Before there was Mickey Mouse, there was a plucky, similarly styled character that Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks created named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. While not as widely known as Mickey Mouse, since Disney recently reacquired the rights to the character (more on that in a minute), he has been sneaking into the atmosphere (most notably appearing in last year’s wonderful “Epic Mickey” Wii game) and one day should be a fully integrated member of the all-star Disney roster. And over in England, one of his very first appearances has finally been uncovered.
The Globe and Mail reports that Robert Dewar, the commercial director of Huntley Film Archives, described as “one of Britain’s biggest independent film libraries,” stumbled upon the only known copy of a short film called “Hungry Hobos” while doing some routine cataloguing earlier this year (Dewar told Reuters that “only about 40,000 of the archive’s 80,000 films are accounted for”).
The short film, running at 5 minutes, 21 seconds, was part of an initial 26-episode batch of cartoons produced by Disney and Ibwerks for Universal in 1927. Back then Disney had demanded more money, and when Universal refused, he split the studio with Ibwerks and created that huggable mouse we all know and love today. And since then, Oswald has been in the hands of Universal, until a bizarre swap took place in 2006. It was then that ABC had lost the rights to broadcast NFL games and one of its premiere sportscasters (for both ABC and the sister station ESPN) Al Michaels had expressed interest in getting out of his contract with Disney to cover the NFL on NBC. Disney CEO Bob Iger (who had promised Walt Disney’s daughter that he would bring the character back to the studio) engineered a deal to let Michaels out of his contract, if Universal (which owns NBC) would give Disney Oswald the Rabbit. Included in this package were the original 26 films that Disney had produced for Universal, “Hungry Hobos” being one of them.
While you would think that this rare print would be delivered back to Disney (perhaps for a tidy sum), especially since according to Dewar it has the historic importance of being screened on May 14th, 1928, one day before the “first trial screening of Mickey Mouse,” the archive has plans to put the film up for auction on December 14th in Los Angeles. (We imagine there will be several well dressed representatives from the Mouse House in attendance.) The plan is to raise between $30-$40,000, which will then go into keeping the archive running.
And yes, it would be sad if it wound up in the hands of some collector, as it’s a true treasure and something any Disney fanatic (this one included) would die to see, but we feel fairly certain that Disney will swoop in and get the rights. Especially since there would be a chance that Disney would fully restore the print and get it out to the general public in a semi-timely fashion. We hope luck is on the Lucky Rabbit’s side!