Today’s Masterpiece Monday is a little different, because I’m featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt Disney’s first major cartoon character and the precursor to Mickey Mouse. September 5th marked the 89th Anniversary of Oswald’s debut in the short Trolley Troubles in 1927. Oswald will always hold a special place in my heart and I just had to take this opportunity to belatedly celebrate his birthday. The particular piece of art being featured today is a recently rediscovered animation sketch of Oswald from the short Sky Scrappers ( you can watch the full short here).
Oswald was a character designed by Walt Disney and his fellow animator Ub Iwerks for a series of shorts made for Universal studios. He quickly became extremely popular with audiences. He even had his own chocolate bar! Unlike his counterpart Mickey, Oswald was a major trouble maker in his shorts. Still, the two bore many similarities to each other, both in design and in personality. Many of the plots and gags used in early Oswald shorts were even later reused and modified for Mickey Mouse shorts. Unfortunately for Walt, he lost the rights to Oswald along with most of the animators at his studio during a dispute with Universal. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as from the loss of Oswald came the creation of Mickey Mouse.
All was not lost for Oswald. In 2006 Disney CEO Bob Iger traded the sportscaster Al Michaels to Universal in exchange for the rights to Oswald and his animated shorts. After recovering the character, the company took a great interest in him and his history. They have been continually working on rediscovering many of his lost shorts and releasing them on DVD. Original sketches of Oswald, like this one, are few and far between, as most were destroyed during a move in the 1930s, but the Walt Disney Archives and the Disney Animation Research Library have been working on collecting and preserving what they can find. Oswald is also being brought into the 21st century with his inclusion in the Epic Mickey series of video games, his now frequent appearances on Disney merchandise, and his appearances as a meet and greet character at several Disney parks.
So thank you for joining me in wishing a happy 89th birthday to one of Disney’s oldest animated characters, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. His history is a fascinating one, and I plan on eventually writing a much more in depth article on him in the future.