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It All Started With a Rabbit? Getting To Know Walt Disney's Oswald

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by , 02-19-2012 at 12:14 AM
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"I hope we never lose sight of one thing - that it was all started by a rabbit."

That's one of Walt Disney's most famous quotes. Quite striking and humbling, isn't it? Walt never forgot his humble roots. He knew that, by a stroke of luck, an animated rabbit by the name of Oswald helped him buil...

Wait. What?

That's NOT the quote? Are you sure? Because I'm pretty sure that's how it went in... an alternate universe.

Sorry, I just caught up with one of my favorite TV shows, [I]Fringe[/I], and this flip-flopping between universes got me thinking. If you're a fan of [I]Fringe[/I], you know that things are slightly different 'over there'. I mean, if Eric Stoltz starred in Back To The Future on that side, who's to say that Oswald the Lucky Rabbit wasn't the one to rise to Mickey Mouse-like stature? Over there, at least.

But since we're over here and not over there, just what happened to make Oswald disappear from the Walt Disney Company for almost 80 years?

I'll tell you what happened. Business happened.

In 1927, shortly after his Alice Comedies, Walt Disney contracted with Carl Laemmle, head of Universal Studios, to produce a new cartoon series for Charles Mintz and George Winkler called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

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After an unsuccessful first attempt, called Poor Papa, Walt and Ub Iwerks produced Trolley Troubles, which proved to be a great launching pad for the series. The team went on to produce a total of 26 Oswald shorts for Universal.

The series was a huge success, and both parties knew it. It even produced the first 'Disney' merchandise, including a stencil set, a candy bar, and a push pin button.

In 1928, Disney went to Mintz to ask for a bigger budget. Mintz instead demanded that Disney take a 20% budget cut, and told Walt that he didn't own the rights to the character - Universal did! This came as quite a surprise to Disney. Mintz had also begun to hire some of Walt's animators in case he had to continue the series without Walt himself.

Walt knew he couldn't produce quality cartoons with a severe budget cut, and he also didn't want to work under such a sneaky tyrant as Charles Mintz.

So he left Universal and established his own studio, taking along with him Ub Iwerks and Les Clark, two of the few animators he had left who remained loyal to his vision.

Around this time, as the story goes, Walt took a train back to California from New York and during the trip came up with the idea for a cartoon mouse. The rest you probably know.

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But that wasn't the end of Oswald.

Mintz shortly opened his own studio and continued to produce Oswald cartoons, but his animation skills were not on par with those of Walt Disney, despite having many of Walt's animators on his payroll.

Universal boss Carl Laemmle wasn't happy with the new Oswald cartoons and shortly fired Mintz. He decided to produce future Oswald cartoons on the studio lot, and offered Walter Lantz (best-known later for Woody Woodpecker) the job. Lantz, an honorable guy, asked for Disney's blessing. Now that the Mickey Mouse shorts were becoming popular, Walt didn't have a problem with the other Walt taking over Oswald. The two Walts even became good friends.

Lantz produced 142 of Oswald's 194 short films. During that time, he gradually changed Oswald into a different character. He gave the character white gloves, shoes, a shirt, and other things to set him apart from Disney's version. By 1935, Oswald had emerged as a realistic looking rabbit, with white fur replacing his old black fur. Oswald now looked less like a cartoon, more like an actual rabbit.
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Lantz also gave Oswald a voice. Many people voiced the role over the years, including animator Bill Nolan, actor Mickey Rooney, and even Lantz himself. June Foray provided the voice of Oswald for his final short, The Egg Cracker Suite.

Other than a few cameo appearances over the years, that short was the end of Oswald's screen career.

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But Oswald continued to appear in comic books during his time at Universal and in a series of one-page features for DC Comics' 1935 comic, New Fun. Eventually, Oswald made it to Dell Comics' New Funnies, where in 1948 he adopted two bunnies, Floyd and Lloyd.

Soon, however, Oswald faded even from the comics, except for those produced overseas and in Mexico, where Oswald's adventures continued well into the 1970s.

In 2006, Disney CEO Bob Iger wanted to bring Oswald back into the fold.

Disney struck a deal with NBC Universal. In exchange for sportscaster Al Michaels, who wanted to join his former broadcast partner John Madden on Sunday Night Football. NBC would return to Disney some minor assets that included the rights to Oswald and Walt's original 26 Oswald cartoons.

