Pee-Wee Herman: The Who Framed Roger Rabbit Character Paul Reubens Almost Voiced

Paul Reubens passed away Sunday night, July 30, 2023, after a long and private struggle with cancer. In a statement released post-mortem on his Instagram, the actor apologized to his fans, saying "Please accept my apology for not going public with what I've been facing the last six years. I have always felt a huge amount of love and respect from my friends, fans and supporters. I have loved you all so much and enjoyed making art for you."

While best known for portraying Pee-wee Herman, Reubens' resume featured — or almost featured –- numerous other credits. One such memorable role that eluded him at the last minute was the titular character of Touchstone Picture's live-action and animated hybrid comedy "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." Before officially releasing in 1988 with Charles Fleischer lending his talents to Roger Rabbit, the role belonged to Reuben.

Early test footage from 1983 reveals that Reubens got so far as to record dialogue for the project. It's unclear as to why Reubens was replaced, only that it definitively occurred. As the test footage also features Peter Renaday as Eddie Valiant, a role that would later be given to Bob Hoskins, it seems unlikely Reuben's eventual substitution was targeted.

A long-gestating process might be the reason Paul Reubens left (or was recast)

The most logical reason for the recasting is that Touchstone Pictures, as well as Amblin Pictures and Silver Screen Partners III, wanted to start fresh. Consider the timeline -– Disney purchased the film rights to Gary K. Wolf's mystery noir novel "Who Censored Roger Rabbit?" in 1981. The test footage, which features Paul Reubens and Peter Renaday, is from 1983. And "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" was released in 1988. Animation is by no means a fast process, but a five-year gap between test footage and a full release, especially for a company under the Disney umbrella, is notable. 

Whatever occurred, the adaptation was in development hell and needed a lifeline, and lifelines often come packaged with some form of rebooting process. On a much larger scale, something similar is happening over at DC Studios with James Gunn and Peter Safran. Regardless of the shuffle's effectiveness, actors' contracts rarely survive the shakeup. And so Reubens lost out on the chance to breathe life into Roger Rabbit. Of course, it's also possible that Reubens was self-ejected from the project. Nobody enjoys devoting time to a project with an uncertain future. Either way, audiences lost out.