One of Walt Disney’s most repeated quotes is “I only hope we never lose sight of one thing: that it was all started by a mouse.” In fact, I used a variation of this quote in my very first blog post. While it is true that the massive success of Mickey Mouse was responsible for opening a lot of new doors for Walt and his studio in the years and decades that followed, the company’s history actually goes back even farther. In fact, there might not have been a Mickey if there hadn’t been an Oswald.
Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was a character created by Walt Disney and his top animator Ub Iwerks in 1927 for a series of silent films to be distributed by Universal Studios. The films proved to be well received, but Walt and producer Charles Mintz increasingly failed to see eye to eye. As a result, Mintz hired nearly all of Disney’s artists away and began producing Oswald cartoons without Walt’s involvement since Universal, not Disney, owned the character. Suddenly finding themselves without a star character, Disney and his skeleton crew of loyal artists including Iwerks started planning a new cartoon series they would own themselves that would star a plucky little mouse named Mickey.
As the popularity of Disney’s new mouse grew, Oswald began to slip into obscurity. However, the lucky rabbit was thrust back into the spotlight when The Walt Disney Company finally gained the rights to the character in 2006 as part of a negotiation to let sportscaster Al Michaels out of his contract with the company’s ABC and ESPN networks in order to appear on Universal’s NBC Sports telecasts. This unlikely turn of events led to Oswald appearing in Disney-produced projects for the first time in over 75 years including the 2010 video game “Epic Mickey,” the most recent edition of the “Walt Disney Comics and Stories” comic book, and even a brief cameo in the 2013 Mickey Mouse short “Get A Horse.”
In addition, Oswald has also been popping up at Disney’s theme parks in various forms. One of these can be found at Magic Kingdom’s “Town Square Theater.” The story of this meet and greet is Mickey Mouse has been performing as a magician at the theater and you are heading backstage to meet with him in his dressing room. As advance through the queue, guests pass several posters advertising some of the Mouse’s various magic acts, one of which showcases an act featuring “Oswald the Disappearing Rabbit.” Now that this disappearing rabbit has started to reappear, hopefully we’ll be seeing even more of him both on screen and in the parks.