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Oswald the Lucky Rabbit

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit is an anthropomorphic rabbit animated cartoon character created by Ub Iwerks and Walt Disney for films distributed by Universal Pictures in the 1920s and 1930s.

Creation under Disney

Oswald was introduced in 1927 after Disney’s series of Alice Comedies had run its course. Disney signed a new contract with Universal Studios head Carl Laemmle where he would produce a series of cartoons for Charles B. Mintz and George Winkler. The first Oswald cartoon, Poor Papa, was rejected by the Universal studio heads due to poor production quality and the sloppiness and age of Oswald. After this, Disney, together with Ub Iwerks, created a second cartoon called Trolley Troubles featuring a much younger, neater Oswald. The short officially launched the series and proved to be Disney’s greatest success yet.

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.

Universal takes direct control

Mintz, meanwhile, opened his own studio consisting primarily of former Disney employees, where he continued to produce Oswald cartoons, among them the first Oswald with sound, Hen Fruit (1929). Laemmle was dissatisfied with Mintz, and terminated his contract and opted to have the Oswald cartoons produced right on the Universal lot instead. By a coincidence, Disney and Mintz each produced nine cartoons the first year and 17 the next before Oswald was taken over by others. Laemmle selected Walter Lantz to produce the new series of Oswald shorts (the first of which was 1929’s Race Riot — many sources erroneously list Ozzie of the Circus as the first).

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.

Return to Disney ownership: the Al Michaels trade

In February 2006, a number of minor assets including the rights to Oswald were acquired by the Walt Disney Company from Universal Studios as part of a deal that sent sportscaster Al Michaels from Disney’s ABC and ESPN to NBC Sports. At the time, ABC had lost its contract for NFL broadcast rights, and despite recently signing a long-term contract with ESPN, Michaels was interested in rejoining broadcast partner John Madden at NBC for the Sunday night package.

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.

Walt Disney World and Disneyland

Though the character Oswald showed up at the parks in 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 career in comics

Oswald made his first comic book appearance in 1935, when DC Comics featured him in the series New Fun (later More Fun). His adventures, drawn by Al Stahl, were serialized one page to an issue for the magazine's first year, after which they ceased. The original black-furred version of Oswald was featured, even though Oswald was by this time a white rabbit on screen.

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.

2004 Oswald toy craze in Japan

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.

Filmography

The Disney years

1927:

  • Trolley Troubles – Reissued by Lantz in 1931
  • Oh Teacher – Reissued by Lantz in 1932
  • The Mechanical Cow – Reissued by Lantz in 1932
  • Great Guns – Reissued by Lantz in 1932
  • All Wet – Reissued by Lantz in 1932
  • The Ocean Hop – Reissued by Lantz in 1932
  • The Banker’s Daughter
  • Empty Socks
  • Rickety Gin

1928:

  • Harem Scarem
  • Neck ‘n’ Neck
  • The Ol’ Swimmin’ Hole
  • Africa Before Dark
  • Rival Romeos
  • Bright Lights
  • Oh, What a Knight
  • Sagebrush Sadie
  • Ride’em Plow Boy
  • Sky Scrappers
  • Ozzie of the Mounted
  • Hungry Hoboes
  • Poor Papa — Pilot Short
  • The Fox Chase
  • Tall Timber
  • Sleigh Bells
  • Hot Dog

The Winkler years

1928:

  • High Up
  • Mississippi Mud
  • Panicky Pancakes
  • Fiery Firemen
  • Rocks and Socks
  • South Pole Flight
  • Bull-Oney
  • A Horse Tale
  • Farmyard Follies

1929:

  • Homeless Homer
  • Yanky Clippers
  • Hen Fruit – First Oswald in sound, ending his silent era
  • Sick Cylinders
  • Hold ‘em Ozzie
  • The Suicide Sheik
  • Alpine Antics
  • The Lumberjack
  • The Fishing Fool
  • Stage Stunts
  • Stripes and Stars
  • The Wicked West
  • Ice Man’s Luck
  • Nuts and Jolts
  • Jungle Jingles
  • Weary Willies
  • Saucy Sausages


The Lantz/Universal years

1929:

  • Race Riot
  • Oil’s Well
  • Permanent Wave
  • Cold Turkey
  • Pussy Willie
  • Amateur Nite
  • Hurdy Gurdy
  • Snow Use
  • Nutty Notes
  • Ozzie of the Circus

1930:

  • Kounty Fair
  • Chilly Con Carmen
  • Kisses and Kurses
  • Broadway Folly
  • Bowery Bimbos
  • The Hash Shop
  • The Prison Panic
  • Tramping Tramps
  • Hot for Hollywood
  • Hells Heels
  • My Pal Paul
  • Not So Quiet
  • Spooks
  • Cold Feet
  • Snappy Salesman
  • Henpecked
  • The Singing Sap
  • The Detective
  • The Fowl Ball
  • The Navy
  • Mexico
  • Africa
  • Alaska
  • Mars

