Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (also known as Oswald the Rabbit or Oswald Rabbit) is an anthropomorphic rabbit and animated cartoon character created by Ub Iwerks and Walt Disney for films distributed by Universal Pictures in the 1920s and 1930s. The majority rights to the character are currently held by The Walt Disney Company, with a few rights going to Universal.
Creation under Disney
Oswald was introduced in 1927 after Disney's series of Alice Comedies had run its course. Disney signed a new contract with Universal Studios head Carl Laemmle where he would produce a series of cartoons for Charles Mintz and George Winkler. The first Oswald cartoon, Poor Papa, was rejected by the Universal studio heads due to poor production quality and the sloppiness and age of Oswald. After this, Disney, together with Ub Iwerks, created a second cartoon called Trolley Troubles featuring a much younger, neater Oswald. The short officially launched the series and proved to be Disney's greatest success yet.
A few of Oswald's adventures dealt with humor related to the procreative abilities of his species, as illustrated in the episode description of Poor Papa: "Oswald gets a visit from the stork... again and again and again. He has to resort to a variety of strategies to stop the continual flow of babies." Trolley Troubles also showed Oswald surrounded by numerous baby rabbits, this time heckling him while on the job. Other cartoons, however, generally placed Oswald in more human-type conditions and situations.
In spring 1928, with the series going strong, Disney asked Mintz for an increase in the budget. But Mintz instead demanded that Walt take a 20 percent budget cut, and as leverage, he reminded Disney that Mintz owned the character, and revealed that he had already signed most of Disney's current employees to his new contract: Iwerks and Les Clark were among the few who remained loyal to Walt. Disney refused Mintz's demand, disassociating himself from Oswald after the series first season. While finishing the remaining Oswald cartoons, Disney, Iwerks and Clark created the cartoon hero who would become The Walt Disney Company's lasting symbol: Mickey Mouse, (a slightly altered Oswald the Rabbit to avoid litigation) the most famous of Walt Disney's characters.
Universal takes direct control
Mintz, meanwhile, opened his own studio consisting primarily of former Disney employees, where he continued to produce Oswald cartoons, among them the first Oswald with sound, Hen Fruit (1929). Laemmle was dissatisfied with Mintz, and terminated his contract and opted to have the Oswald cartoons produced right on the Universal lot instead. By a coincidence, Disney and Mintz each produced nine cartoons the first year and 17 the next before Oswald was taken over by others. Laemmle selected Walter Lantz to produce the new series of Oswald shorts (the first of which was 1929's Race Riot). Lantz consulted Disney about Oswald and he gave Lantz his blessing to continue the Oswald series as the Mickey Mouse shorts had become more successful so the two became close friends.
Over the next decade, Lantz would produce 140 Oswald cartoons, making for a grand total of 192 films that the character starred in, spanning the work of all three producers. After Lantz took over production in 1929, the character's look was changed to some degree over the following years: Oswald got white gloves on his hands, shoes on his feet, a shirt, a "cuter" face with larger eyes, a bigger head, and shorter ears. With 1935's Case of the Lost Sheep, an even more major makeover took place: the character was drawn more realistically now, and with white fur rather than black. This new Oswald model was adapted directly from a non-Oswald bunny in another Lantz cartoon: the 2-strip Technicolor Fox and the Rabbit (1935), released some two months earlier as the last of the early Cartune Classics series.
The cartoons containing the new, white-furred Oswald seemed to be different from their predecessors in more than one way, as the stories themselves became softer. Minor changes in the drawing style would continue, too. With Happy Scouts (1938), the second-to-last Oswald film produced, the rabbit's fur went from being all-white to a combination of white and gray.
Unlike the Disney shorts, in which Oswald did not speak, Lantz's cartoons begun to feature actual dialogue for Oswald, although most of the cartoons were still silent to begin with. Animator Bill Nolan did the voice of Oswald in Cold Turkey, the first Lantz cartoon with dialogue, and the following year Pinto Colvig, who was working as an animator and gag man at the studio, started voicing Oswald. When Colvig left the studio in 1931, Mickey Rooney took over the voicing of Oswald until early in the following year. Starting in 1932, Lantz ceased to use a regular voice actor for Oswald, and many studio staff members (including Lantz himself) would take turns in voicing the character over the years.
