While Disney has created many memorable cartoon characters throughout the decades, 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 (if one doesn't count Julius the Cat), 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 futureprojects which would change animation forever.In the waning years of the Silent Age, Walt Disney was — for lack of a better term — a nobody. Thrice, he had attempted to enter the field of animation, and all three efforts had led to dead ends: first, Walt's doomed Newman Laugh-O-Grams studio; which was followed by his equally-doomed follow-up series Lafflets; and then, by 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, Paul Terry's Aesop's Fables and Max Fleischer'sOut 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. Contributing to Oswald's success were animators that would later claim their own stakes in the future of the medium, including his right-hand man and top animator Ub Iwerks (who not only animated, but handled the overall key poses, timing and art direction) Hugh Harman, Rudolph "Rudy" Ising, Norm Blackburn and Rollin "Ham" Hamilton, Friz Freleng, Les Clark among more esoteric names like Ben Clompton.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 during negotiations for the second season of Oswald shorts. When Disney asked Mintz for a 20% 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 been secretly hiring 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, his brother Roy, Ub, and the two apprentice animators who'd 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 created.That, and this ordeal led him and Ub to create their own Captain Ersatz for Oswald when they started Walt Disney Productions: MickeyMouse.Meanwhile, back at Universal, Charles Mintz got a second season of cartoons made starring Oswald, but tensions between himself and the Universal executives were starting to boil over - specifically, after the overnight success of Mickey Mouse, the executives were more than a little upset that Mintz had let Disney walk away from the studio. After negotiations to bring Walt Disney back to the studio failed,note apparently learning nothing from the last time, Mintz's offer was basically to pay Disney a little more per short, but that Universal would completely own the rights to Mickey Mouse and Mintz would have control over Disney's studio; Walt very politely told Mintz to go do something rather anatomically impossible as well as the second season of Oswald not nearly doing as well as the first, Universal reminded Mintz thathe didn't own the rights to Oswald either, and Mintz was fired from the studio in 1929.For the third season of shorts, the character was brought in-house and 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 tone of Lantz's shorts shifted to 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.By the mid-30's, Lantz gradually drew Oswald away from his cartoon roots and started making the series into a more cutesy, family-friendly like series, obviously in an attempt to emulate Disney's successful cartoons. As such, 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 an actual rabbit) did little to halt the slide. Lantz began launching other short subject series in an attempt to replace the Oswald series, but none of them 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 resuscitate the Oswald series via one short, The Egg-Cracker Suite, where the character now sported yet another heavily overhauled redesign — 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-type 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 brief 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 anecdote, 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 Universalnote 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), 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.
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
The Singing Sap: First cartoon where Tex Avery is created as an animator.
Get A Horse: Now back at Disney, a CGI Oswald makes a cameo appearance waving to the viewer after the black-and-white screen is torn down.
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.
Hen Fruit (1929): First Oswald cartoon with sound.
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 starring Bing Crosby (in his very first film appearance) and Paul Whiteman, which has an opening cartoon segment that Oswald briefly cameos in. The second cartoon shot in two-strip technicolor, released August 17, just a day after the Flip The Frog color short Fiddlesticks, the very first two strip technicolor cartoon got released; irregardless, it is Oswald's first color appearance. The movie also had an accompanying Oswald short as a direct tie-in to the film, "My Pal Paul".
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 the Lucky Rabbit shorts and character:
Animation Bump: When Oswald attempts to correct his flattening with a small boulder in Tall Timber, we get a closeup of his face in what appears to be fish-eye vision.
Bears Are Bad News: Oswald and Pete encounter one towards the end of Ozzie of the Mounted, and Oswald had to put up with some again in Tall Timber.
Betty and Veronica: Although never on screen at the same time, in general, Oswald's rabbit girlfriend, Fanny was a Veronica-type and his cat girlfriend, Ortensia, was more of a Betty type. However, the rabbit was abruptly replaced full time by Ortensia, and wouldn't return until well into the Lantz period of shorts.
Chaste Toons: Averted in Poor Papa, and again in Epic Mickey — the old bunny is quite the multiplier. The hordes of kids from Poor Papa are still with Oswald in Trolley Troubles, where we see them crowding around the trolley and causing chaos in the first few scenes. He shoos them away before the action really gets going.
