Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Disney Treasures Review: The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun and interesting for animation and Disney fanatics
Cons: Most won't be interested
The Bottom Line
Early Disney shorts
Still entertaining today
For fun history

Experience Some of Walt Disney's Work Before the Mouse

While most people know that Walt Disney’s star really rose with the advent of Mickey Mouse, not as many people are familiar with his animated shorts before Mickey.  Immediately before Mickey, he and his animators were working on shorts starring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, but that work came to an abrupt halt when his distributor decided to cut Walt out of the process, something he could do since he owned the rights to the character.  It wasn’t until 2006 that the Disney Company got back the rights to Oswald, and they wasted little time in releasing this two disc The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit collection in 2007.

Walt only worked on 26 cartoons starring Oswald, and only 13 of them are preserved here.  Since Disney didn’t own anything having to do with these cartoons, the company has had to track down any prints they can and restore them if at all possible.  I have a feeling that these 13 are the only ones they had tracked down as of the release of the set.  As to the prints themselves, they look good, especially considering they are 80 years old.  Yes, there are issues a few times, but most of it is not that noticeable.

Since Oswald was originally a silent cartoon series, they asked a composer to create some silent era soundtracks to accompany the cartoons.  These certainly feel like the music you might have heard in those old theaters and it adds to the viewing experience.  I’ll admit I wish we had the option to watch one or two truly silent for the novelty, but maybe that’s just me.

What about the cartoons themselves?  They were all done in 1927 and 1928, and they are actually pretty fun.  As with the early Mickey’s there is little continuity between shorts, so in one Oswald is in a transatlantic plane race and in the next he’s working on a trolley, a member of the Mounties, or fighting to win the hand of his love in Medieval times.  While the animation is certainly not up to today’s standards, it is easy to find the humor in many of the site gags.  I enjoyed watching them.

There are other similarities between Oswald and the early Mickeys.  Oswald at times looks like a long eared Mickey, and his love interest, a rabbit at times a cat most of the time, wears a costume similar to early Minnie.  Finally, the heavy is Putrid Pete, and one of his aliases is Peg Leg Pete.

In the way of extras, the first disc has commentaries from animation historians on six of the titles, a fragment of another one, a short documentary on Disney’s loss and regain of Oswald, and a stills gallery.

So what’s on the second disc?  It is devoted to Ub Iwerks.  The majority of this disc is an hour a half documentary on his life called The Hand Behind the Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story put together by his granddaughter.  Ub was a friend of Walt’s who was an animator at the studio during this time.  In fact, he singlehandedly did the animation on the first few Mickey Mouse cartoons.  Later, he tried opening his own studio before going back to work for Disney in the special effects department.  The documentary is an interesting look at a life that all Disnerds have heard of but few really know.  Rounding out the disc are three of the Alice shorts that Ub worked on, plus the first two Mickey’s and the Silly Symphony “Skeleton Dance” that was all his.  It’s a chance to really see his work, and I appreciated not having to track these shorts down from other collections in the series.

Honestly, I think this collection will appeal more to the die-hard Disney fanatics.  For most Disney fans, Oswald is an interesting footnote along the way.  But those who are interested in all things Disney will love getting to see these early efforts.  Plus, they are entertaining.

So The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit isn’t for everyone.  But those who are interested will really enjoy what they find here.

Included Cartoons:
Oswald the Lucky Rabbit:
Trolley Troubles; Oh, Teacher; The Mechanical Cow; Great Guns!; All Wet; The Ocean Hop; Rival Romeos; Bright Lights; Ozzie of the Mounted; Oh What a Knight; Sky Scrappers; The Fox Chase; Tall Timber

Alice Shorts:
Alice Gets Stung; Alice in the Wooly West; Alice’s Balloon Race

Mickey Mouse:
Place Crazy; Steamboat Willie

Silly Symphonies:
Skeleton Dance

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