At Disney we always say, “It was all started by a Mouse.” But it’s equally accurate to say that the mouse started with a rabbit —Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
Oswald – who made his debut in the cartoon short Trolley Troubles on this date in 1927 – was one of Walt’s first animated stars. That year, Walt signed a contract with distributor Charles Mintz, who brokered a deal with Universal Studios to distribute a series of cartoon shorts featuring Oswald. Within a year, Walt’s team had produced 26 cartoons, which turned out to be big hits for Universal.
In 1928, Walt traveled to New York to negotiate a new contract with Mintz, but found that he no longer owned the rights to the character. Mintz had secretly signed many of his artists to work on Oswald cartoons in his own studio. Devastated, Walt headed back to Los Angeles and on the long ride home came up with an idea for another character — Mickey Mouse.
Because of Oswald’s importance to Walt’s creative legacy, Disney regained the rights for him in 2006. His popularity has continued to grow since then, mostly due to a starring role in the popular video game franchise, Disney Epic Mickey.
Oswald is also popular in some of our international markets, especially Japan. He made his official return to Disney Parks & Resorts as a float in the Disney’s Easter Wonderland parade at Tokyo Disneyland, and his image now appears throughout the Disney Ambassador Hotel. His “lucky” and “mischievous” personality resonates so well with guests that Disney Store Japan and Disney Consumer Products licensees have expanded its merchandise line to accommodate the demands of that market. Some of the most popular items include plush key chains, kitchenware and fashion items for women and teens.
Oswald the Lucky Rabbit may be a silent-era character that remained obscure for many years, but we have now seen that Walt’s original creation has proven to be truly timeless.
Happy 85th anniversary, Oswald!