Sleigh Bells, a film featuring a character created by Walt Disney named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit that was produced in 1928 and then went lost for over 80 years, has been restored and is scheduled to be shown to audiences on December 12, according to the Huffington Post. The British Film Institute in Southbank, London, will be host to the screening.
A print of the film was found, almost by accident, when a researcher was browsing a BFI online archive. An entry entitled Sleigh Bells caught their attention and was tracked down and verified as being original. The actual film had been sitting in the archive completely unrecognized, though in good condition, for decades.
Walt Disney Animation Studios was reported to have supervised the restoration process.
“The restoration of this film will introduce many audiences to Disney’s work in the silent period,” the lead curator with the BFI National Archive, Robin Baker, was quoted. “It clearly demonstrates the vitality and imagination of his animation at a key point in his early career.”
In 2014, another Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon was found in Norway’s national archive, as reported by the Huffington Post.
The rights to Oswald weren’t owned by Walt Disney. They belonged to the distributor of the films, Universal. This led to Disney eventually parting ways with Universal and making changes that resulted in the birth of Mickey Mouse.
Andrew Millstein, the president of Walt Disney Animation studios, spoke about the desire of the group to research the missing Oswald titles.
“The Oswald shorts are an important part of our Studios’ history, and we have been working with film archives and private collectors all around the world.”
The Oswald character was a creation of Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks working together for Universal. Twenty-six short films featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit were produced, but the rights for the character remained with Universal. New Oswald films were produced by Universal even after Walt Disney had created and begun producing Mickey Mouse cartoons.
Disney regained the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in 2006, in a complicated trade that seems rather incredible.
The deal saw sportscaster Al Michaels switch from Monday Night Football to NBC football, according to ESPN, as well as other expanded rights for ESPN. Long and involved talks were involved in negotiating the return of the rights of Oswald back to ESPN, which is owned by Disney.
“As the forerunner to Mickey Mouse and an important part of Walt Disney’s creative legacy, the fun and mischievous Oswald is back where he belongs, at the home of his creator and among the stable of beloved characters created by Walt himself,” the president of Disney, Robert Iger, was quoted when Disney acquired the rights to Oswald in 2006.
Baker, the lead curator at the BFI National Archive, spoke about how important it is to be able to find a piece so representative of Walt Disney’s work during the key silent period. Baker spoke of Disney’s “vitality and imagination.”
Justin Johnson with the British Film Institute spoke of “not underestimating” the significance of the film, not only in the history of Walt Disney and his company, but also in the overall history of animation. Johnson describes Oswald the Lucky Rabbit as being the first among cartoon characters to have his own distinct personality, and how Disney begins to develop his own brand of “physical” comedy.
Johnson also described how, for the time, Disney was more inventive in the way he put Oswald and other characters to use, compared with other cartoon creators. Johnson describes Oswald’s appearance as coinciding with the start of a “golden age” of animation.
[Feature Screenshot via Olivia Potter/YouTube]