Walt Disney once said "It all started with a mouse," but if it wasn't for a pesky rights battle, the animation company would have a rabbit as its mascot instead. One year before Mickey Mouse came to be, Disney created 26 short films with Oswald the Rabbit at the center. While seven have been unaccounted for quite some time, one of them, titled "Neck 'n' Neck," has just been discovered from a longtime owner in Japan.
According to The Telegraph, 84-year-old Yasushi Watanabe purchased a copy of the two-minute film in Osaka, Japan from a toy wholesalers' market back he was a high school student. He kept the historical and rare cartoon in his possessions for much of his life, unaware of its significance. While reading a 2017 book called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit: The Search for the Lost Disney Cartoons by former Disney artist David Bossert, he realized he had one of the few, maybe only, copies.
"Neck 'n' Neck" is a short remnant of Walt Disney's humble beginnings before his aspirations materialized into a prominent studio that started branched out from shorts to animated feature films we know and love. The previously lost cartoon includes a car chase between a dog policeman on a motorcycle, and Oswald and his girlfriend in a car. A frequent animation device used by Disney is featured as vehicles expand and constrict with the winding road.
The handful of lost Oswald the Lucky Rabbit short films have been missing for the last 90 years and in pursuit by Disney Studios and collectors since then. With "Neck 'n' Neck" finally joining its historical counterparts, David Bossert said he hopes to screen the film in Los Angeles with animation scholars. This isn't the first time a lost Oswald cartoon has been uncovered. In 2011, a cartoon titled "Hungry Hobos" was found and sold at an auction, and in 2015 a short called "Sleigh Bells" was discovered in the archives at the British Film Institute.
Of course, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit stands in the shadows of the beloved Mickey Mouse, who is soon celebrating his 90th birthday on November 18. Walt Disney created Oswald in 1927 and worked on the cartoon shorts with Universal. In a frustrating loss of rights to the character, Disney turned to Mickey to rebrand his animation studio and the rest is history. Oswald has found a new life as a frequent character at Disneyland Parks, including Disney California Adventure.
Compared to the animated projects Disney is producing today, a short film featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit won't be in high demand among the masses. The character's short-lived adventures are an important moment in history for animation and one of the first to come from Walt Disney himself. Walt Disney Animation will soon release its 57th animated full-length feature film when Ralph Breaks the Internet comes out on November 21.