Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Hump Day (April 5) Disney News

Walt Disney's first animated hero is back in the Disney Family

The Walt Disney Company family recently got one member larger -- and what an important member it is! On February 9, 2006, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt Disney’s first big cartoon star, returned to the Disney fold, thanks to an agreement with NBC/Universal, the company that previously owned the rights to Oswald since his theatrical debut in 1927.

"As the forerunner to Mickey Mouse and an important part of Walt Disney's creative legacy, the fun and mischievous Oswald is back where he belongs, at the home of his creator and among the stable of beloved characters created by Walt himself," said Walt Disney Company President and CEO Bob Iger, who had devoted himself to recovering Oswald.

Oswald holds a distinguished place in Disney history, as Disney Archivist Dave Smith explains: "Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was Walt Disney's first fully developed cartoon character to star in his own series. Previously he had made a combination live action/cartoon series, the 'Alice Comedies,' but the live Alice was the star. The popularity of Oswald started Walt on the road to independence."

Oswald's cartoon shorts were big box-office draws!

Oswald was also the impetus for the creation of Mickey Mouse – at least, indirectly.

When Walt lost control of the rights to his successful character to cartoon distributor Charles Mintz, he was devastated. But he quickly realized he needed another cartoon series to replace the Oswald shorts – and on the train trip home to Hollywood from New York, where he had received the news, he conceived the idea of his new star, a plucky little mouse.

As Dave Smith explains, "Walt lost the rights to Oswald because he had signed a contract giving all copyrights and other rights to the series' distributor. He learned his lesson. As soon as he began with Mickey Mouse, he ensured that from then on he owned full rights on everything he produced." EDITOR'S NOTE: KINDA LIKE UNCLE GEORGE. CERTAIN STUBBORN CREATIVE TYPES GET MESSED-AROUND WITH JUST ONCE. AND THEN, THEY USE THAT FRUSTRATION TO MAKE BAZILLION-DOLLAR EMPIRES. (MAYBE I SHOULD BE HAPPY EVERY TIME SOMEONE TICKS ME OFF? GUESS I'D HAVE TO BE A CREATIVE GENIUS FIRST?)

The many faces of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

It has been said that Oswald was a model for Mickey – the Insider took a look at the Oswald shorts to see if Walt’s most famous creation was evident in Oswald.

Although the plucky rabbit wears shorts that look a lot like Mickey’s, and is drawn with similar panache, we found their personalities to be quite distinct.

Mickey’s a plucky, friendly everyguy with a circle of friends and a true love in Minnie Mouse.

Oswald, on the other hand, tends to the mischievous and romances various cartoon lovelies in different films.

The greatest difference between the two, however, is voice – Oswald is silent (like all his cartoon brethren of the mid ’20s) and his personality comes through only in his slapstick antics. Mickey has a richly expressive voice, thanks to Walt Disney himself, and to the two voice actors (first James Macdonald, and now Wayne Allwine) who carried on the tradition in his wake.

The Oswald cartoons are funny, highly energetic, and full of terrific sight gags – it’s not hard to see what made Oswald a hit.

However, it was characteristic of Walt to turn a defeat like the loss of his first character into a triumph. He recognized this about himself, saying “You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” EDITOR'S NOTE: ALTHOUGH, LIKE SAY, IT DOES KINDA HELP TO HAVE CREATIVE GENIUS MOTIVATING YOUR UP-AND-ATTEM.

We had to conclude that starting over with a fresh inspiration allowed Walt to create, in Mickey, a true classic with both more personality and more heart than Oswald.

However, Oswald is a valuable slice of Disneyana, and he was instrumental in the creative growth of Walt Disney.

As Dave Smith says, "Oswald may seem only a footnote in Disney history, but his significance was far greater than one suspects. With Oswald, Walt began learning how to instill real personality into his cartoon characters."

And the Osward shorts are still terrific fun to watch, just as they must have been back in the ’20s. So it’s fitting that Oswald is receiving a resounding welcome home.

"When Bob 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," said Walt Disney's daughter Diane Disney Miller. "Having Oswald around again is going to be a lot of fun." EDITOR'S NOTE: MICKEY'S MUTE OLDER BROTHER. (WONDER HOW MICKEY FEELS ABOUT IT?!)


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