Disney's Oswald Comes To Life
Walter Elias (Walt) Disney once commented on his incredible career by noting: “I only hope that we don't lose sight of one thing - that it was all started by a mouse.” Perhaps he was referencing the start of his incredible success and his assemblage of Oscars — he garnered 22 Academy Awards and 59 nominations.
But Disney’s journey as an animator and cartoonist did not begin with the rodent he is best known for today. It started with a rabbit. Now 85 years later, Disney plans to animate some of the earliest sketches of Oswald that have been unearthed.
Oswald Is Born!
Actually Walt Disney’s career began with his moderately successful animated series, the “Alice Comedies,” which tracked the adventures of Alice and her cat Julius. The studio Walt worked in eventually declared bankruptcy. Coincidentally, Universal Studios was in search of a trademark cartoon character, so Disney’s distributor Charles Mintz hooked them up. Contracts were signed, promises were made, and Disney and Iwerks began working on Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
His first appearance on television in the cartoon “Poor Papa” was rejected by Universal Studios, which insisted on a younger and trimmer bunny. Their second try, “Trolley Troubles” tickled the Studio’s fancy and was produced in 1927, followed by 26 other cartoons, including the popular “Harem Scarem.” A year later, Oswald’s popularity still growing, Disney traveled to New York to request a raise from Universal Studios; ironically, Universal Studios was planning to cut Disney’s pay. Outraged by the meeting’s outcome, Disney and Iwerks quit.
An Amazing Legacy
Undeterred by this setback, Disney and Iwerks began planning the creation of a new cartoon, Mickey Mouse. First featured in “Plane Crazy,” the character was an instant success. Following this, Disney went on an animation spree; he churned out Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Cinderella -- the list goes on and on.
Towards the end of his life, he began plans for his trademark theme park, instructing his chief designer Herb Ryman: “I just want it to look like nothing else in the world." Disney died in 1967, leaving behind a tremendous legacy including Disneyland, Walt Disney corporations, and a gargantuan number of characters and movies.
But what happened to Oswald, the first of the breed? After Disney left Universal Studios, Oswald starred in 194 films, his popularity diminishing with each performance. He made his last cameo in “The Woody Woodpecker Polka” in 1951 before retiring indefinitely.
Oswald reared his magnificent head once again after Disney (the corporation) reclaimed the rights to the character in 2006 and started integrating him into the Disney family. He starred in the popular 2010 video game Epic Mickey. Many are unaware of Oswald’s existence, or that he was the first cartoon with a personality and a distinct sense of humor. He too is a part of Disney’s great legacy, and is finally being recognized for it.