The Disneyland Annual Passholder series “Wednesdays with Walt” continues into 2015, and this time the focus shifts to the first Disney character – Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Dave Bossert from the Walt Disney Studios was our host, and gave some insight and history into Oswald. Oswald first appeared in 1927, but Walt lost the copyright to the character as it was sold to Universal in 1928. Oswald returned to Disney in 2006 in a very odd trade with NBC-Universal. NBC Sports wanted legendary sportscaster Al Michaels from ABC Sports as part of their ‘Sunday Night Football’ broadcast team. Disney-ABC said yes, but only if the rights to Oswald were given back to Disney. Of course, NBC-Universal said yes. This was the first ever trade made between TV networks that involved a cartoon character.
We saw five shorts, all of which have been restored in the last several years. The first short we saw was “Trolley Troubles” from 1927. This was the second short produced, but the first one released. The early Oswald shorts had no sound, but they did include a musical score. In “Trolley Troubles,” Oswald is preparing a trolley to transport some bunny kids. He runs into some obstacles on the way. The first is a cow who simply refuses to move off of the tracks. Oswald eventually goes over the cow to continue on his way. He then encounters a very steep hill. He gets halfway up, but then the trolley falls back down the hill. Oswald then sees a goat on the track and does what he can to get the goat to help him up the hill. The goat helps Oswald and the trolley get up the hill. Once up the hill, the only way to go down is by a roller coaster type hill/ride. (Who wouldn’t want to take a ride on the Oswald roller coaster?) The trolley goes crazy through this hill, and some of the bunny kids are thrown off. Oswald just hopes to get through this alive, and eventually takes off his foot and rubs it on his head for good luck. (How many times have you wanted to take off your foot when it was hurting?) The trolley runs out of track, and falls into the river below. Oswald then guides the trolley through the river by using a very large stick.
The next short we saw was “Bright Lights” from 1928. Oswald is outside of a theatre where a very popular show is playing. Admission to the show is 50 cents, and Oswald has no money and no way of seeing the show. So he does what any other rabbit would do: think of ways to sneak in to the theatre. He tries the stage/performer entrance, but the guard refuses Oswald entry as he is not part of the show. Oswald then attempts to trick the guard several times, but it doesn’t work. He then sees a man in an oversized cost get out of a cab. Oswald hides under the man’s shadow, but it doesn’t work, as the man takes off his coat, which then reveals Oswald. He then runs from the guard, and into a cage. The cage is for a jaguar, who then makes an appearance and scares off Oswald. Oswald runs on stage to avoid the jaguar, but then becomes part of the show. He climbs up a large pole being used by acrobats in an act. Oswald climbs and climbs until he’s near the ceiling. He holds on to the ceiling while one of the acrobats tries to bring him down. Oswald then uses a mallet to knock off the hanging acrobat. Oswald then realizes he’s not holding on to anything and falls down on top of the jaguar. The jaguar is angered by this, and begins chasing people and performers out of the building. Oswald thinks he’s safe from the jaguar, but then the jaguar appears, and chases Oswald into the distance.
The third short we saw was “Rival Romeos.” Oswald is on his way to see his sweetheart. His rival is also on the way to see Oswald’s sweetheart. There are a few obstacles along the way. Oswald is driving a slow car. His rival, a faster one. Oswald doesn’t mind driving through a puddle of mud in the middle of the road. His rival does, but eventually gets through the puddle. Oswald arrives at his sweetheart’s home first, and does what he can to serenade her. He plays a musical instrument, which kind of woos her at first, but then finds distracting after awhile. Oswald’s rival shows up shortly after this, and the two begin to bicker. The girl is annoyd by this, and then departs with a third suitor who appears during the bickering and fighting.
Dave Bossert then returned to the stage to introduce the fourth short we were going to see – “Hungry Hobos.” This one had some history to it. When Oswald returned to The Walt Disney Company, the Company only acquired 14 of the 26 shorts produced by Disney. The others were lost and/or damaged due to the type of film used in the late 1920s. A film archives company found this particular short in 2011, and Disney restored the 16-mm print. They also contacted Emmy-winning composer Mark Watters, who commissioned a new score for the short. Watters also served as musical director for the Disney Channel shorts series “Have A Laugh,” which restored and recorded 60 Disney shorts from the 1930s and 1940s.
After being restored and musically rearranged, “Hungry Hobos” had a special screening at a silent film event held at UCLA’s Royce Hall in June 2013. “Hungry Hobos” tells the story of Oswald and his friend and nemesis Peg-Leg Pete. (And yes, it isthat Peg-Leg Pete!) They are riding on a train and playing checkers when hilarity ensues. They encounter a cow and a chicken. Of course, they are hungry, so they go to great lengths to get food. They attempt with the cow, but fail. They kind of succeed with the chicken, but in a weird way. Oswald and Pete gets some eggs from the chicken. Pete then begins to cook the eggs in a pan on Oswald. It’s very strange. This was yet another interesting Oswald short. Some of the things seen I this short would be too “politically incorrect” these days.
Dave returned yet again to introduce “Africa Before Dark.” The interesting part of this Oswald short was that it is completely silent. Most early Oswald shorts were silent, but music was added by an organist. One of the goals is to create a soundtrack for this short. In this short, Oswald is a big game hunter in Africa. He gets into some trouble as with some lions, elephants, and tigers. Some of the things pulled in this short would not be taken well in the present day. It’s almost as if Oswald is torturing the animals. However, the audience was enjoying it, and making some comments throughout the short, as it was silent.
After the shorts, Dave took some questions. Most questions dealt with finding the lost Disney produced Oswald shorts. Disney has 14 of the 26, and is still searching for the other films. Of course, they would love to have them. One of the Disney Treasures DVDs has a handful of Oswald shorts, and Disney would like to release others when they are restored.