Archive for the ‘Oswald the Lucky Rabbit’ Category

DVD Review – Walt Disney Treasures: The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit

December 29, 2007

Disney’s lost star finally returns home on a delightful 2-disc Walt Disney Treasures set that delivers rare and fun shorts though seems to be straining to come up with related bonus material.

By Blake

Originally posted December 29, 2007.

In the spring of 1928, Walt Disney went through a torturous experience that not only taught him an extremely valuable lesson, but shaped the motion picture industry forever by eventually leading to the creation of Mickey Mouse: he lost the rights to his first real cartoon star, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. In a treacherous move, the distributor of the Oswald animated shorts that Walt’s studio had been creating, Charles Mintz, pulled the rug from under Walt’s shoes by stealing nearly all of Walt’s staff and reminding Walt that the Disney Studio didn’t actually own the characters they were creating cartoons of. Meaning that at any time they could be taken away from the studio forever, just like what was about to be done to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Well, on the train ride back home while tossing around ideas for a new cartoon character, Mr. Disney thought of a plucky mouse whose head is shaped of three circles and, well, you can pretty much guess what that led to.

And that’s the infamous story of how Oswald was taken away forever and how Mickey was born. And that’s been the entire story. Until now, that is. In February 2006, in a slick move that no one, not even the Walt Disney Company, was quite expecting, Disney traded football announcer Al Michaels to Universal in exchange for the rights to the Oswald cartoons of the 1920’s, which Universal has legally owned all these years after Walt was jipped.

This brings us to today, when Disney has released their annual set of Walt Disney Treasures DVDs, and this round one of these prestigious 2-disc sets belongs to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

Unlike every other volume in the WDT series, Oswald is housed in a snazzy gold tin box, as opposed the silver tin box the other installments are kept in. Inside the case are an Oswald button, a collectible sheet of sketches, a certificate of authenticity that shows the number of your specific DVD out of the 120,000 made, and a code redeemable for Disney Movie Rewards points (a WDT first). And, of course, there are the DVDs themselves.

Disc One
Approx. Total Disc Running Time: 133 mins. (2 hrs., 13 mins.)
Highlight of Disc: The Oswald Shorts
Runner-Up Highlight: “Oswald Comes Home”

Disc One opens with a commercial for Pixar Animated Short Film Collection Vol. 1, followed by an introduction to the disc by our host for the WDT series, Leonard Maltin. The menus of Disc One are easy to navigate, with a distinct bold red star indicating your choice on the screen. There are 13 Oswald shorts presented on Disc One, and bonus features on this disc include an “Oswald Comes Home” featurette, audio commentaries for 5 shorts, a fragment of a missing Oswald short, and a still frame gallery. Having been silent cartoons when they were originally released in the 1920’s, the shorts have been set to music with a brand new score created for each one. Due to the shorts originally being silent, they are abundant with sight gags and physical comedy, making them a pleasure to watch. Additionally, some of the shorts aren’t in the very best quality, as several only existed in 16mm prints to transfer from.

The Oswald Shorts

Trolley Troubles, 1927 (about 6 mins.) – Oswald is the conductor of a trolley, and he’s having a difficult time getting everyone where they need to be in one piece! The trolley continuously is making stops, falling off the tracks, flinging passengers into the air, and eventually gliding nonstop down a hill through plenty of tunnels. This cartoon is just all-around fun to enjoy. You’ll find nearly every Oswald adventure relies on some sort of chase scene to end the short, and this is one of the best presented on the set. The different struggles the trolley goes through are humorous to see, and the way Oswald is resourceful of his surroundings (such as when he temporarily removes his foot to rub is on his face for good luck – get it?) make the cartoon creatively funny.

Oh, Teacher, 1927 (about 6 mins.) – When Oswald’s girlfriend is drowning in a pond, he rushes to save her only to have the credit taken away from him by a rival who soon wins the heart of the floppy-eared female rabbit. In another misinterpretation, the girl rabbit thinks Oswald beat up the rival bully and once again returns to Oswald.

