Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Jessica Rabbit Store 25th Anniversary - Part One: The Beginning

According to the D23 Website, December 15th, 2015 will mark the 25th Anniversary of Jessica's, the Jessica Rabbit store which once stood in the center of Pleasure Island. This store is almost legendary to some people, since its time in Disney History was extremely short. Often confused as merely a lingerie shop, Jessica's was actually full of themed merchandise such as mugs, shirts, statues and accessories. Although Pleasure Island has now converted into Disney Springs, the iconic image of Jessica Rabbit was a mainstay to the West End Stage, greeting guests and providing photo opportunities long after her store had closed. (Press Image left courtesy Disney Vacation Kingdom)

Open from late 1990 to some time in 1992, many people never got the chance to visit The Jessica Rabbit Store. After compiling information these last several years, ImNotBad.com is happy to offer an extensive look at what was - including merchandise photos, concept art and interviews, in a three-part article that will put a spotlight on one of Disney's first character-themed stores.

The late 80's was a very different time for Disney. It's the start of what's known as the Disney Renaissance. Who Framed Roger Rabbit really was the beginning of this time, but it is often left out due to it not being a fully animated film. Its success was enough to persuade Disney to go forward with new animated movies like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. They became huge successes and revitalized the company, as well as enthusiasm for cartoon features.

Disney-MGM Studios opened in May of 1989 and was a park unlike Epoct and Magic Kingdom. Its focus was that of old Hollywood, movie magic, and classic animation. Originally, this was to be a new land in Epoct, but plans for several attractions gave promise of a third-gate to Disney World as well being a functioning studio. At the time of conception, Who Framed Roger Rabbit was the current Disney project, and the new park was going to reflect this.

Roger Rabbit's Hollywood was a proposed section of the park. In the photo below (left) you can see a replica of the Acme warehouse and Maroon Cartoons building (doubling as "Maroon Studios" from the written description). The other photo (right) is of concept art for the Roger Rabbit Toontown Trolley Ride, which was to be a motion simulator much like Star Tours. There were also plans for Baby Herman's Runaway Baby Buggy, a dark-light ride in the style of Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin, that would take you careening through the hospital hallways as seen in the cartoon short Tummy Trouble. A Toontown Diner was also planned as the main restaurant.

A scale model for that area of the park (photo left courtesy MartinsVids.net) shows how invested Disney was with Roger Rabbit. The section was to include what might have been the parks first roller coaster, based on one of the cartoon shorts. While plans for a grand Roger Rabbit-themed section were unfortunately scrapped, the characters did play a big part in the final version of the park. A costumed Roger Rabbit was often seen walking around the parks and included in parades and shows. When you walked down Hollywood Boulevard, the shops prominently showcased Roger Rabbit merchandise. Overlooking Echo Lake was the Maroon Studios billboard. Nearby, the Hollywood and Vine Restaurant building featured windows on the second story with Roger Rabbit's shape in the window shades and the Valiant and Valiant logo. The windows and billboard still remain as of 2015.

The Magic of Disney Animation tour showed real animators at work on future projects, such as Roller Coaster Rabbit and Trail Mix-Up. Several one-of-a-kind Roger and Jessica sketches and artwork could be seen while on this tour. After The Studio Backlot Tram Tour (which took you through Catastrophe Canyon) you were dropped off at New York Street and Toon Park, which included the small Who Framed Roger Rabbit section. It was an interior warehouse replica of the Acme Factory filled with actual props from the movie hanging from the ceiling. Here you could take your photo with the cardboard standee of Jessica, and also get a special picture standing next to the film version of Jessica or Roger at the Foto-Toons photo shop. The Loony Bin was the store where you could buy movie related items. Standees of the weasels were also here, as well as the Toon Patrol van, a steamroller, the Dipmobile and many boxes you could open to hear different cartoon sounds.

While this new Disney Park was drawing people in, there was yet another new location which opened at the same time. Disney's Pleasure Island was a nightclub district added to the Disney Village Marketplace. This area included a stage, dance clubs, bars, and shopping. During the day the bars were closed, and everyone was welcome to shop in the stores. At night there was a separate admission ticket needed and it was only open to guests 18 and over. Named after the island from Pinocchio, this was Disney's first attempt at an adult-themed area and at the time it became fairly popular. Every night there was a New Years Eve-style countdown to midnight, complete with an impressive fireworks show. Like MGM Studios, not everything proposed became a reality. Originally, Pleasure Island was to include a saloon based on the main character from the movie Splash called Madison's Dive. The neon sign at the entrance was to have a figure of Madison with a swinging mermaid tail. While this project didn't go through, its inspiration does play a part later.

Several shops occupied Pleasure Island such as Suspended Animation, YesterEars and The Island Depot. The Island Depot converted into the Dick Tracy Store when the film was released in 1990, selling various items that were not necessarily "Park Exclusives." This was not something that really existed back then (aside from shirts, mugs or keychains bearing the Walt Disney World Logo) but things were about to change. In the winter of 1990, Jessica's was put in place of the Dick Tracy Store. The building was now painted purple and featured a giant, neon, two-sided, sequined, leg-swinging sign of Jessica herself. Imagineers certainly recalled the plans for Madison's Dive and had implemented them for this unique store.

(Image left courtesy Disney Vacation Kingdom / Image right via Started By A Mouse)

In 2008 I had the honor of conducing my first interview for the site with artist Mark Marderosian. Not only did he create the art for most of the Jessica's store merchandise, he designed the famous neon sign that everyone knew so well. He was chosen for the job because his comic book, Delta Tenn, Lady Cop, was proof that he could draw leggy women. Here is what he added about the beginnings of the Jessica Rabbit store:

Mark Marderosian:
A talented artist I had known from a couple of years back, Mark Seppala, called me out of the blue. Mark had been hired by Walt Disney Theme Parks in Florida. They were ramping up the creative merchandise department, and gearing up to produce more merchandise exclusive to the parks. At that time, the Jessica Rabbit store was about eight months from opening, and they needed a TON of merchandise drawn and produced. I got all my reference; they sent me a long list of drawings needed for key chains, t-shirts, clocks, balloons.

Tireless work began to transform the store, and offer unique merchandise that would not be found anywhere else. The store offered a lot, but there's been some confusion as to the name of the store. I have seen it referred to as Jessica's of Hollywood (as in Frederick's of Hollywood) or Jessica's Secret (as in Victoria's Secret). As we will see from photos, it was simply called Jessica's. The confusion may have started since many people began to refer to Jessica's as a short-lived women's lingerie shop. There was also a picture that surfaced online years ago of the drink menu from The Comedy Warehouse (a club in Pleasure Island) which served a drink named Jessica's Secret.

With Who Framed Roger Rabbit being a hot new property, it seemed fitting that Jessica would be represented in some way. From what Mark Marderosian tells us, there was little time to prepare, so this was a quickly-decided-on project. Dick Tracy did not perform as well at the box office as hoped, and coincidentally it was preceded by the cartoon short Roller Coaster Rabbit. Perhaps the idea to change the Dick Tracy Store into Jessica's was much more fluid. Between seeking new direction with Park Exclusive merchandising, and to theme with the more adult side of Pleasure Island, Jessica's was born. (Image above courtesy Disney Vacation Kingdom)

In Part Two we will go inside the store and take a closer look at the Jessica Rabbit store building, the giant neon sign, floor plan, layout and more...

In Part Three we will take an in-depth look at all of the merchandise available at Jessica's, from shirts to mugs to boxers and nightgowns - even art of things that were never made...