Oswald the Lucky Rabbit

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Well, we never said that he was the modest rabbit...


"Oswald will not only be able to hold his own with competition, but will set a pace that will make the others hustle."

Lucky rabbit,
That lucky Oswald Rabbit!
Nicest rabbit,
That you ever knew!
Lucky habit,
That lucky Oswald habit!
If you get it,

You'll be lucky, too!
The Walter Lantz Oswald theme.

As we all know in animation, when it comes to Disney's cartoon characters, we must remember that it all started with a... rabbit?

The original cartoon star of animation duo Walt Disney and his longtime friend and partner Ub Iwerks, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was once an all-but-forgotten, but very important, character in the History of Animation. Despite how obscure he has remained up 'till recent years, his presence would wind up having a large impact on the future of the cartoon industry as a whole, laying the groundwork and paving the way for Walt Disney's future projects which would change animation forever.

In the waning years of the Silent Age, Walt Disney was — for lack of a better term — a nobody. Twice, he had attempted to enter the field of animation, and both efforts had led to dead ends: first, Walt's doomed Laugh-O-Grams studio; then, the slightly more successful live action/animation-blending Alice Comedies series. Finally, distributor Winkler Pictures got Walt and Ub a contract with Universal Studios. Walt, Ub, and their staff put together a pilot starring Oswald, called Poor Papa. Though Papa didn't impress Universal's management, a series of Oswald short comedies were still given the greenlight, and the Disney staff got right to work, with Oswald's official debut coming in the short Trolley Troubles (1927).

Still inspired by his viewings of Charlie Chaplin films, Winsor McCay's "Gertie the Dinosaur", as well as Otto Messmer's Felix the Cat and Paul Terry's "Aesop's Fables" and Max Fleischer's Out of the Inkwell, Walt began striving for higher-quality animation and more dynamic use of rubber-hose animation, as well as much heavier emphasis on personality, story-based gags, and much more attention to story -- this made the series a huge advancement over Walt's earlier Alice Comedies.

Thanks to these added touches, the Oswald cartoons quickly became a hit series with the public, although he never reached the popularity of Felix the Cat or Koko the Clown. Oswald was even the first Disney cartoon character to receive his own tie-in merchandise (e.g., candy, stuffed animals, and pinback buttons)! Walt finally had a hit cartoon star, and it seemed like nothing could go wrong...

But alas, his success with Oswald was not to last. In 1928, Disney got into a hassle with Charles Mintz, then de facto boss of Winkler Pictures. When Disney confronted Mintz to ask for a budget increase (so that he could continue improving his animation standards), he was told not only that he would receive no budget increase, but that he had to accept a 20% budget decrease. As if things weren't bad enough, Mintz informed Walt that he had hired away most of Walt's animation staff under a new contract -— and in the biggest blow of all, he reminded Walt that he technically did not own the character or trademark rights to Oswald. (In fact, it has been said that Charles Mintz actually chose the name for Oswald out of a hat.) So Mintz gave Disney an ultimatum: take the budget cut and loss of staff control, or lose the right to use Oswald altogether.

We all know how this turned out, folks. After completing the remaining Oswald cartoons they were contracted to make, Walt, Ub, and their two apprentice animators who stuck with them, Les Clark and Wilfred Jackson, left Winkler and Universal altogether. Walt, very hurt by the ordeal, learned from there on out to be his own boss, and to always make sure that he owned the full rights to every character he owned.

That, and this ordeal led him and Ub to create their own Captain Ersatz for Oswald when they started Walt Disney Productions: Mickey Mouse.