Child Hater: Oswald, ironically, despite having an army of offspring, clearly hates children in most of his shorts, and tries to brush them off whenever a child is trying to get his attention. Sometimes kids deserve the hate. The bratty little cat boy Homer bugs Oswald repeatedly in All Wet and is positively sadistic in Homeless Homer. He's just as mischievous in later shorts, too.
Clown Car: In Trolley Troubles, Oswald's tiny trolley, which looks like it could barely even hold 8 people, seems to be capable of holding hundreds of animals inside it.
Continuity Editing: Done terribly in the DVD version of Bright Lights. Ozzie of the Mounted and Sky Scrappers also suffer a few nasty skips.
Humanlike Hand Anatomy: Oswald and Ortensia the cat have humanlike hands and feet shaped like blocks that are flat on the soles in Epic Mickey. In early cartoons, Oswald was drawn either with oval feet or feet shaped roughly like that of his species.
Interspecies Romance: From Oh Teacher to All Wet, Oswald had a rabbit girlfriend (Fracine "Fanny" Cottontail), but starting with The Banker's Daughter, his love interest was a cat (Ortensia). And in Rival Romeos, his two rivals for said cat's affection are dogs.
Leitmotif: The Oswald DVD set gives him one in the newly orchestrated scores.
No Name Given: Oswald had two distinct love interests — one a cat, and the other another rabbit. Neither of them were ever given official names to the public. In general parlance, the cat was given the name Sadie for the purpose of discussion, because the title of one of the cartoons she was featured in was Sagebrush Sadie. The cat was later referred to as Ortensia in Epic Mickey.
Off Model: In Trolley Troubles, when Oswald removes his foot and is kissing it for good luck, his leg disappears for a few frames!
Panty Shot: The Mechanical Cow and Oh, What a Knight.
Public Domain Soundtrack: The Robert Israel scores on the DVD set sometimes include snippets of staple PD tunes; Tall Timber for instance has a snip of the "Dawn" segment of "The William Tell Overture" used when Oswald is in a pond, hunting ducks. Trolley Troubles new score includes a few notes from "I've Been Working on the Railroad" in the opening.
Walt Disney did use a few gags from the Oswald shorts and used them for some Mickey cartoons. For example, in Steamboat Willy, the gag where the goat ate the music sheets and the instrument and was turned into a phonograph, was used in the Oswald cartoon Rival Romeos.
Visual Pun: In both Trolley Troubles and Oh Teacher, Oswald pulls one of his feet off, kisses it, rubs it against something (his head in Trolley Troubles, a brick in Oh Teacher), and places it back on his leg. Think about it...
Animation Bump: In certain shorts such as "Hell's Heels" and "The Winged Horse", the background would actually be animated in perspective! "Confidence" takes this further and uses an actual photographed model of the Earth when the Depression phantom is flying about.
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.
Big Damn Heroes: Paul Whiteman in "My Pal Paul"; he just happened to be driving by when Oswald was on the verge of being crushed to death by a hanging tree, and he promptly props the tree back up and befriends Ozzie.
Body Horror: In "Busy Barber", Oswald saws off the tail of a sleeping tiger and uses it is as a barber cane! And later in the short, when Oswald's chair is defending him from the tiger and the tiger eats Oswald, the chair proceeds to pull the tiger inside out!
Bratty Half-Pint: The Sheriff's kid that Oswald finds and helps return to his dad in "Hell's Heels".
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.
Christmas Episode: "Toyland Premiere", a color short in which Oswald plays a minor role.
Dem Bones: The skeletons featured in Hell's Heels, as well as the skeleton from the opening of Spooks.
Demoted to Extra: Initially the headlining star of Walter Lantz's cartoon studio, his declining popularity prompted him to be dropped from the short lineup in 1938, with a failed revival attempt appearing in 1943. While he still appeared in many tie-in comics to Lantz cartoons, the only time he would appear again in a Lantz cartoon was as a brief, non-speaking cameo in "The Woody Woodpecker Polka" in the early 1950's, and in reissue title cards for older Lantz shorts (curiously, even for shorts he had no part in).