And so, the rabbit came home.

However, despite being home again, Oswald wasn't thrust immediately back into the spotlight. Instead, Disney slowly reintroduced him with merchandise such as shirts and figurines, and with a DVD set of his original cartoons.

Oswald's big comeback was in late 2010, when he appeared as a main character in the [URL="http://www.amazon.com/dp/B002I0GEXM/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=micechat-20&camp=0&creative=0&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=B002I0GEXM&adid=1SPD66T3WSHD7F37KVM3"]Epic Mickey video game[/URL].

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Oswald is the star of Epic Mickey
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[SIZE=3][FONT=verdana] In the game, Mickey is transported to the Wasteland, a world of forgotten Disney creations that was crafted by the wizard Yen Sid (from Fantastia!). After Mickey replaced Oswald, the (un)lucky rabbit had become the first resident of this new world, and eventually its benevolent ruler. Over time, though, Oswald came to resent Mickey's popularity, especially when Mickey accidentally releases the Shadow Blot into the Wasteland. The two must work together to overcome the Shadow Blot and restore the Wasteland to its former glory.
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This was a great way to reintroduce Oswald to a modern audience, especially because it used a bit of Disney history to make it happen. Based on the success of Epic Mickey, I'm sure we'll see more of Oswald in future.

But will he ever achieve Mickey's level of fandom? Probably not, though I can foresee Oswald one day joining the core group of Disney characters, which would then no longer be the Fab Five but the Sensational Six!

What do you think of Oswald coming back into the fold? Do you think Disney is using him correctly, or would you like to see him apart of the Disney family in a different way?

[/FONT][/SIZE][QUOTE][CENTER][SIZE=3][FONT=verdana][B]Oswald's Disney Filmography[/B]
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[SIZE=3][FONT=verdana][B] 1927[/B][/FONT][/SIZE][INDENT][SIZE=3][FONT=verdana]Poor Papa
Trolley Troubles
Oh, Teacher
Great Guns
The Mechanical Cow
All Wet
The Ocean Hop
The Banker's Daughter
Harem Scarem
Rickety Gin
Neck 'n Neck
Empty Socks
The Ol' Swimmin' 'ole
Africa Before Dark
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[B] 1928[/B][/FONT][/SIZE][INDENT][SIZE=3][FONT=verdana]Rival Romeos
Bright Lights
Sagebrush Sadie
Ride 'em Plow Boy
Ozzie of the Mounted
Hungry Hoboes
Oh, What a Knight
Sky Scrappers
The Fox Chase
Tall Timber
Sleigh Bells
Hot Dog
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For those of you looking for Oswald movies, here's a link to the current catalog of items: [URL="http://www.amazon.com/mn/search/?_encoding=UTF8&tag=micechat-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=390957&field-keywords=oswald%20the%20lucky%20rabbit&url=search-alias%3Daps&sprefix=oswald%20the%20luc%2Caps%2C262"][B]Oswald The Lucky Rabbit movies and merchandise
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[/FONT][/SIZE][HR][/HR][SIZE=3][FONT=verdana][B][I]by Jeff Heimbuch[/I][/B]

If you have a tip, questions, comments, or gripes, please feel free email me at [EMAIL="[email protected]"][email protected][/EMAIL] or leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!

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Updated 02-19-2012 at 09:55 AM by The 626

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Comments

  1. Internitty's Avatar
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    I love that Disney have made an effort to reintroduce and regain for that matter Oswald. Very clever move to make him the lead character in Epic Mickey, great way to make him cool to the game playing set and with a game like Epic Mickey that's a wide age group. Unfortunately I don't have a WII so I was captivated by the nostalga of finally having Oswald back in the fold. I didn't see any merchandise when I vacationed at Disneyland over the new year period, I would like to see more merchandise, perhaps I just missed it.

    I think Disney are making the right move in the way they are reintroducing Oswald, I would very much like to see him play a large role in the theme parks, I could imagine him being the face of California Adventure when they open Beuna Vista Street, I also think another cool way to continue his reintroduction would be to include him in the new Roger Rabbit film and produce a new short here and there to play before selected features, or have they already done that and I missed it like the merchandise? Honest question, I'm not trying to be funny.