Meanwhile, back at Universal, Charles Mintz got a second season of cartoons made starring Oswald...but was soon handed over to Walter Lantz, a former Winkler director who would now open a studio of his own, after he won the rights to Oswald in a poker game. Over the next few years, Oswald continued to star in moderately successful cartoons, at least prior to the mid-30's. Lantz, with the help of industry veteran Bill Nolan and young staffers like Tex Avery (who would occasionally direct a few shorts in Nolan's steed), took the Oswald series into a more cartoony, fantasy driven direction than what Walt had done with him, distinguishing Oswald from being merely Disney's take on Felix the Cat. The animation became much more loose and organic than Disney's product due to Nolan's fast speed, a compensation for Lantz's low budgets on the series, and the strong narratives and personality were dropped in favor of improvised, freewheeling musical-oriented fests, with plenty of off the wall animation to boot. Oddly, Oswald had no regular voice actor in the Lantz era (apart from a period of about a year-and-a-half early on, when Pinto Colvig regularly served as his voice), and studio staff would just take turns voicing him.

Unfortunately, by the mid-30's, The character's popularity began to decline; appearances in color, as well as a few redesigns (at first making him more kid-like, then much more like a realistic rabbit) did little to halt the slide. Lantz began launching other short subject series in an attempt to replace the Oswald series, almost none of which were successful. By 1938, Oswald's popularity had dwindled enough to where Lantz decided to put the series on hiatus.

In 1943, Lantz attempted to resusicate the Oswald series via one short, "The Egg-Cracker Suite"--only to find a cartoon industry that the cutesy hare was completely unsuited to--by this point in time, Disney parodies and fast paced comedies, as well as Screwy Squirrel characters, were all the rage--including Lantz's own new star, Woody Woodpecker. As such, the now-domesticated Oswald was given the shaft as a series star altogether, after lasting an impressive 192 short subjects. His last cartoon appearance would be a cameo along with Andy Panda —- Universal's second major cartoon star —- in the 1951 short The Woody Woodpecker Polka. And aside from comic appearances, occasional TV reruns, the occasional history book mention, and two cameos in Christmas in Tattertown, the character fell into total obscurity, doomed to be a forgotten relic in animation history...

Or at least, that was how it seemed -- until 2006, when things finally got better; In exchange for trading a sportscaster to NBC Universal [1], Disney acquired all of the rights to Oswald and his shorts (excluding the post-Disney Universal cartoons), and in 2007, they reintroduced the world to the character via a two-disc DVD collection called Walt Disney Treasures: The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. A handful of the Lantz Oswalds were also included on the two Woody Woodpecker DVD sets released around the same time.

As if things weren't good enough already for the old bunny, he made his full comeback, as the older half-brother of Mickey, in the 2010 video game Epic Mickey.

Note: Belonging to Universal from the start (with Walt being unaware of this until the ink hit the fan, so to speak), Oswald, by pure technicality, is not part of the Classic Disney Shorts lineup and was technically not even a real Disney character until 2006, despite laying the groundwork for Walt and Ub's later work. It is argumentative if Oswald was really the first Disney animated hero because on one hand Disney and Iwerks did create the character, but on the other hand, Disney never had ownership of Oswald to begin with.

You can find information on the Walter Lantz Oswald shorts on the Walter Lantz Cartune Encyclopedia.

Obviously, no relation to My Uncle Oswald.

Contrast Felix the Cat and Bosko the Talk Ink Kid.


FILMOGRAPHY

1927[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Trolley Troubles
  • Oh Teacher
  • The Mechanical Cow
  • Great Guns!
  • All Wet
  • The Ocean Hop
  • The Banker's Daughter: No known print exists.
  • Empty Socks: No known print exists.
  • Rickety Gin: No known print exists.

1928[edit | hide]

  • Harem Scarem: No known print exists.
  • Neck 'n' Neck: No known print exists.
  • The Ol' Swimmin' Hole: No known print exists.
  • Africa Before Dark: No known print exists.
  • Rival Romeos
  • Bright Lights
  • Sagebrush Sadie: No print of the film is known to exist, although several pencil tests of it survive to this day.
  • Ride 'Em Plowboy: No known print exists.
  • Ozzie of the Mounted
  • Hungry Hoboes: Initially thought to be lost, but a print was discovered to still exist in a private collection. As of late 2011, it is currently being auctioned for 35,000$!
  • Oh, What a Knight
  • Sky Scrappers
  • The Fox Chase
  • Tall Timber
  • Sleigh Bells: No known print exists.
  • Hot Dog: No known print exists.
  • Poor Papa (the first cartoon produced, but last Disney Oswald released): While a print of this film does exist, Disney was unable to acquire it in time for the Oswald collection.
  • High Up: First of the Winkler Oswalds.
  • Mississippi Mud
  • Panicky Pancakes
  • Fiery Fireman
  • Rocks and Socks
  • South Pole Flight
  • Bull-Oney
  • A Horse Tale
  • Farmyard Follies

