A few of Oswald’s adventures dealt with humour related to the procreative abilities of his species, as illustrated in the episode description of Poor Papa: “Oswald gets a visit from the stork... again and again and again. He has to resort to a variety of strategies to stop the continual flow of babies.” Trolley Troubles also showed Oswald surrounded by numerous baby rabbits, this time heckling him while on the job. Other cartoons, however, generally placed Oswald in more human-type conditions and situations.
In spring 1928, with the series going strong, Disney asked Mintz for an increase in the budget. But Mintz instead demanded that Walt take a 20 percent budget cut, and as leverage, he reminded Disney that Mintz owned the character, and revealed that he had already signed most of Disney’s current employees to his new contract: Iwerks and Les Clark were among the few who remained loyal to Walt. Disney refused Mintz’s demand, disassociating himself from Oswald after the series’ first season. While finishing the remaining Oswald cartoons, Disney, Iwerks and Clark created the cartoon hero who would become The Walt Disney Company’s lasting symbol: Mickey Mouse, the most famous of Walt Disney’s characters.
Over the next decade, Lantz would produce 140 Oswald cartoons, making for a grand total of 192 films that the character starred in, spanning the work of all three producers. After Lantz took over production in 1929, the character’s look was changed to some degree over the following years: Oswald got white gloves on his hands, shoes on his feet, a shirt, a “cuter” face with larger eyes, a bigger head, and shorter ears. With 1935’s Case of the Lost Sheep, an even more major makeover took place: the character was drawn more realistically now, and with white fur rather than black. This new Oswald model was adapted directly from a non-Oswald bunny in another Lantz cartoon: the 2-strip Technicolor Fox and the Rabbit (1935), released some two months earlier as the last of the early Cartune Classics series.
The cartoons containing the new, white-furred Oswald seemed to be different from their predecessors in more than one way, as the stories themselves became softer. Minor changes in the drawing style would continue, too. With Happy Scouts (1938), the second-to-last Oswald film produced, the rabbit’s fur went from being all-white to a combination of white and gray — the start of a very slow move toward the resumption of the earlier character design, most of which took place in later comic books.
Oswald made a cameo appearance in the first animated sequence with both sound and color (2-strip Technicolor), a 2½ minute animated sequence of the live action movie The King of Jazz (1930), produced by Laemmle for Universal. However, it was not until 1934 that Oswald got his own color sound cartoons in 2-strip Technicolor, Toyland Premiere and Springtime Serenade. The Oswald cartoons then returned to black-and-white, except for the last one, The Egg Cracker Suite (1943), released as a part of the Swing Symphonies series. Egg Cracker was also the only Oswald cartoon to use three-strip Technicolor. But before he was permanently retired, Oswald made a final cameo appearance in The Woody Woodpecker Polka (1951), also in three-strip Technicolor, which by then had become the rule in the cartoon industry.
While popularly characterized in the media as a trade, and a decidedly lopsided one at that, that characterization is faulty. The ownership rights to a cartoon character were transferred from Universal to Disney, and, in exchange, Disney simply released Michaels from his employment contract, allowing him to sign with NBC.
The deal includes the rights to the character and the original 26 short films made by Disney (namely, most of the Oswald films produced from 1927 to 1928). Rights to the Lantz/Universal-produced Oswald films and other related products were not included, and therefore Oswald appears in both Disney releases and in Universal’s Woody Woodpecker and Friends collection.
Walt Disney’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller, issued the following statement after the deal was announced:
When Bob [Iger] was named CEO, he told me he wanted to bring Oswald back to Disney, and I appreciate that he is a man of his word. Having Oswald around again is going to be a lot of fun.
Around the same time, the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets made a similar deal, the Chiefs giving the Jets a draft pick as compensation for releasing coach Herm Edwards from his contract. Referring to this trade, Michaels said:
Oswald is definitely worth more than a fourth-round draft choice. I’m going to be a trivia answer someday.
In January 2007, a T-shirt line from Comme de Garçon seems to have constituted 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 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, including a canvas print and Christmas ornament that became available Fall 2007.Florida and California on the day Disney reacquired him, Oswald is not currently a character in the parks to meet and greet, like so many others are. Disney officials stated that he probably would be someday; they did not want to just haphazardly add him. When the character’s future is determined, they are planning a big splash.
Oswald’s second run in the comics began in 1942, when a new Oswald feature was initiated in Dell Comics' New Funnies, this time modelled after the latest cartoon version of Oswald and influenced by the drawing style of other Lantz comic book characters at the time. Following the typical development seen in most new comics, the New Funnies stories slowly morphed the character in their own direction.
At the start of the New Funnies feature, Oswald existed in a milieu reminiscent of Winnie the Pooh: he was portrayed as a live stuffed animal, living in a forest together with other anthropomorphized toys. These included Toby Bear, Maggie Lou the wooden doll, Hi-Yah Wahoo the turtle-faced Indian, and Woody Woodpecker — depicted as a mechanical doll filled with nuts and bolts (hence his “nutty” behavior). In 1944, with the addition of writer John Stanley, the stuffed animal motif was dropped, as were Maggie Lou, Woody, and Wahoo. Oswald and Toby became flesh and blood characters living as roommates in “Lantzville.” Initially drawn by Dan Gormley, the series was later drawn by the likes of Dan Noonan and Lloyd White.
In 1948, Toby adopted two orphan rabbits for Oswald to raise. Floyd and Lloyd, “Poppa Oswald’s” new sons, stuck around; Toby was relegated to the sidelines, disappearing for good in 1953. Later stories focused on Oswald adventuring with his sons, seeking odd jobs, or simply protecting the boys from the likes of rabbit-eating Reddy Fox and (from 1961) con man Gabby Gator — a character adapted from contemporary Woody Woodpecker cartoon shorts. This era of Oswald comics typically featured the art of Jack Bradbury, known also for his Mickey Mouse work.
Post-1960s Oswald comics tended to be produced outside the United States, for example in Mexico and Italy. Through the end of the 20th century, the foreign comics carried on the look and story style of the Dell Oswald stories. More recently, they featured a “retro” attempt at recreating the original Disney Oswald.
Not long before Disney reacquired Oswald, Universal was in fact marketing the character quite actively overseas. In 2004 and 2005, Oswald products were popular in Japan, and were primarily made available as prizes in UFO catchers. Typically manufactured by Taito and/or Medicom, these products included puppets, inflatable dolls, keyrings, and watches. They were generally based on a navy-blue version of the original Disney/Iwerks character.
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