On Oswald the Lucky Rabbit’s Birthday, New Merchandise Previewed and Lost Cartoon Screened

Editor’s Note: We welcome back guest writer Cari Keebaugh for this fun and informative look at Walt Disney’s original mischevious masterpiece, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit!  Take it away, Cari!

Turning the venerable age of 85 hasn’t slowed down Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. It seems only fitting that, during the week of Oswald’s birthday, Disney released information about new Oswald merchandise and a long-lost Oswald cartoon was recovered, restored, and screened.

On September 5, 1927, Oswald debuted in his first cartoon, “Trolly Troubles.” Oswald is essentially Mickey Mouse’s older brother, as Walt Disney created him and featured him in 26 cartoons before losing the rights to Oswald to Universal in 1928, the same year that the iconic Mouse was born. Although Oswald had been a big hit, Mickey quickly overcame him in popularity (which was Disney’s plan, after all – Universal became a rival company and Oswald became Mickey’s competition), and until quite recently Oswald had been almost completely forgotten. But in 2006, Disney brought Oswald home by a trade with NBC/Universal. The trade, overseen by CEO Bob Iger, swapped Oswald with sportscaster Al Michaels. Back in Disney’s hands, Oswald is quickly regaining his popularity. He stars in the popular Wii game Epic Mickey, and Oswald will again star alongside his no-longer-estranged brother in Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, which will be released on November 18. (Pre-order your copy here.)

As soon as Oswald took the big screen by storm in 1927, his merchandise became as popular as he was; everyone wanted an Oswald pin, an Oswald stencil set, or an official Oswald chocolate-and-marshmallow bar (yum!). Unfortunately, when Disney lost the rights to Oswald, production of Oswald-related paraphernalia ground to a halt. The good news is that, since returning Oswald to the family, Disney has begun to create new lines of merchandise for fans of the Lucky Rabbit. Just a few days ago, Steven Miller, Merchandise Communication Manager for Disney, offered a peek at some new Oswald collectables that are sure to be a hit.

Wish you had been around in 1927 to buy an Oswald pin? Never fear, you don’t have to invent a time-traveling machine to satisfy your collecting impulse. According to Miller, “Disney pins started celebrating Oswald in January by releasing an 85th anniversary pin. We also released an open-edition pin, a limited-edition pin and a Hidden Mickey pin for Disneyland Resort. Look for another open-edition pin next spring.” Vinylmation collectors won’t be disappointed, either. Oswald will be the mystery figure in the new Classic Collection series, to be released in November.

By far, though, my personal favorite is the Oswald ears. By early November, park-goes will be able to buy personalized Oswald hats. Just like Mickey ears, these hats will feature an emblem of the character on the front and your name embroidered on the back. The new ears were released earlier this year at the San Diego Comic-Con and the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) as an Epic Mickey 2 plug, and although the park hats will have a slightly different emblem than those distributed at Comic-Con and E3, they will still be the essence of cool. This author is seriously considering wearing hers to work.

Oswald has even opened his own store. Visitors to Buena Vista Street in the Disney California Adventure park can shop at Oswald’s Garage, a cute shop with a retro feel, for Disney essentials such as bags, autograph books, batteries, and Oswald knit plush dolls.

While the new merchandise looks great, an animated character is nothing without the cartoons he stars in. And while thirteen of the original shorts are available in a compilation, until 2011, one of Oswald’s cartoons was missing. “Hungry Hobos,” the 20th of the original 26 cartoons Disney made of Oswald, was discovered in a private collection in England last year and was subsequently purchased by Disney.  The cartoon was then restored. According to Dave Bossert, producer, creative director, and head of special projects for Walt Disney Animation Studios, “In restoring ‘Hungry Hobos,’ we were able to address such issues as warpage, dirt removal, broken sprocket holes, light flicker and film weave. The end result is a highly entertaining and historically important film that is part of our Disney heritage.” The cartoon was screened at the 39th Telluride Film Festival in Colorado, August 31-September 3. Serge Bromberg, renowned restoration expert and film historian, noted,  “We are very grateful to Disney for letting us debut this newly restored Oswald short in Telluride. The film has some wonderful gags, and provides an excellent look at the early work of Walt Disney before he created Mickey Mouse. We salute Disney’s efforts to preserve its cinematic past, while moving forward with such exciting new efforts as ‘Paperman.’” This restoration follows on the heels of Oswald’s very first – and Disney’s oldest – cartoon being found in the Disney archive in June.

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