1929[edit | hide]

  • Homeless Homer
  • Yanky Clippers
  • Hen Fruit: First sound Oswald.
  • 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: Last Winkler Oswald.
  • Race Riot: First of the Walter Lantz Oswald shorts.
  • Oil's well
  • Permanent Wave
  • Cold Turkey
  • Pussy Willie
  • Amatuer Nite
  • Hurdy Gurdy
  • Snow Use
  • Nutty Notes
  • Ozzie of the Circus

1930[edit | hide]

  • Kounty Fair
  • Cilly 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: Features a caricature of Jazz legend Paul Whiteman. The short was made as an obvious tie-in to...
  • The King of Jazz: Live action picture with a opening cartoon segment that Ozzie makes a very brief cameo in. Very first cartoon shot in two-strip technicolor, and as such is Ozzie's first appearance in color.
  • Not So Quiet
  • Spooks
  • Cold Feet
  • Snappy Salesman
  • Henpecked
  • The Singing Sap: First cartoon where Tex Avery is created as an animator.
  • The Detective
  • The Fowl Ball
  • The Navy
  • Mexico
  • Africa
  • Alaska
  • Mars

1931[edit | hide]

  • 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[edit | hide]

  • 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[edit | hide]

  • The Plumber
  • The Shriek
  • Going to Blazes
  • Beau Best
  • Ham and Eggs
  • Confidence
  • Five and Dime
  • The Zoo
  • The Merry Old Soul: First Walter Lantz to be nominated for an Academy Award.
  • Parking Space

1934[edit | hide]

  • Chicken Reel
  • The Candy House
  • The County Fair
  • The Toy Shoppe
  • Kings Up
  • Wolf! Wolf! (no relation to the Terry Toons short)
  • The Ginger Bread Boy
  • Goldielocks and the Three Bears
  • Annie Moved Away
  • The Wax Works
  • William Tell
  • Chris Columbus Jr.: Tex Avery claimed to have worked on the lengthy cannonball sequence.
  • The Dizzy Dwarf
  • Ye Happy Pilgrims
  • Sky Larks
  • Spring in the Park
  • Toyland Premiere: First Oswald cartoon in color.

1935[edit | hide]

  • Robinson Crusoe Isle
  • The Hillbilly
  • Two Little Lambs
  • Do a Good Deed
  • Elmer the Great Dane
  • Springtime Serenade: The second Oswald cartoon in color.
  • Towne Hall Follies: First cartoon directed by Tex Avery.
  • At Your Service
  • Bronco Buster
  • Amatuer Broadcast
  • The Quial Hunt: 2nd cartoon directed by Tex Avery.
  • Monkey Wretches: Last cartoon to use the original Oswald design. First appearance of Meany, Miny and Moe the monkeys.

1936[edit | hide]

  • Soft Ball Game: The making of this cartoon was featured in the 1936 documentary short "Cartoonland Mysteries".
  • Alaska Sweepstakes
  • Slumberland Express
  • Beauty Shoppe: Second appearance of Meany, Miny and Moe.
  • The Barnyard Five
  • Fun House
  • Farming Fools: Third appearance of Meany, Miny and Moe.
  • Battle Royal: Fourth appearance of Meany, Miny and Moe the monkeys. They would go on to their own short lived series after this cartoon. This short was renamed "The Big Fight" for reissued prints.
  • Music Hath Charms
  • Kiddie Revue
  • Beachcombers
  • Night Life of the Bugs
  • Puppet Show
  • The Unpopular Mechanic
  • Gopher Trouble

1937[edit | hide]

  • 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[edit | hide]

1943[edit | hide]

  • The Egg Cracker Suite: Final Oswald cartoon and third one in color.

