Before Mickey Mouse there was Oswald
In 1927, film producer Charles Mintz approached the Disney studio and cartoonist Ub Iwerks to develop Universal’s first animated character, along with creating all the cartoons. The result was a short called Poor Papa, featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
Universal was not thrilled with the first episode—execs had expected the character to be heavily based on Charlie Chaplin. The team returned to the drawing board, and on September 5, 1927, Trolley Troubles was released in theaters.
In Trolley Troubles, Oswald is preparing a trolley to take his Bunny Kids on a trip. During the trek the group meets many woes, including a cow that walks onto the tracks and refuses to leave, and a very steep hill where he has to enlist a goat for help. Oswald encounters many more bumps and obstacles, before the trolley crashes into a river and…
Watch the video to see what happens:
Oswald was a big hit. Eight additional episodes were released by the end of 1927. The first short, Poor Papa, wasn’t released until 1928.
Recognizing the great success, Disney asked Mintz to increase the current budget, while Mintz asked Disney to take a 20% cut. Soured, Disney refused the deal and fulfilled the current contract. Mintz hired all of Disney’s key animators, save for Iwerks, who refused to leave the studio, and continued production at Winkler Studio.
Disney opted to restart everything, and in 1928 he and Iwerks created a replacement for the beloved Oswald: Mickey Mouse. Ever since, Disney made sure he owned the rights to characters created at his studio.
In 1931, Mintz lost the Oswald contract to Walter Lantz Productions, who re-released the cartoons with music and sound effects.
Disney released The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit on DVD in 2007.