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How Oswald the Lucky Rabbit Made It Back to Disney

Oswald the lucky rabbit
Credit: Disney

Everyone knows the story of Mickey Mouse. He’s the mouse that started it all. Or, as Walt Disney said, “I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing—that it was all started by a mouse.” That was, of course, never forgotten now, seeing how big The Walt Disney Company has grown to be. Although Mickey Mouse was the animation that became a household name and worldwide sensation, he was not the only animation to help Walt Disney get his start.

Oswald the lucky rabbit

Credit: D23

As Disney continues to celebrate its 100th anniversary all year long, one character deserves a little celebration just for them. Yesterday, September 5, marks 96 years ago that Oswald the Lucky Rabbit first appeared on the big screen. Trolley Troubles (1927) “was one of the first creations of Walt Disney after he opened his animation studio in 1923,” Disney writes. As the Oswald cartoons began to gain traction, Walt worked with Universal Pictures, which helped his animation studio early on in his career.

Oswald is known as Walt Disney’s first “break-out cartoon star” but does not get the same recognition as Mickey Mouse. Why, you may ask? Well, the story takes a turn even Walt Disney didn’t plan.

Where’s Oswald

On a trip to New York, Walt Disney discovered unfortunate news for his animation studio. His contract for Oswald was to be renewed, but the character was the property of Universal. Absolutely devastated, Walt returned to Hollywood needing a new character to continue his animation. Then Mickey Mouse was born. But the story of Oswald didn’t end there.

“Walt felt the loss of Oswald deeply in 1928 and would have been absolutely thrilled to have Oswald back home in the fold,” Rebecca Cline, Director of Walt Disney Archives, noted. Though Walt would move on with Mickey Mouse and the many beloved characters to follow, CEO Bob Iger would find a way to fill the void of Walt’s first animation years later. In 2006, Iger proposed an agreement to NBCUniversal to bring Oswald back to The Walt Disney Company.

Oswald the lucky rabbit

Credit: D23

Iger traded the contract for sportscaster Al Michaels to NBC to earn back the rights of Walt’s beloved Oswald. “As the forerunner to Mickey Mouse and an important part of Walt Disney’s creative legacy, the fun, and mischievous Oswald is back where he belongs, at the home of his creator and among the stable of beloved characters created by Walt himself,” Iger said upon bringing him back.

This story is important and heartwarming, knowing that 100 years later, Walt Disney’s desires and hard work are still valued by his company and fans. Oswald hasn’t skipped a beat since being back home at The Walt Disney Company. He has been featured in video games, celebrated Disney100, appeared on merchandise, and even made a couple of visits to the company offices in Burbank and New York.

Did you know the story of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit?

About Sarahfina LoFaso

Sarahfina is an author, and adjunct professor with a passion for writing and of course, all things Disney! Cinderella is her favorite princess and movie, both the animated and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s 1997 version. In close second place is Hercules, tied with Saving Mr. Banks. Sarahfina enjoys writing about the history of Walt Disney and all the parks, along with food, dining, and resorts. Her favorite ride is the Tower of Terror, and her favorite restaurant right now is the San Angel Inn, in EPCOT. Most importantly, her must-have snack every Disney trip is the controversial turkey leg, because it reminds her of her family trips as a kid with her grandparents.