1951[edit | hide]

  • The Woody Woodpecker Polka: Makes his very last cartoon appearance in a cameo.

1988[edit | hide]



Noteworthy Oswald the Lucky Rabbit Shorts:
  • Poor Papa (1927) The original pilot for the series. It was unreleased initially, but eventually saw a release in 1928.
  • Trolley Troubles (1927): The first released Disney Oswald cartoon.
  • High Up (1928): First Mintz Oswald cartoon made without Disney.
  • Fiery Firemen (1928): Friz Freleng's first directorial effort at any studio
  • Race Riot (1929): first Lantz Oswald cartoon made without Mintz. And to clear any unfortunate misconceptions, the title actually refers to a steeplechase.
  • The King of Jazz (1930): A live action feature with an opening cartoon segment that Oswald briefly cameos in. Very first cartoon shot in two-strip technicolor, and, as such, is Oswald's first color appearance.
  • Confidence (1933): Pro-New Deal cartoon, featuring Oswald seeking Franklin D. Roosevelt's help for his ailing farm. One animator on the short was Fred "Tex" Avery, who then worked at the Lantz studio.
  • Towne Hall Follies (1935): First directorial effort of Tex Avery, although he is not credited.
  • The Quail Hunt (1935): Second cartoon directed by Avery, once again uncredited.

Tropes Related to Disney-Made Oswald Shorts and Character:

