There is a lot of chatter these days about a Disney character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. You may be wondering who he is, why haven’t I seen a cartoon or movie with him in it? Why is he so important?
If you visit Disney California Adventure Park you will see him near the entrance taking pictures with guests. If you don’t know who he is then this blog post will help you out.
Oswald is a very important character in Disney history because he predates Mickey Mouse and seemed destined to be Walt’s shining star. However, some bumps happened along the way and as you know Mickey Mouse is Walt’s star.
The one thing you need to know is that Oswald is the reason Mickey Mouse exists in the first place. Let’s jump back in time to find out why Oswald is so important.
Oswald is Born
As we head back to 1927 we find a young 26-year-old Walt Disney working hard with his brother Roy and group of animators at the Disney Brothers Studio.
Their current project known as the Alice Comedies was a successful series of animated cartoons that featured a live action girl named Alice and a cat named Julius. The series started in 1923 and by 1927 the distributor, Universal Pictures, wanted something new and wanted a cartoon about a rabbit.
Walt was so excited to create a new character and went back to his studio. He drew sketches of a rabbit; submitted them to Universal and they approved of his character. The producer, Charles Mintz, named him Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
Walt and his group of animators went to work on creating Oswald the Lucky Rabbit animated shorts. Charles Mintz did not like the first cartoon they submitted titled Poor Papa, he felt that Oswald wasn’t likable. They went back to work and created Trolley Troubles. Charles loved it this became the first of many animated shorts distributed by Universal Pictures.
Oswald the Lucky Rabbit made his debut on September 5, 1927 in the short Trolley Troubles
Roy was happy because they were being paid on time by Universal Pictures and the checks were hand delivered by Charles Mintz’s brother-in-law to the Disney Brothers Studio. Little did anyone know that there was trouble on the horizon.
The Trip That Changed Everything
In 1928 the 1-year contract with Universal Pictures to distribute Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons was nearing an end. Walt confidently headed to New York to negotiate a new contract with Charles Mintz. He also wanted to surprise his wife Lillian with a trip to New York so he brought her along.
However, much to Walt’s surprise negotiations didn’t go as well as he had hoped. The Disney Brothers Studio was currently receiving $2,250 per cartoon and Walt asked for $2,500. Mintz counter offered with $1,800 and told Walt to take the lower rate or he was going to take Oswald away from him. Walt knew this was a rotten deal and knew he would not be making any money with Mintz’s lower offer. Mintz also informed Walt that he had already stolen most of his animators and they had signed with Universal Pictures.
Walt was furious, he went back to his hotel to call Roy and it was then that the truth came out. Roy was able to verify with the staff that many of them were ready to leave the Disney Brothers Studio for Universal Pictures. However, Disney’s key animator Ub Iweerks was still loyal to Walt and refused any offers from Universal Pictures.
Over the next few days in New York Mintz continued to pressure Walt for an answer; but Walt knew he was in trouble and was trying to figure out a way to make it work. Mintz also informed him that Oswald belonged to Universal Pictures, and not to Walt. If Walt walked away from the deal he would not only loose his animators but he would also loose Oswald.
In the end Walt made the tough decision to walk away from Oswald and headed back to California on the train with Lillian. Walt vowed to never work for anyone ever again.
It has been said that on this train ride back home that Mickey Mouse was born and you know how popular he became. When one door closes, another one opens.
What Happened to Oswald?
I am sure that if Mintz didn’t play dirty and the Disney Brothers Studio went on to continue making Oswald animated shorts then he would be popular today.
Even though Mintz had most of Disney’s animation staff he did not have Walt’s creatvity and Ub’s skills. It was this team that made Oswald popular, just as Mickey is popular today.
While Oswald animated shorts continued to be made until 1943 through Universal Pictures he was never really the same with out Walt and Ub. There were a total of 194 Oswald animated shorts made, but only 26 made by the Disney Brothers Studio.
As you know Mickey Mouse went on to replace Oswald in Walt’s heart and he is a major star for the Walt Disney Company.
The Al Michaels Trade
In 2006 The Walt Disney Company lost the NFL broadcast rights. Al Michaels was still under contract with Disney and wanted to sign with NBC Universal so he could do the Sunday night NFL broadcast with John Madden.
Instead of just letting All Michaels out of his contract Disney CEO Bob Iger saw an opportunity. He would let Al Michaels out of his contract as long as NBC Universal transfered the copyright of Oswald to the Walt Disney Company. This also included the entire library of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
Thank you Bob!!
It wasn’t long before Oswald DVD’s and t-shirts were available from the Disney Store in 2007.
Disney Epic Mickey
Oswald was soon on to his next adventure for the Walt Disney Company and that was in the form of a video game called Epic Mickey in 2010 and Epic Mickey 2: The Power of 2 in 2012.
In the video game Mickey finds Oswald in a place called Wasteland, much like Disneyland but full of Disney’s forgotten characters and attractions. In the sequel Mickey and Oswald team up and fight the Mad Doctor and repair Wasteland.
There has been a sprinkling of Oswald merchandise here and there over the years; he has even had an appearance at Tokyo Disney Sea earlier this year.
In 2012 Disney completed a revamp of the entry area of Disney California Adventure Park and gave us Buena Vista Street where guests can step back in time to California during the 1920’s and see what it was like for Walt during that time.
This is one of my favorite areas of Disney California Adventure Park. This area also features a gas station called Oswald’s Service Station which is a gift store selling Oswald merchandise. You can even buy an Oswald ears hat and t-shirts.
At Disney California Adventure Park you can now meet Oswald! He will be at the entry of the park for pictures and autographs. Isn’t he so cute? Even though he is a rabbit he still reminds me of Mickey.
Just as Mickey Mouse is our connection back to Walt, so is Oswald. Most consider Mickey Mouse to be Walt’s greatest creation; However, if it wasn’t for Oswald then we would not have Mickey. Or maybe if it wasn’t for greedy Mr. Charles Mintz then we wouldn’t have Mickey. Either way you see it, I am happy to have Oswald back in our lives and I can’t wait to meet him soon.