“It all started with a mouse.”
That’s what The Walt Disney Company wants everyone to believe, and that’s what most Disney fans actually do believe. It’s practically the canon for the company’s history. While Micky Mouse has undoubtedly helped to lay the foundation for Disney, too often it gets forgotten that things actually started with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
Oswald was a character created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks in 1927 while working for Universal Studios. In order to differentiate the character from other popular cartoon characters at the time (like Felix the Cat) Disney decided to make a rabbit character. The two then named the character Oswald and created a series of shorts. They were a massive success for Universal; however, the good times didn’t last. Frustrated with his contract with Universal and their demand he take a 20% pay cut, Disney ultimately quit. And he took Iwerks with him, while the rest of their animation team mostly stayed at Universal.
Because Oswald technically belonged to Universal, Disney couldn’t retain the rights. So he and Iwerks began working on a new character. That character was obviously Mickey Mouse and the rest is history.
The Oswald character continued to star in shorts produced by Universal without Disney’s involvement. While they were still successful for a time, the character couldn’t compete with the newfound success of Mickey and several other new animated characters that were beginning to blow up. Oswald was eventually transitioned from shorts to comics before being more or less shelved away…
That is, until 2006 when (then) newly appointed Disney CEO Bob Iger negotiated a deal with Universal. Believe it or not, they essentially traded the rights to Oswald for Sportscaster Al Michaels, moving him from ESPN to NBC Sports.
After several decades, Oswald was back home at Disney and the plan was for him to be introduced to a brand new audience he could win over. While he did star in the 2010 video game “Epic Mickey” and made some small appearances in Disney shops, that didn’t happen. In fact, the company did barely anything with the character.
In 2019 it was rumored that Oswald would be getting his own animated series for Disney+. Animator Matt Danner would later even confirm the project’s existence. Like so many other planned Disney projects, it unfortunately stalled out. Danner did stress, however, that there was strong interest still within the company to do something with Oswald and that it was possible a new team was simply brought on board for the project.
Last year when Disney released a new animated short starring Oswald. At only a minute long, it was still a cute and fun way to bring the character in the spotlight again. Earlier this week, that same short finally premiered on Disney+.
Will Oswald ever get his spotlight back? Only time will tell. That new short is proof that Disney is passionate about doing more things with Oswald. Given his importance to Walt Disney and the history of the company, it’s only right. He more than deserves to finally have his own moment in the spotlight.