Tropes Related to Post-Disney Oswald Shorts Made by Winkler and Lantz:
  • Art Evolution: Oswald went through several redesigns as the series ran its course, eventually looking like a real rabbit.
  • Badass Adorable: Oswald retains this trait, as shown in "Jungle Jingles" when he grabs a gun and pumps the lion who's chasing him full of lead.
  • Baseball Episode: The episode "Soft Ball Game".
  • Canon Immigrant: Oswald's final, "white rabbit" design actually originated in an unrelated Lantz cartoon called "Fox and the Rabbit," which was based on a children's story of the same name. Walter Lantz decided that he liked the design of the rabbit in that cartoon so much that he had it adopted as Oswald's design in his next cartoon.
    • Two twin bear cubs, antagonists of Oswald in Disney's "Tall Timber," were reduced to just one rival—eventually called Toby Bear—in the Lantz short "Kentucky Belles." In later Lantz comics, Toby became Oswald's buddy. Recent Disney comics bring things full circle, with Toby keeping his later buddy role but reverting to the original "Tall Timber" visual design.
  • Cross-Dressing Voices: One of his later voices was a female.
  • Dastardly Whiplash: The villain of "Towne Hall Follies".
  • Dem Bones: The skeletons featured in "Hell's Heels", as well as the skeleton from the opening of "Spooks".
  • Deranged Animation: Any short that Bill Nolan worked on, especially "Hells Heels." Even more obvious when Nolan started directing some of the shorts himself, and allowed his animators (including a young Tex Avery) much more freedom than Lantz did.
  • Driven to Suicide: Oswald tries to do this in "My Pal Paul", and its played for laughs.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: "Monkey Wretches", "Beauty Shoppe", "Farming Fools" and "Battle Royal", which feature the first appearances of Lantz's short lived stars "Meany, Miny And Moe".
  • Everything Sounds Sexier in French: The duet Oswald and his cat girlfriend (here referred to as "Marie") sing in "Not So Quiet".
  • Gainax Ending: The end of "Spooks", where Oswald is cornered by The Phantom, and he is asked a question: "What sound does a chicken make, when it lays a square egg?" He then slaps Oswald, who says "Ow!" "Correct!" And then the Phantom vanishes, leaving Oswald bewildered and victorious.
  • God Does Not Own This World: The major reason for their low quality.
  • "I Am" Song: Oswald sings his theme song in "Africa" after the Queen asks him who he is.
  • Leitmotif: Oswald has a leitmotif in this series in the form of a snippet of the song "Turkey in the Straw." Funny, considering that was the same song played in the first hit of his half-brother.
  • Literal Ass-Kicking: In "Jungle Jingles" a squirrel does this to Oswald, for no particular reason.
  • Losing Your Head: A bizarre example that's Played for Laughs in "Hell's Heels": After the local sheriff chases Oswald out of town, he yells to Oswald, "And if you ever come back, i'll—" and the Sheriff attempts to do a "finger crossing neck like blade" motion... but beheads himself! After getting bit trying to pick his head back up, the sheriff quickly puts his head back on backward, and proceeds to walk backward back to town.
  • Lost Him in a Card Game: In a meta-example, this was how Lantz gained the rights to Oswald from Universal founder Carl Laemmle.
  • Mickey Mousing: Very frequent in some of these shorts.
  • Missing Episode: Several of the 30s Lantz Oswald shorts have been lost, including:
    • Cold Turkey (1929)
    • Pussy Willie (1929)
    • Amature Nite (1929): A print exists, but with no soundtrack.
    • Nutty Notes (1929)
    • Ozzie of the Circus (1929)
    • Kounty Fair (1930): A print exists, but it has no soundtrack.
    • Kisses and Kurses (1930)
    • Hot For Hollywood (1930): A print exists, but it has no soundtrack.
    • The Playful Pup (1937): Only the opening and ending titles seem to exist.
  • Modern Egypt: A Theme Park Version of it is seen in "Africa".
    • The Sphinx: Briefly comes to life for the song in said short, which also confirms in-universe that the statue was based on a female.
  • Ms. Fanservice: The Egyptian queen Oswald meets in "Africa". Strangely, when she runs after Oswald, her body turns into standard Rubber Hose Limbs, probably because it would have been too hard to animate her semi-realistic figure.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Jazz legend Paul Whiteman appears in cartoon form in "My Pal Paul", obviously as a tie-in to the then-recently released film, "The King of Jazz".
  • Off-Model: Oswald's appearance would often change depending on who was animating him.
  • Please Shoot the Messenger: (General) Pegleg Pete does this to Oswald in "Not So Quiet".
  • Roger Rabbit Effect: Briefly seen in the opening of the short "Puppet Show".
  • Self-Disposing Villain: The Phantom from "Spooks".
  • Stock Footage: "The Unpopular Mechanic" reuses animation from "The Barnyard Five".
  • Suddenly Voiced: After his cartoons went into sound.
  • Super Strength: It revealed in Oswald cartoons "Fiery Firemen" and "Not So Quiet" that Oswald have super strength. In the end of "Fiery Fireman", Oswald could lift a hippo with just one hand. In "Not So Quiet", Oswald was carrying a gun a few times of his own height and weight and when he was about to be shot at sunrise he shattered many cannonballs that were firing at him into pieces with just one punch. Oswald have shattered shooting cannonballs before in "Great Guns" made during the Disney/Iwerks era of Oswald, when was Fanny was still his girlfriend.
  • Take That: Some believed that name of the villain of Pixar's Up, Charles Muntz, was a jab at Charles Mintz. However, this was Jossed by Pixar staff, who claimed that it was just a coincidence.
  • The Cameo: In the animated segment of the film "The King of Jazz".
  • The Golden Age of Animation
  • Villain Protagonist: Oswald in "Hell's Heels".
  • Wild Take: An almost proto-example is featured in "Weary Willies", with the bear squeezing Oswald to where his eyes grotesquely pop out like balloons.
  • Wolverine Publicity: Reissues of pre-1940's Lantz cartoons would often feature Oswald in the title, even if he never appeared in the cartoon to begin with.
  • Your Size May Vary: In the short Spooks, when Oswald is being chased by the Phantom; in the next shot, Oswald is inexplicably a third of his usual size (and then back to normal in the next shot).
  1. Al Michaels was traded to NBC's Sunday Night Football, as ABC lost the broadcast rights to Monday Night Football (which moved to ESPN, replacing their version of Sunday Night Football in terms of prominence of games broadcast)