischer” door. Yes it’s real.). Paramount had a quick comeback in the 70s and 80s, so reading Harvey comics and going to UCLA’s archives really left an impression on Disney/Amblin story artists. Or just trading with collectors, either way.

  • I wonder..who could do”Popeye’s”voice for that scene”Mr.Marvin Acme’s”(Stubby’s)funeral scene..that was cut from the film?

    • Probably Maurice LaMarche, who had voiced the muscular mariner in “Popeye and Son” for Hanna-Barbera in 1987.

  • If Popeye were to be used in the funeral scene, we’d have needed to see him carrying the casket alone, perhaps balancing it on one finger (he’s strong to the finich, after all). That would have been funnier than the “Paul Bearer” joke, and he wouldn’t have needed to talk if a suitable voice couldn’t have been found. Anyway, the scene wouldn’t have added much to the film, but it’s nice that other 1940s characters had been planned to appear. It always seemed odd that Tom and Jerry, the top cartoon stars of the time, weren’t there, or even Fox and Crow. And Eddie Valiant searching for Roger certainly would have been an occasion to have Elmer Fudd walking by similarly hunting wabbits.

    Evidently, a sequel was considered, but I wonder if they’d have utilized the obvious premise of the newest threat to traditional Toon Town after 1947: the UPA style which shortly rendered Roger Rabbit’s slapstick out of date, and the takeover of the HannaBarbarians: limited animated characters who talked more than moved.

  • Only thing missing would have been Private Snafu blowing Taps off-key, then firing a salute (and shooting down a planeful of Gremlins from the Kremlin).

  • I’m late to this party, but truly – just knowing this was planned out – in several alternate universes – gives me such a euphoric feeling. Thank you for the rich account, Mr. Korkis – and for the right-on-the-money storyboard sketches all those years ago, Mr. Kausler!

  • Great story and discussion. The Mickey and Bugs scene was limited to equal screen time, but that was negotiated before production began. Bob Z. and the writers came up with the scene. No lawyer writers. Mark Kausler’s account of the Acme funeral is accurate. It was too morbid for the film and didn’t really move the story forward. It would have been a great scene. The studios were all cooperative and guys like Richard Fleischer were fantastic and came by the studio to approve the Betty Boop and Koko animation. Thanks to Mr. Kausler who was incredibly valuable on that film. Great reporting Jim.

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