Oswald made a cameo appearance in the first animated sequence with both sound and color (2-strip Technicolor), a 2½ minute animated sequence of the live action movie The King of Jazz (1930), produced by Laemmle for Universal. However, it was not until 1934 that Oswald got his own color sound cartoons in 2-strip Technicolor, Toyland Premiere and Springtime Serenade. The Oswald cartoons then returned to black-and-white, except for the last one, The Egg Cracker Suite (1943), released as a part of the Swing Symphonies series. Egg Cracker was also the only Oswald cartoon to use three-strip Technicolor. But before he was permanently retired, Oswald made a final cameo appearance in The Woody Woodpecker Polka (1951), also in three-strip Technicolor, which by then had become the rule in the cartoon industry.
Return to Disney ownership: the Al Michaels trade
In February 2006, a number of minor assets including the rights to Oswald were acquired by the Walt Disney Company from NBC Universal as part of a deal that sent sportscaster Al Michaels from Disney's ABC and ESPN to NBC Sports. At the time, ABC had lost its contract for NFL broadcast rights, and despite recently signing a long-term contract with ESPN, Michaels was interested in rejoining broadcast partner John Madden at NBC for the Sunday night package. Universal transferred the copyright in a cartoon character to Disney, and in exchange, Disney released Michaels from his employment contract, allowing him to sign with NBC.
The deal includes the rights to the character and the original 26 short films made by Disney (namely, most of the Oswald films produced from 1927 to 1928). Rights to the Lantz/Universal-produced Oswald films and other related products were not included, and therefore Oswald appears in both Disney releases and in Universal's Woody Woodpecker and Friends collection.
Walt Disney's daughter, Diane Disney Miller, issued the following statement after the deal was announced:
|“||When Bob [Iger] 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. Having Oswald around again is going to be a lot of fun.||”|
Around the same time, the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets made a similar deal, the Chiefs giving the Jets a draft pick as compensation for releasing coach Herm Edwards from his contract. Referring to this trade, Michaels said:
|“||Oswald is definitely worth more than a fourth-round draft choice. I'm going to be a trivia answer someday.||”|
In January 2007, a T-shirt line from Comme de Garçon seems to have constituted the first new Disney Oswald merchandise. Following in December was a two-disc DVD set, The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, included in Wave Seven of the Walt Disney Treasures series. Several Oswald collectors' figurines and a stuffed animal appeared shortly after the DVD set's release. The Disney Store has also begun to introduce Oswald into its merchandise lines, including a canvas print and Christmas ornament that became available Fall 2007.
Theme park appearances
Though the character Oswald showed up at the parks in Florida and California on the day Disney reacquired him, Oswald is not currently a character in the parks to meet and greet, like so many others are. Disney officials stated that he probably would be someday; they did not want to just haphazardly add him. When the character's future is determined, they are planning a big splash.
Oswald's career in comics
Oswald made his first comic book appearance in 1935, when DC Comics featured him in the series New Fun (later More Fun). His adventures, drawn by Al Stahl, were serialized one page to an issue for the magazine's first year, after which they ceased. The original black-furred version of Oswald was featured, even though Oswald was by this time a white rabbit on screen.
Oswald's second run in the comics began in 1942, when a new Oswald feature was initiated in Dell Comics' New Funnies, this time modeled after the latest cartoon version of Oswald and influenced by the drawing style of other Lantz comic book characters at the time. Following the typical development seen in most new comics, the New Funnies stories slowly morphed the character in their own direction.
At the start of the New Funnies feature, Oswald existed in a milieu reminiscent of Winnie the Pooh: he was portrayed as a live stuffed animal, living in a forest together with other anthropomorphized toys. These included Toby Bear, Maggie Lou the wooden doll, Hi-Yah Wahoo the turtle-faced Indian, and Woody Woodpecker—depicted as a mechanical doll filled with nuts and bolts (hence his "nutty" behavior). In 1944, with the addition of writer John Stanley, the stuffed animal motif was dropped, as were Maggie Lou, Woody, and Wahoo. Oswald and Toby became flesh and blood characters living as roommates in "Lantzville." Initially drawn by Dan Gormley, the series was later drawn by the likes of Dan Noonan and Lloyd White.