Great Guns!, 1927 (about 7 mins.) – Oswald enlists in the war and terribly misses his rabbit girlfriend. When he eventually gets in a fight and is injured by the general, Oswald ends up in the hospital, in the care of a nurse who happens to be his girlfriend. This short relies heavily on the chemistry and reaction between Oswald and the general, who make a fun rivalry to watch.

The Mechanical Cow, 1927 (about 6 mins.) – As it turns out, Oswald owns a mechanical cow that has all sorts of snazzy contraptions and gadgets. While Oswald impresses his rabbit girlfriend with the mechanical cow, the girlfriend is kidnapped by a villain and it’s up to Oswald to rescue her. This ensues in yet another Oswald chase scene! Eventually the mechanical cow helps Oswald save his rabbit girlfriend and all ends happily. This is one of the shorts that is in somewhat poor quality due to the transfer from 16mm prints. This particular short shows much creativity due to the different uses that the mechanical cow has.

The Ocean Hop, 1927 (about 6 mins.) – Oswald and Pete (that’s right, Peg Leg Pete, the same Pete from the Mickey series!) are in a race by plane to Paris. Reminiscent of the 1928 Mickey short Plane Crazy, Oswald invents a contraption to make a plane and, of course, a chase scene occurs and eventually Pete is beat to Paris by Oswald, who is greeted by cheering bystanders. This cartoon takes a while to pick up speed, but once we get into the plot it’s delightful to watch.

All Wet, 1927 (about 7 mins.) – Even though he’s supposed to be selling hot dogs at the fair, Oswald takes the day off to “fill in” as the lifeguard at the beach (without the real lifeguard’s consent) to impress his rabbit girlfriend. However, when the rabbit girlfriend is drowning, Oswald doesn’t know what to do! Eventually (after much trial and error attempts) Oswald saves her and receives a kiss.

Rival Romeos, 1928 (about 6 mins.) – It seems as though Oswald has dumped his rabbit girlfriend, because in this cartoon he has a new gal, this time a cat. Trying to woo her, Oswald appears outside her window and plays some music for her, only to have his music sheets eaten by a nearby goat. Well, that’s okay, he can just crank the goat’s tail and the music can come out of the mouth (sound familiar, Steamboat Willie fans?). Soon, an angry neighbor gets mad at Oswald for playing disrupting music, and before you know it the plot completely changes as a passerby attempts to win the heart of the cat girlfriend. As Oswald and the rival constantly try to win the girl, she’s eventually taken off into the sunset by neither of them – a completely different guy! This cartoon might have been a better one if it didn’t completely change plots in the middle of the short . . . it went from a funny problem of a complaining neighbor to a totally different concept of competing boyfriends.

Bright Lights, 1928 (about 8 mins.) – Oswald repeatedly tries new ways to get past the guard to snag a free seat for a lavish show at the theater. After several failed attempts, Oswald finally makes it inside, where he ruins the show and accidentally lets many wild animals loose inside the theatre! This short has many uses of Oswald’s body changing form to fit his situation best, which makes it humorous to watch.

Ozzie of the Mounted, 1928 (about 5 mins.) – Oswald is sent to capture the notorious Peg Leg Pete during a snowstorm. Oswald sets out on the expedition with another mechanical pet, though this time it’s a horse. Thus, another Oswald chase scene ensues, first with Oswald chasing Pete, then with a bear chasing Oswald and Pete! This cartoon reminded me of the 1929 Mickey Mouse short The Klondike Kid. This cartoon is also a joy to watch because the chase scene provides plenty of sight gags to enjoy.

Oh, What a Knight, 1928 (about 6 mins.) – Oswald visits the castle where apparently his cat girlfriend lives to sing her a song, when he is interrupted by the cat’s father, an angry bear who doesn’t exactly approve of Oswald and challenges him to a duel. Oswald sword fights the bear and of course wins. This cartoon isn’t exactly one of the best comedy-wise or story-wise, but is nicely animated, with shadows reflected on the walls of the castle as Oswald and the bear fight.

