You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone around the world that hasn’t heard of Mickey Mouse, and harder still to find someone who doesn’t know him as the face of The Walt Disney Company. But the Disney we know and love today could have looked very different if not for a chain of events that would change the company’s direction forever. And while Disney’s story started with a mouse, this one begins with a rabbit.
Can I Meet Oswald at Disneyland?
Though he has appeared as a walk around character in the past, it seems that Oswald does not currently meet with guests in any Disney park. He has previously appeared in Disney California Adventure and Tokyo Disney Sea, and was most recently spotted at a Disneyland Paris event alongside his wife Ortensia. There is every possibility that Oswald will return in the future, so keep an eye out!
Oswald can still be found in the parks through Easter eggs and merchandise. You lucky people going to California Adventure should keep an eye out for Oswald’s Service Station gift shop, and anybody going to the parks should look for Oswald Ears. These fun ears take the traditional Mickey ear design and replace the round ears with tall rabbit-like ones. They certainly aren’t a bad way to add a little history to your next trip!
Who is Oswald the Lucky Rabbit ?
Oswald the Lucky Rabbit is the first character Walt Disney created for his cartoon shorts after he arrived in Hollywood, and is a precursor to his famous cousin Mickey Mouse. You’ll be forgiven for not having heard of him, though. Though he was a hit with the crowds of the 1920s, the shorts Oswald played in were made by Walt and Co. for Universal Studios, with whom he had landed a contract.
As a character, Oswald was one of the first cartoon characters to have a distinct personality, one not dissimilar from Mickey. Oswald was a bit more adventurous, however, and was a bit more prone to failure, often with hilarious results. One more key difference – though Mickey had a voice from the start, Oswald was a silent cartoon star, which in a way makes his strong personality even more impressive!
Today, Oswald is a historic member of the Disney family tree, though it hasn’t always been that way. In fact, Oswald’s off-screen adventures are nearly as wild as those on it! Grab your popcorn and settle in to hear a story nearly 80 years in the making…
The Long Journey Home
This rabbit tale begins in 1927, four short years after the Walt Disney Studio had set up shop in Hollywood. Though the studio had been producing the Alice Comedies – combo shorts consisting of live action and animation – Walt Disney, Ub Iwerks, and the rest of the studio were looking to move into full animated shorts, and Universal Studios offered them the opportunity to do so. Everything sounds good so far, right?
Universal, however, was much more interested in Oswald than they were the brains behind him. When it was time for the contract to be renewed, Universal offered much lower payment for each cartoon than they had in the previous contract. Understandably, Walt refused to work under these new conditions, leading Charles Mintz, his distributor with Universal, to take drastic action against the Disney studio. While Walt was away on a business trip in 1928, Mintz secretly stole many of his animators out from under him, putting the Disney studio in a rather dire situation.
While Disney had created the Oswald character, Charles Mintz and Universal owned the rights to him thanks to their contract. Ultimately, Universal decided they could continue to produce Oswald shorts without Disney at the price they wanted. After all, they had lured away all but the most loyal animators. How hard could it be? The entire debacle was a cruel move that could have destroyed the Disney studio, but for the Hollywood of the time it was business as usual.
In the end, Disney had the last laugh. The studio’s desperation resulted in the creation of Mickey Mouse and the rest is history. Now that’s what I call karma!
Of course, Oswald’s story doesn’t stop there. Oswald would go on to serve as the poster child for Universal’s animation efforts until his final cartoon, The Egg Cracker Suite, premiered in 1943. Afterwards, Oswald lived on as a comic book star, with books that would run throughout the rest of the 20th century. Though Oswald’s stardom eventually faded, his comics ensured that the rabbit would still be a favorite of many for years. I suppose that’s why he’s called lucky!
In 2006, Oswald finally found his way home. Bob Iger, the at-the-time new CEO of The Walt Disney Company, traded some of the company’s assets, including sports announcer Al Michaels, to NBC Universal in exchange for the rights to Oswald and his cartoon catalogue. Since then, Oswald has appeared as a character in Disney parks and video games such as Epic Mickey and Disney Infinity.