    I don't think he could be part of the fab 5 or sensational 6 I think he could however be the beginning of a new fab 5 by reintroducing some of the forgotten classic characters such as the ones that appear on the construction walls surrounding DCA.

    Thank you for all the interesting information I really enjoyed reading your article, I'm off to find the DVD of the Disney Oswald cartoons now
  2. jcman3777's Avatar
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    Great article.

    On the subject of turning "Fab Five" to "Sensational Six"... I know Chip and Dale have appeared with the Fab Five from time to time, but am I mistaken into thinking that Roger Rabbit shared some of the same spotlight of the core five group in the '90s? I suppose if Oswald came in, this would be the second time a rabbit appeared among the infamous group.
  3. Dustysage's Avatar
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    I have a soft spot in my heart for Oswald and hold out hope that they will find a home for him and the other early Walt Disney characters at California Adventure. The world has waited a long time for the return of Oswald, Horace Horsecoller, Clara Cluck, Clarabelle Cow and friends!

    Regarding Epic Mickey, I really enjoyed the game. It's a shame it was only released on Wii. Would have been a great iPhone/iPad game as well.

    Thank you for shining a spotlight on Oswald. Great article Jeff!
  4. FigmentJedi's Avatar
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    Wouldn't it be the Magnificent Seven? Because Daisy's been added to the Five to make it Sensational Six
  5. Jesse Hsu's Avatar
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    Thank you for sharing this great article. I learned a new thing today!
  6. Bronco21's Avatar
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    I think Oswald could be the cornerstone for a toon town revamp. Make him the star of a TSMM style ride and you would bring new life to the back of the park. But the park of the company that really needs Oswald's help is the Disney Channel! The entire network is help together by one quality show and a bunch of teenage sitcoms that are all equally horrible. Why not give Oswald another shot and give him his own tv show? Oswald adventures would be way more fun than watching Selena Gomez and some other teenage "star" pretend like they are good at acting. Not to mention that the more Disney thinks the shows are entertaining the more they continue to dumb down all their other entertainment.
  7. Koutesu's Avatar
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    Epic Mickey was definitely a great platform for bringing him into the spotlight, especially with younger people. They even included 2 Oswald shorts as unlockable bonus features. What's also worth mentioning about Oswald is the fact that Epic Mickey has essentially turned Oswald and Mickey into long lost brothers.
  8. DisWedWay's Avatar
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    As the ground breaking for Shanghai Disneyland began in 2011, during the year of the rabbit, perhaps Oswald could become their mascot, and yield peace to all, as well as good taste and refinement in trying a new concept in Disneylands. Time to feed my Thumper.
  9. Internitty's Avatar
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    But the park of the company that really needs Oswald's help is the Disney Channel!
    Could not agree more, Disney Channel could be such a great platform for showcasing classic Disney as well as new stuff, I once contacted them to ask if they would ever show programs like The Mouse Factory and I recieved a very terse almost arrogant email back saying they have no interest in those shows and will never screen them. Whereas the theme parks actually seem to have an interest in Disney history The Disney Channel certainly does not.

    Epic Mickey has essentially turned Oswald and Mickey into long lost brothers.
    I think essentially they are, I have always felt that even before the game was released.
  10. Ericksonrain's Avatar
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    What a great read thank you for your work on bring Oswald to me. Big Hug
  11. JeffHeimbuch's Avatar
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    First of all, thanks to all of you for reading! Such great comments, too. I'm really glad you enjoyed the column!

    Much like the rest of you, I love Oswald, and I really do wish they bring him back into the fold moreso nowadays. I guess we just have to wait and see if they do!

    jcmann and figmentjedi - You're actually right...Maybe Magnificent 7 would have been the better term for me to use! Haha.

    Bronco - A new series of Oswald shorts before some Disney films would be a great idea!

    For those of you who don't have the Oswald DVD that came out through Disney Treasure, definitely try to get it! It's definitely worth it!!
  12. TomGreen51's Avatar
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    I think it would be a great way to honor the first of film making with a modern version of Oswald the Rabbit. I believe that Oaswald can represent the early days of cinema sort of like Hugo honors George Melies. In addition, it may in some way show us the young personality of Walt Disney before his grand jump to fame. I know some of the characters I like the most are the first ones I created.