Sky Scrappers, 1928 (about 6 mins.) – VERY much like the 1933 Mickey cartoon Building a Building (nearly down to the second), Oswald is working at a construction site, and his cat girlfriend brings him some scrumptious lunch. Pete gets jealous and eventually it’s another rescue mission to get the girl.

The Fox Chase, 1928 (about 5 mins.) (J) – Another Oswald chase scene! This cartoon is basically one long chase scene, as Oswald enters a fox chase. Once his stubborn horse (who looks very much like Horace Horsecollar) finally gets moving, it’s a mad dash to catch the fox!

Tall Timber, 1928 (about 8 mins.) (J) – Oswald is canoeing down a river and constantly is troubled by the forces of nature, including animals and a giant rock chasing him (ANOTHER Oswald chase scene!). After Oswald escapes the rock, he is again chased, though this time by a bear. This cartoon is very fun to watch, and reminds me somewhat of the Roger Rabbit short Trail Mix-Up.

Disc One Bonus Features
“Oswald Comes Home” (about 14 mins.) – A look at the history of Oswald and how he returned home to the Walt Disney Company. It includes interviews with Disney execs Bob Iger and Roy Disney, plus Diane Disney Miller, Don Iwerks, and several animation historians who pipe in to share info. A very fascinating feature on the disc, this is definitely one of the highlights of the set, as it shows us the evolution of the Disney studio and the importance the Oswald shorts were to the company’s future success.

Audio Commentaries (about 36 mins.) – Audio commentaries for six of the Oswald shorts (The Ocean Hop, Oh Teacher, Oh What a Knight, Bright Lights, Ozzie of the Mounted, and The Fox Chase) with WDT host Leonard Maltin and animation historians Jerry Beck and Mark Kausler. For the most part they only point out to us who animated the scene we’re watching, and tell us to pay attention to the way the characters are drawn. While a nice addition to the disc, after watching all six of them they do seem to get a bit generic.

Sagebrush Sadie (about 1 min.) – As it turns out, Disney wasn’t able to retrieve all of the Oswald shorts after they acquired the rights to them! Sagebrush Sadie is one of the “missing” Oswald cartoons that doesn’t anymore exist in its entirety, but Disney was able to retrieve this tiny bit from it, which is presented here.

Art Gallery (self-guided) – A pleasant feature that pops up often on WDT volumes, this is a selection of still frame artwork pieces from the Oswald shorts. While the art is very neat to see, the downside to this feature is that there’s no slideshow option, and so to see every piece of art you have to continuously push your remote control. Additionally, you can’t view all the art at once. After seeing every eight pieces, you have to return to the menu and select the next page of art.

Disc Two
Approx. Total Disc Running Time: 132 mins (1 hr., 12 mins.)
Highlight of Disc: The Hand Behind the Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story
Highlight Runner-Up: “After Oswald” Shorts

Disc Two is all bonus material, and its contents seem to be tied on a very thin string in relation to Oswald. Disc Two’s menus are more difficult to navigate than Disc One’s because your selection on the screen is identified by a white Mickey glove . . . which ends up somewhat difficult to see on a white background. Disc Two includes a full-length feature film, as well as “Before Oswald” and “After Oswald” shorts.

Disc Two Bonus Features
The Hand Behind the Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story (about 92 mins.) – An entire full-length feature film that was originally released by Disney in 1999, this is a biographical story of the man who virtually drew the entire Oswald and Mickey collection single-handedly (and the one who created the design for Mickey), Ub Iwerks. The only animator who didn’t turn on Walt when Oswald was stolen, Iwerks stayed loyal to the Disney Studio until Walt began getting the spotlight for Iwerks’ work. Eventually parting from Disney and setting up his own animation studio, Iwerks struggled to achieve the success he had had at Disney. A few years later he returned to Disney, where he continuously achieved technological heights, and changed the motion picture industry forever by inventing clever contraptions, such as the breakthrough that allowed those dancing penguins to duet with Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. Eventually Iwerks died of a heart attack in 1971. The documentary is intriguing and fascinating, though gets a tad on the boring side by the end. Additionally, it doesn’t exactly relate to Oswald, the topic of this DVD. It does has a few minutes concerning Iwerks’ contribution to the Oswald shorts, but that’s about it. While the documentary is a welcome addition to the disc, it has me thinking that Disney was struggling to find bonus features while creating this DVD set.