In 1948, Toby adopted two orphan rabbits for Oswald to raise. Floyd and Lloyd, "Poppa Oswald's" new sons, stuck around; Toby was relegated to the sidelines, disappearing for good in 1953. Later stories focused on Oswald adventuring with his sons, seeking odd jobs, or simply protecting the boys from the likes of rabbit-eating Reddy Fox and (from 1961) con man Gabby Gator—a character adapted from contemporary Woody Woodpecker cartoon shorts. This era of Oswald comics typically featured the art of Jack Bradbury, known also for his Mickey Mouse work.
Post-1960s Oswald comics tended to be produced outside the United States, for example in Mexico and Italy. Through the end of the 20th century, the foreign comics carried on the look and story style of the Dell Oswald stories. More recently, they featured a "retro" attempt at recreating the original Disney Oswald.
A 1995 Bonkers comic story in Disney Adventures ("Temple of Doom" in the March and April 1995 issues) had Bonkers and Lucky Piquel, in their quest to save the fabled Toonstone, meet its keeper, Nimrod the Rabbit. This character is designed looking very similar to Oswald, and also resembles how Oswald would've looked if he had gone through a redesign similar to that of Mickey's. Especially with adding pupils in the black dot eye, the same with Mickey Mouse when Fantasia was made in the late 30's. 
It has been confirmed that Oswald will be the star in the comic Epic Mickey: Tales of the Wasteland, a prequel to the game telling about what the Wasteland was like before Mickey.
2004 Oswald toy craze in Japan
Not long before Disney reacquired Oswald, Universal was marketing the character actively overseas. In 2004 and 2005, Oswald products were popular in Japan, and were primarily made available as prizes in UFO catchers. Typically manufactured by Taito and/or Medicom, these products included puppets, inflatable dolls, keyrings, and watches. They were generally based on a navy-blue version of the original Disney/Iwerks character.
2010 Epic Mickey appearance
Oswald plays the role of one of the central protagonists, as well as the older half-brother of Mickey Mouse, in the Wii video game Epic Mickey, which was released in 2010. The game was developed by Warren Spector, and features a dark atmosphere and a platform-RPG gameplay. In this story, sorcerer Yen Sid has crafted a world for Disney's forgotten creations called the Cartoon Wasteland, in the form of a small model. After being replaced by Mickey, Oswald becomes the first resident and takes the world as his own. He presents himself as king of the Cartoon Wasteland and works to make it comfortable for other retired characters as they join him over time, but grows resentful of Mickey due to his growing popularity. Later on, Mickey Mouse stumbles into Yen Sid's home, fiddles with the model of the Cartoon Wasteland, and accidentally creates the Shadow Blot, who, despite the efforts of its residents, proceeds to take over the Cartoon Wasteland, forcing Oswald into hiding. Years later, after forgetting his previous transgression, Mickey is pulled into the Cartoon Wasteland. There he must regain the trust of his resentful half-brother, Oswald, and get him to help Mickey stop the Shadow Blot and save the forgotten world. Developer Warren Spector comments on Oswald: "All he really wants is to be loved by Walt Disney." Although he doesn't have a spoken script, Oswald is voiced by Frank Welker.
- Some earlier Oswald shorts are in the public domain, and have thus been available for some years in various lower quality video and DVD compilations.
- A professional restoration of the surviving Disney Oswald shorts, under the title The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, appeared as a two-disc volume in Walt Disney Treasures: Wave Seven, released December 11, 2007. The cartoons included Ozzie of the Mounted, Tall Timber, and a much extended version of Bright Lights, all newly rediscovered at the time.
- Six Walter Lantz Oswald cartoons, including Hells Heels and Toyland Premiere, have been included in the recent The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Vol. 1 DVD.
- Five additional Lantz Oswald shorts, including Wax Works and Springtime Serenade, are included in The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection: Volume 2 DVD.
- Oswald on Toonopedia.com
- Of Rocks and Socks: The Winkler Oswalds (1928–29)
- The World's First Disney's Oswald the Lucky Rabbit Fan-Site
- The Walter Lantz Cartune Encyclopedia: Cartune Profiles: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit