Walt Disney's lost 1928 cartoon has finally been found in Japan. The 16mm film features Disney's pre-Mickey Mouse character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Oswald actually led to the creation of Mickey Mouse after Disney lost the rights to the character to Universal. Disney created Oswald with Ub Iwerks in 1927 and they made several cartoons that were distributed by Universal Studios, marking the first successful original character for Walt Disney Studios, which allowed the studio to expand. Losing Oswald might have been the best thing that ever happened to the studio.
Anime historian Yasushi Watanabe bought the lost Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon when he was in high school, almost 70 years ago for about $4.40. At the time, he had no idea what he had. It wasn't until reading Oswald the Lucky Rabbit: The Search for the Lost Disney Cartoons by David Bossert that he realized what he had been sitting on for all of these years. The book came out last year, but 84-year old Watanabe just got around to reading it.
The 16mm copy of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in Neck 'n' Neck is now in the Kobe Planet Film Archive, which is one of the largest private film collections in Japan. The archive currently has over 16,000 titles. Originally, the Neck 'n' Neck cartoon was five minutes long, but it was edited down to 2 minutes for the 16mm home version. When asked about having one of the seven lost earliest Disney cartoons, Yasushi Watanabe said, "As I've been a Disney fan for many years, I'm happy that I was able to play a role."
After losing the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in 1928 over budget concerns, Walt Disney and some of his original crew left Universal to start from scratch. Disney commissioned Ub Iwerks to come up with some ideas for a new character, which resulted in a bunch of animals, including Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar, who were swiftly rejected by Disney. Flip the Frog was also rejected, though he would later gain his own series. The idea for Mickey Mouse came to Disney from a tame mouse at his desk at Laugh-O-Gram Studio in Kansas City, Missouri.
From there, Ub Iwerks started creating drawings and settled on the name Mortimer Mouse, which his wife later told him to change. This is how Mickey Mouse came to be, making his debut in Steamboat Willie, the first Disney cartoon to get a wide release in 1928. Coincidentally, the recent discovery of the lost Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon came up really close to the 90th anniversary of the Steamboat Willie premiere, which is this Sunday, November 18th. As far as Oswald the Lucky Rabbit is concerned, he's back with Disney. In 2006, Bob Iger traded sports commentator Al Michaels to Universal in exchange for Oswald. The Hollywood Reporter was the first to announce the news.