Ub Iwerks animates Mickey Mouse. Iwerks was responsible for most of the animation in the Oswald and early Mickey shorts of the 1920’s and 1930’s and returned to Disney to provide innovative technologies to improve the entertainment industry.

“Before Oswald” Shorts (about 22 mins.) – Three shorts from the “Alice Comedies” series, a Disney cartoon series before Oswald that involved a live-action little girl in the cartoon world. Fortunately, the three shorts presented here aren’t repeats from the 2005 Disney Rarities WDT set, but unfortunately, they’re the same, dragged-on style as the other Alice shorts. I’ve never really liked the Alice series because they seem to have no real plot to them, and solely rely on slapstick gags for laughs instead of the story. On this set we have Alice Gets Stung (where Alice torments a bear, who sends a swarm of bees after her), Alice In the Wooly West (where animals hurt each other in the west, again with no real plot), and Alice’s Balloon Race (where animals continuously injure each other just to win a stinkin’ balloon race). I’ve never been a real big fan of the Alice Comedies anyway, and I don’t really see the relation between Alice and Oswald. Sure, Alice was made before Oswald . . . but why is that a reason to include the Alice shorts on this set?

The first Mickey Mouse cartoon ever released, the classic Steamboat Willie, is included on the “After Oswald” section of the Walt Disney Treasures: The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit DVD.

“After Oswald” Shorts (about 20 mins.) – Again, these don’t really have anything to do with Oswald other than they were released after his cartoons were. Presented here are two Mickey shorts recycled from Mickey Mouse in Black & White Vol. 1, Steamboat Willie (the classic first ever appearance of Mickey and Minnie on a riverboat, as they play music using various animals) and Plane Crazy (where Mickey takes Minnie out for a flight in a home-made plane, much to Minnie’s dismay); as well as a classic Silly Symphonies short, The Skeleton Dance (where skeletons rise from their grave to perform random dance moves). While these cartoons are artistically and musically wonderful, they’re bonus material recycled from sets that I already own. I suppose the real incentive for these cartoons’ inclusion on this Oswald set is for those that starting liking the Walt Disney Treasures series after the first few rounds of installments were released (which included these early shorts) and haven’t already seen them, in which case this will be a real treat.

Wrapping It Up
It truly is wonderful to finally witness the legendary footage of Walt Disney’s long-lost cartoon character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, after all these years of having it deprived from Disney. Oswald is plucky, resourceful, and courageous; and his shorts are fun and whimsical to watch. The cartoons are presented in reasonable quality for having been transferred from such poor condition and the shorts’ audio commentaries are a nice touch to give us a little more insight on the cartoons. It’s nice that Disney has included the full-length Iwerks feature and the bonus Alice and Mickey cartoons on the disc, but they really don’t seem to relate to the set’s topic much. Perhaps if the other 13 lost Oswald shorts were retrieved it would have made a nicer DVD package, though for the time it’s just wonderful that the found material was restored and presented here. It definitely is nice to have Oswald home again, when at one time we thought Walt Disney’s first ever lead cartoon character would be lost forever.

How do I rank Walt Disney Treasures: The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit? (Bolded is my choice.)

  • Aaaaah!
  • Blech
  • Not good
  • Good
  • Very good
  • Brilliant

Walt Disney Treasures: The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit will most likely please: Disney Fans – Kids (ages 5-7) – Old Folks

By Blake; posted December 29, 2007. All images (C) Disney.