Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was Walt Disney’s first creation. He was the first character to be drawn with real personality, and we’d expect nothing less coming from Walt! Oswald films were distributed by Universal Pictures in the 1920s and 1930s. Lets rewind for a minute…
Universal Studios wanted to get into the cartoon business and needed a cartoon character of their own. So Disney’s distributor Charles Mintz told Disney and Iwerks to create a new character they could sell to Universal. Wanting to make cartoons with an all-animated look, Disney signed a contract with Universal Studios leading to the creation of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Universal’s first cartoon series.
In the spring of 1928, Walt Disney traveled to New York City in hopes of negotiating a more profitable contract with his producer Charles Mintz. But as economic problems were apparent at the time, Mintz figured Disney should settle for a 20% cut, although large turnarounds were promised if the studio’s finances showed considerable growth. While his fellow animators remained at Mintz’s studio, Disney decided to quit his job and therefore leave the character he created. On his long train ride home, he came up with an idea to create another character. He and Iwerks would go on to develop a new cartoon in secret, which would later be known as Plane Crazy, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon.
So, Oswald was gone, and Mickey Mouse was born. Can you imagine what Disney would look like if Mickey was never thought of? We might all have been collecting “rabbit ears” and saying “it was all started by a rabbit” instead of our beloved Mouse. Unfortunately for Walt, his rabbit wouldn’t be back “home” till well past his passing. It would have been wonderful to Walt to know and see that his first “pal” was back where he belonged.
One February 9th, 2006, The Walt Disney Company re-acquired the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit back from NBC Universal along with sports considerations for ESPN. Wow. It took so long….. but don’t you think Walt would have been pleased?? I sure do. The Disney Company never forgot about Oswald, and how and why he was missing from their roster. If you remember, Charles Muntz, the villian in Disney/Pixar’s “Up” was in reference to the real man who was partially responsible for Walt losing Oswald in the first place.
So now…. he’s baaaack!! In January 2007, a T-shirt line created the first new Disney Oswald merchandise. Following in December was a two-disc DVD set, The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, included in Wave Seven of the Walt Disney Treasures DVD series. Several Oswald collectors’ figurines and a stuffed animal appeared shortly after the DVD set’s release. The Disney Store has also begun to introduce Oswald into its merchandise lines, starting with a canvas print and Christmas ornament that became available Fall 2007. A limited edition grayscale plush toy was sold at Christmas 2007; a standard-issue color plush toy of his appearance in Epic Mickey appeared in late 2010. This past Christmas, Epic Mickey 2 was released, and once again, Oswald is featured. Also in the past year, Oswald merchandise was released in the Disney Parks. Guests really can buy “rabbit ears” now!
It’s been a long journey, but he’s back. Somewhere Walt is smiling. Welcome home Oswald!
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