Before Mickey Mouse, there was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks were hired by Carl Laemmle and Charles Mintz to create an animated series feature a rabbit who they named “Oswald” for Universal. During their contract, they created 26 cartoons. From “Poor Papa” to “Trolley Troubles,” Oswald was a cute rabbit that ran into trouble but with a little luck and a rabbit foot, he always found a way out. Disney lost the contract in 1928 and Universal kept the rights to Walt’s lucky rabbit.
Walt moved on to create Mickey Mouse and so many more characters, and Oswald became only a memory. In 2006, the Walt Disney Company got the rights to Oswald after trading Al Michaels to Universal. Since then, people have spent hours trying to track down all 26 cartoons, but it’s proven quite difficult. We are still missing 6 cartoons, but the rest have been pieced together and restored.
The shorts have been found in all sorts of places: attics, libraries, even museums and history institutes. “Sleigh Bells” was recently found in the British Film Institute after a researcher was going through the catalog and found the title. “Africa Before Dark” was found in a museum in Austria. It had a German title so no one recognized it as an Oswald cartoon for a while. Many of the cartoons we have aren’t even complete, we are still missing parts.
Beyond the occasional cameo, the Epic Mickey video games, and a couple meet and greets in Anaheim and Tokyo, the Walt Disney Company hasn’t done much with Oswald. When Bob Iger was reviewing what he has done for Disney (buying Pixar, Lucasfilm and Marvel, to name a few), he said he was most proud of getting the rights to Oswald back. He thinks Walt would be thrilled to finally have the rabbit back in the kingdom. Iger then hinted that we may be seeing a little more of Oswald. With nothing but a few silly pictures, we are left to wonder what is ahead for the lucky rabbit.
Maybe we’ll get a new series of shorts or a full-length movie. Hopefully there really will be a future for Oswald.