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: Early in "My Pal Paul", Oswald tries to hang himself after he's exposed as a fraud musician—only for the tree to topple over and try and crush him, prompting him to beg for help—Paul Whiteman by chance is driving by, and he easily props the tree back up, and removes Oswald's head from the noose and puts it back on his body.
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".
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.
Groin Attack: Happens to Oswald in the climax of Spooks due to a bunch of lizards running under him (with their spikes rubbing against him below) and again in Cold Feet, delivered by sliding down pine trees.
Gross-Up Close-Up: In the opening of "The Merry Old Soul", we are treated of the sight of Oswald's teeth, eyelashes and uvula, as he wails in pain from an aching tooth.
Haunted Castle: Used in the short "Wet Knight"; the drawbridge even has the words "Haunted Castle" in neon under it!
I Am Song: Oswald sings his theme song in Africa after the Queen asks him who he is.
Kick the Son of a Bitch: In "Kounty Fair", When Oswald finds out that the kid he took to the fair from an abusive dad is an obnoxious, harmful pest, he throws him right back into his dad's house—only for the kid to beat up his dead, chase him out of his house, and proceed to go after after Oswald!
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.
Lower Deck Episode: "Puppet Show", where Oswald only makes brief appearances before the focus shifts to the puppets.
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.
Name's the Same: There are two shorts in the series, years apart from each other, called "County Fair" (although the 1934 one has a K in it).
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. A grotesque caricature of Mae West also appears in Towne Hall Follies.
Product Placement: The short "My Pal Paul" was made as a direct tie-in the 1930 Universal movie The King of Jazz (which Oswald also made a very brief cameo in)—the first shot even has a billboard of the film, and the short is centered around Oswald befriending jazz legend Paul Whiteman.
Self-Disposing Villain: The Phantom from Spooks. Just when he has Oswald in his clutches, he proceeds to ask him the "What sound does a chicken make when it lays a square egg?" joke. Oswald can't answer, so he just slaps him to make him say "Ow!" and accepts the compulsive answer as correct, vanishing into thin air.
Oswald's partners suffer this in "Hell's Heels" when they blow up the bank and are reduced to skeletons by the explosion, although they're apparently still alive and promptly abandon Oswald (who survived basically unharmed, despite being the one who was holding the dynamite stick).
The fate of the evil Gorilla at the end of "Wet Knight"; Oswald launched a sentient bomb at him, which slaps him—the gorilla slaps back, triggering an explosion that leaves nothing but his skeleton behind.
Stock Footage: The Unpopular Mechanic reuses animation from The Barnyard Five.
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 Fanny was still his girlfriend. "My Pal Paul" also shows he's strong enough to keep a tree from crushing him, although he's clearly straining from it and needed help to get out of it.
The Cameo: In the animated segment of the film The King of Jazz.
Ungrateful Bastard: The Sheriff in "Hell's Heels", who, right after Oswald basically found his abandoned son and returned him to him (albeit against his will) immediately tries to capture him like he did before.
Villain Protagonist: Oswald in "Hell's Heels"; he starts the short with two robbers who blow up a bank to rob it, and evades the local Sheriff, only to get strongarmed by his missing son into returning him back to the Sheriff.
Visual Pun: Just near the end of "Hell's Heels" when the Sheriff's kid drags Oswald to him, when the Sheriff tries to grab Oswald, he literally jumps out of his skin—as in, his head and skeleton jump out of his body!
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.
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).
Canon Discontinuity: Warren Spector, head of Epic Mickey, decided to ignore mentioning the shorts made by Lantz in the game. There's a possible explanation for this, Spector says that the original black and white versions of Disney characters (like Clarabelle Cow) are forgotten in Wasteland, their colored versions leaving them behind; it'd the same case for Oswald, whose original self faded into obscurity.
Earn Your Happy Ending: Oswald FINALLY gets his well-deserved happy ending in the good ending — granted, he's still stuck in Wasteland, but at least it's not a Crapsack World anymore. And he still has his family, including Mickey, to look forward to.
Shout-Out: The game obviously makes several to these cartoons. Early on in the game, Mickey must traverse three of the 2D Sidescroller levels; however, instead of being based on cartoons of his own, they are based on three of Oswald's cartoons — namely Trolley Troubles, Great Guns, and Oh, What a Knight.