Before Mickey there was Oswald, the floppy-eared star of Walt Disney's first cartoon series, THE ADVENTURES OF OSWALD THE LUCKY RABBIT. Fun and mischievous, the cheerful rabbit's popularity quickly multiplied, and so did his shorts. Between 1927 and 1928, Disney created a bounty of legendary and rarely seen Oswald cartoons. Now for the first time ever on DVD, we present the premiere collection of Disney's Oswald shorts -- all featuring new scores composed especially for this release. The long-lost rabbit's life story, from his birth to his long-awaited return to Disney, and a documentary on the legendary Ub Iwerks set the stage for the comeback of one of the most important stars in Disney's menagerie. Featuring exclusive introductions by film historian Leonard Maltin, this is a timeless collection from generations past for generations to come.
Before Mickey, there was Oswald: By 1926, Walt Disney's first series, the live-action/animation "Alice" comedies, had run its course. Under pressure from distributor Charles Mintz and Carl Laemmle of Universal, Disney and his artists created Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in 1927. Within months, Moving Picture World praised the cartoons' "astounding feat of jumping into first-run favor overnight." During the "Oswald" series, Disney's talents as an organizer and story man began to emerge; his friend and head animator Ub Iwerks designed Oswald's appearance and imbued him with a jaunty style of movement. But in 1928, Mintz took the character away from Disney. To replace Oswald, Walt created Mickey Mouse.
This important collection includes the 13 surviving silent "Oswald" shorts (of 26). Many of them feel like rough drafts for later Mickey cartoons. When Oswald enters a trans-Atlantic race in "The Ocean Hop," the antics he performs in his airplane prefigure the ones in "Plane Crazy." In "Sky Scrappers," Oswald takes a job on a construction site where his girlfriend (an unnamed cat) sells box lunches, anticipating the Mickey and Minnie cartoon "Building a Building" (1933)--down to the opening shot of a dinosaur-like steam shovel at work. The silent "Oswald" shorts have rarely been seen since they were first released 80 years ago: Some viewers may grow impatient with these relatively crude cartoons, but they remain intriguing examples into Walt Disney's early work.
Leslie Iwerks' informative documentary The Hand Behind the Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story (1999) traces the life of her grandfather. One of the greatest talents of the silent cartoon era, Ub Iwerks animated the first Mickey shorts and "Silly Symphonies" almost single-handedly. Iwerks left Disney to start his own studio in 1930. Although it attracted an impressive array of talent, it closed in 1938. Two years later, Iwerks returned to Disney, where he won two Oscars for innovations in visual effects technology. Hand suggests that the Iwerks cartoons were too sophisticated for the era of the Hays Code. But for all his talent as an animator and technical innovator, Iwerks was not an effective director: His studio's cartoons simply weren't very good. Included on this disc are three "Alice" comedies, "Plane Crazy," "Steamboat Willie," and "The Skeleton Dance," which showcase Iwerks' endearingly bouncy animation. (Unrated: suitable for all ages: cartoon violence) --Charles Solomon