1931:

  • China
  • College
  • Shipwreck
  • The Farmer
  • The Fireman
  • Sunny South
  • Country School
  • The Bandmaster
  • Northwoods
  • The Stone Age
  • Radio Rhythm
  • Kentucky Belles
  • Hot Feet
  • The Hunter
  • Wonderland
  • The Hare Mail
  • The Fisherman
  • The Clown

1932:

  • Grandma’s Pet
  • Mechanical Man
  • Wins Out
  • Beau and Arrows
  • Making Good
  • Let’s Eat
  • The Winged Horse
  • Cat Nipped
  • A Wet Knight
  • A Jungle Jumble
  • Day Nurse
  • The Busy Barber
  • Carnival Capers
  • Wild and Woolly
  • Teacher's Pests

1933:

  • The Plumber
  • The Shriek
  • Going to Blazes
  • Beau Best
  • Ham and Eggs
  • Confidence
  • Five and Dime
  • The Zoo
  • The Merry Old Soul
  • Parking Space

1934:

  • Chicken Reel
  • The Candy House
  • The County Fair
  • The Toy Shoppe(1970s colorized version also exists)
  • Kings Up
  • Wolf! Wolf!
  • The Ginger Bread Boy
  • Goldielocks and the Three Bears
  • Annie Moved Away
  • The Wax Works
  • William Tell
  • Chris Columbus Jr.
  • The Dizzy Dwarf
  • Ye Happy Pilgrims
  • Sky Larks
  • Spring in the Park
  • Toyland PremiereFirst Oswald cartoon in color (two-strip Technicolor)

1935:

  • Robinson Crusoe Isle
  • The Hillbilly
  • Two Little Lambs
  • Do A Good Deed
  • Elmer the Great Dane
  • Springtime SerenadeSecond Oswald cartoon in color (two-strip Technicolor)
  • Towne Hall Follies
  • At Your Service
  • Bronco Buster
  • Amateur Broadcast
  • The Quail Hunt
  • Monkey Wretches
  • Case of the Lost Sheep
  • Doctor Oswald

1936:

  • Soft Ball Game
  • Alaska Sweepstakes
  • Slumberland Express
  • Beauty Shoppe
  • The Barnyard Five
  • Fun House
  • Farming Fools
  • Battle Royal
  • Music Hath Charms
  • Kiddie Revue
  • Beachcombers
  • Night Life of the Bugs
  • Puppet Show
  • The Unpopular Mechanic
  • Gopher Trouble

1937:

  • Everybody Sing
  • Duck Hunt
  • The Birthday Party
  • Trailer Thrills
  • The Wily Weasel
  • The Playful Pup
  • Lovesick
  • Keeper of the Lions
  • The Mechanical Handy Man
  • Football Fever
  • The Mysterious Jug
  • The Dumb Cluck

1938:

  • The Lamp Lighter
  • Man Hunt
  • Yokel Boy Makes Good
  • Trade Mice
  • Feed the Kitty
  • Happy Scouts

1943:


Pop culture

  • While in the Marines, Lee Harvey Oswald was nicknamed Ozzie Rabbit by his fellow Marines, as a homage to the character.
  • On The Drew Carey Show, the character of Oswald was named after Oswald the Lucky Rabbit as an in-joke (ABC is owned by Disney). Oswald was later given the last name Harvey, after the imaginary rabbit character in the Jimmy Stewart movie of the same name. When Oswald was engaged to Kate on the show it is revealed that his middle name is Lee, making his full name Oswald Lee Harvey, a play on famed assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.
  • According to Simpsons mythology, Itchy the mouse (from the series' fictional The Itchy & Scratchy Show) was originally called Itchy the Lucky Mouse, an obvious parody of the “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” character naming style. In another Simpsons episode, Scratchy the cat derived from a short called That Happy Cat, also bringing "the Lucky Rabbit" to mind.
  • Oswald makes a cameo in Who Framed Roger Rabbit as one of the Toons seen in a picture in R.K. Maroon's office.

DVD

  • Some earlier Oswald shorts are in the public domain, and have thus been available for some years in various mediocre quality video and DVD compilations.
  • A professionally restored selection of the Disney Oswald shorts, under the title The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, appeared as a volume in Wave 7 of the Walt Disney Treasures series, released December 11, 2007, in the USA. The cartoons included Ozzie of the Mounted, Tall Timber, and a much extended version of Bright Lights, all newly rediscovered at the time.
  • Six Walter Lantz Oswald cartoons, including Hells Heels and Toyland Premiere, have been included in the recent The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Vol. 1 DVD.
  • Five additional Lantz Oswald shorts, including Wax Works and Springtime Serenade, are included in The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection: Volume 2 DVD.

See also

References

External links

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