Today in Disney history in 2006, Disney regained the rights to an original Walt Disney design — the character of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
One of Walt Disney’s most famous quotes is when he said: “I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.” That mouse, of course, is none other than Mickey Mouse. However, some would perhaps argue that in fact it didn’t start with a mouse, but rather with a rabbit.
No, not Bugs Bunny. Not the Energizer Bunny either. We’re talking about Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. This cartoon character not only has some physical similarities with Mickey, but the history behind Oswald led to the creation of the world’s most famous mouse.
The Creation of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit
In 1927, Walt Disney and his chief animator Ub Iwerks created Oswald for Universal Pictures as part of the studio’s strategy to grow their animation business. Oswald made his debut in the short film “Trolley Troubles”, which was actually the second short film produced after the first film “Poor Papa” was rejected by Universal. To appease the heads of the studio, Oswald was tweaked to have a younger and thinner appearance.
The Oswald series became a hit and 26 cartoons were made. While it made a lot of money for Disney, he was ultimately disappointed that the contract gave Universal ownership of his popular rabbit character. He desired to create an animated character that he fully owned the rights to, which led to the creation of Mickey Mouse who made his debut in the classic “Steamboat Willie” short film.
The Trade for Oswald
The lucky rabbit eventually made his way to be owned by The Walt Disney Company on February 9, 2006, thanks to a deal that was initiated by Disney President and CEO Bob Iger with NBC Universal. And it involved someone you may have never associated with a classic cartoon character.
If you are a fan of sports, chances are you are familiar with Al Michaels. Even if you aren’t into sports, you’d likely recognize his voice. The legendary sportscaster is synonymous with football broadcasts, and he has lent his talents to many other sports as well. So what does Al Michaels have to do with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit?
At the time, Michaels was contracted to work for ABC and ESPN, which are networks owned by Disney. So to acquire the rights to Oswald, Iger released Michaels from his contract to join NBC Sports, making him a focal point of a trade that also included telecasts and other rights related to sports media.
So be sure to keep this Oswald and Al Michaels trade tucked away in the back of your memory. It’s sure to come up in a trivia contest!
Disney Appearances of Oswald
One of Oswald’s major appearances after his trade to Disney was the video game Epic Mickey. It was especially significant because it was the first time Mickey and Oswald appeared together. In this game, Oswald is jealous of Mickey’s fame and wants a better place for forgotten characters like himself. Two sequels were released: Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two and Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion.
Oswald also has appeared in Disney parks around the world. For example, he is carved into the decorations around the exit of Seven Dwarfs’ Mine Train at Magic Kingdom. He has also been featured in parade floats, character meet-and-greets, merchandise, and even a runDisney medal!
So the next time you’re browsing through titles on Disney+, consider checking out a classic Oswald the Lucky Rabbit short film. It is a fascinating journey back in time with its old-fashioned style of animation and music, and you can see the rabbit that (sort of) started it all.