It wasn’t until 2013, however, that Oswald’s journey truly came full circle. That year, Disney released a new Mickey Mouse cartoon titled Get a Horse! that combined CGI animation with a cartoon drawn in the 1920s Disney style. Near the end of the cartoon, Oswald makes an appearance alongside the mouse that replaced him. It may have taken decades for them to meet on the silver screen, but it still is touching to see two of Walt Disney’s most treasured creations together at last.
Oswald’s original design and personality has changed countless times over the years. In his intended first outing, Poor Papa, Oswald was deemed to be too old and messy, so Walt and Ub Iwerks cleaned him up and made him younger for what would be his grand debut: Trolley Troubles. As Walt put it:
“Hereafter we will aim to [make] Oswald a younger character, peppy, alert, saucy and venturesome, keeping him also neat and trim.”
Starting with Trolley Troubles, Oswald appeared very similar to other early Disney characters with a friendly look and exaggerated features. This became the classic Oswald look that stuck around throughout the Disney era, and the company still uses a variation of it today. It seems good designs never go out of style. As for his personality in this era, Disney historian David Gerstein describes it like this:
“Imagine Mickey if he were a little more egotistical or fallible, or imagine Bugs Bunny if he talked the talk but wasn’t as good at walking the walk.”
Disney based all of the gags in the shorts on Oswald’s personality, rather than the other way around. This personality-based humor would later become the staple of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy cartoons.
Once Universal had control of the Lucky Rabbit, aspects of his design and character began to change. Different creative teams put their own spin on Oswald, ranging from changes as simple as adding gloves and overalls to dramatic overhauls like changing the color of his fur from black to white! Oswald also gained a voice during this time, though he never kept one for long, and his personality began to soften. The Lucky Rabbit was no longer always the cause of his troubles, but troubles still seemed to find him!
In his comic appearances, Oswald changed yet again, literally becoming a stuffed animal! He did eventually revert back to a living bunny, and even co-starred in the comic alongside Woody Woodpecker. During his comics run, Oswald remained as cute as he had ever been, though at this point he was a vastly different character to the one that had sprung to life from the pens of the Disney animators so many years ago.
Today, Oswald’s personality is very similar to what it was originally under Walt’s direction, though he is perhaps a bit friendlier overall. What caused this change, you ask? If you ask me, Mickey and friends are starting to rub off on him.
Disney’s Lucky Rabbit?
Though Oswald sits in a small little pocket of Disney history, his impact on the company and Walt Disney himself can’t be overstated. More than anything, the loss of his company’s star creation inspired Walt to ensure his studio could stand on its own. While Mickey gave the company the success that built it, Oswald gave Walt the drive to keep moving forward, eventually leading to animated feature films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It took both a mouse and a rabbit to build the company as we know it.
We can’t know for sure what might have happened if Walt hadn’t lost Oswald. I think it’s safe to say, however, that Oswald always lingered in Walt’s mind, even as he moved on to later successes.
Related Questions: Oswald
How Did Oswald Get His Name?
The origin of Oswald’s name is much simpler than that of his cousin Mickey. Walt Disney knew that he wanted to create a rabbit character, so the “Lucky Rabbit” part of the name comes from him. However, Walt offered Universal the opportunity to pick the character’s name, and in order to do so, the studio drew a name out of a hat. Sounds like there was a bit of magic in Oswald from the very beginning!
How Many Oswald Cartoons Are There?
Disney produced 26 Oswald cartoons in total, but that count goes way up if you include cartoons made by Universal. When all is said and done, Oswald has starred in 194 shorts, and has made cameos in many more. Even better, most of them are available for free on YouTube. If you want to become more familiar with the Lucky Rabbit, there’s no better place to start.[su_spoiler title=”Sources” icon=”folder-1″]
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