OSWALD THE LUCKY RABBIT:
The Search for the Lost Disney Cartoons
by David A. Bossert
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Before there was Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney created a different character, similar in appearance to Mickey, but with long ears and a fluffy tail: Oswald the Rabbit. After making a mere twenty-six shorts starring the character, Disney lost the rights to him and vowed to retain the rights to his future creations, and had already begun work on Oswald's replacement. David A. Bossert explores the history of the character and provides a glimpse into the films that featured him in Oswald the Lucky Rabbit: The Search for the Lost Disney Cartoons.
Bossert opens the book with an explanation of the character's creation, the way Disney and Ub Iwerks used Oswald in their films and to learn their craft, and how Disney lost the rights. He then moves onto the modern story of the re-acquisition of the character and the subsequent work find lost footage and to restore the existing films so they could be shown. Thirteen of the films were released as part of the Walt Disney Treasures line of DVDs in 2007, however, six additional films have been found since then.The majority of the book describes the twenty-six films, not only describing the action, but including stills and drawings from the Disney Archives. While this is the meat of the book, it is also the most frustrating part of the book. Bossert is describing films which, under the best of conditions, may eventually be seen by the reader, but for seven of them, there is no hope of actually seeing the films Bossert is describing. Furthermore, even when the films exist, Bossert is ruthless in describing the footage which is still lost, noting discrepancies between the original running length and the current running length and writing about the scenes that are missing.
What does come across, in both the history of the character and the synopses of the films, is how enjoyable Oswald was as a character. As Mickey Mouse became more iconic, Disney toned down a lot of his character, shifting the more aggressive aspects to Donald Duck. Oswald wasn't around long enough as a Disney character (the character persisted for several years at Universal after Disney lost the rights) to have that issue arise. In some ways Oswald, as a trickster and a troublemaker, seems like he would have been more at home in the Warner Brothers stable of characters.
Bossert has written an engaging history of a character who was not only lost to Disney, but had been forgotten by most of the public. Since Disney has reclaimed the rights, oswald has slowly been making a come-back, although he is certainly not well know. Players of Disney's Epic Mickey video game have had a chance to meet him and he appears in the 2013 animated short "Get a Horse!" Oswald can also occasionally be seeing parading around the Disney parks, bringing him well into the cast of Disney characters. This book offers a great introduction to him, until Disney once again issues his long-forgotten films.
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