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‘Rabbit’ frames feed flap

Officials at the Walt Disney Co. flocked to closed-door meetings Tuesday and curious consumers flocked to buy suddenly in-demand laserdisc copies of Disney’s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” following revelation that the film contains frames showing a partly nude Jessica Rabbit.

Animators, apparently believing that their subliminal antics would not be detected, removed the animated character’s underwear in a trio of frames where her skirt hikes up during a twirl. The story was first reported in the current issue of Variety, and in Monday’s Daily Variety.

While unnoticeable at the usual 24 frames per second, the scenes are visible when viewed frame by frame, as is possible with laserdisc players and four-head VCRs. With laser offering 425 lines of resolution compared to 240 for homevideo, the technology allows the images to be distinct.

Other questionable scenes involve Baby Herman fondling a woman as he passes under her dress, and a graffito on a wall including a plug for a brothel run by Allyson Wonderland.

While thousands of laserdiscs of the film — pressed by Image Entertainment and Pioneer Laser Disc — have already been sold, the revelations come as old news to many videophiles who have been aware of the risque scenes since the disc and homevideo were released in 1990.

But the news has nonetheless caused a run on the product.

Many retailers said that within minutes of opening Tuesday, their entire inventory of the laserdisc was sold out. The run was fueled by media reports about the frames, including stories on CNN and in newspapers.

“We’ve received calls from all over the country asking for the disc,” said Ken Crane, VP of Ken Crane’s, an audio/video chain. “We had six copies, and they all sold this morning.” Crane said his company normally moves around 30 discs monthly, at a retail price of $ 39.95.

Disney insiders said the news has come as an embarrassment to the house that Walt built, with execs at the company getting the word on Sunday and by Monday securing disc copies to review.

“There isn’t any ‘toon poon tang, if that’s what people are thinking,” said a studio insider. “A lot of this is subject to interpretation. I don’t know what all the fuss is about.”

Image, which has become the exclusive distributor of Disney product, has not been told by Disney to withhold shipments. Retailers are being told they will get their shipments once Image has jackets for the discs.

While the studio has backed away from controversy before, studio sources said that there aren’t any plans to recall the film, or correct the offending scenes.

“They haven’t worked out a game plan,” a source said. “And if they stop shipments, it doesn’t do anything for the over 100,000 copies that have already been sold.”

Industry observers note Disney probably has no intention of further fueling the controversial fires and may make some changes to pressings of the disc.

The company quickly recalled prints of “The Program” when students were killed while emulating a scene from the movie, and excised the offending footage. As a result, the homevideo and laserdisc versions did not include the scene.

But studio insiders point out that “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” was a Touchstone release of an Amblin production, and thus fell out of the stringent code given to Disney releases.

Most of the animation for the film was done in the United Kingdom, so it is also not likely the careers of any animators are on the line. Insiders at the animation arm said that as of late Tuesday, nobody from the Team Disney building had contacted them. But they said they have seen the Variety/Daily Variety articles, and it is a source of amusement and grief.

“The movie was never intended for kids anyway. If it was, it would have been released under the Disney banner,” an exec noted. “This is the same company that released ‘Consenting Adults’ and ‘Pretty Woman.’ The marketing is skewed differently. This whole thing falls under the get-a-life department.”

Officials at Disney declined comment. Ann Daly, Buena Vista Home Video president, under whose purview laserdiscs fall, was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

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