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Good morning class, and welcome to Disney History 101. The subject today is Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
Oswald was a cartoon character created by Walt Disney back in 1927. Walt Disney had signed a contract with Universal Studios to produce a series of cartoons, and Oswald was born. Although the early cartoons were quite basic, the inventive humour (usually involving Oswald's hundreds of children!) and creative style of the animation (such as Oswald pulling off his foot and kissing it for luck!) made the series very popular. As a result of this, Disney approached the boss at Universal, Charles Mintz, and asked him for more money to produce the cartoons. This did not go down well with Mintz, who wanted to cut Disney's budget, reminding him that the studio owned all rights to the character, as well as having signed most of Disney's employees too. Sadly, this left Walt with only one option. To distance himself from the studio and his creation completely. Here the path of fate reaches a fork in the road. Universal continued to produce Oswald cartoons, nearly 200 in all, which ended up forgotten over time. Disney meanwhile decided to alter the Oswald character just enough to avoid legal action. The long rabbit ears became round mouse ears, the rabbit tail became a long mouse tail, and Disney renamed him Mickey. You may have heard of him......
Obviously Walt Disney ended up doing quite well out of it, and this episode was the foundation for the whole Disney brand that we know and love today, which Mickey is a key part of. Oswald the "lucky" rabbit, wasn't so lucky, and for decades, he was forgotten, while his "little brother" Mickey became a superstar. However, in February 2006, the Disney company, who had never forgotten the rabbit that started it all, managed to reacquire the rights to Oswald from Universal. The result of this is that Disney now own the character again, as well as the original cartoons that Disney made for the studio. Since then, things have gone relatively quiet until recently, when a game for the Wii was released called Epic Mickey. Oswald features as a main character in the game, as the whole backstory is retold through the game and the two "brothers" finally come face to face. The popularity of the game means that Disneystore are starting to produce Oswald merchandise, much to the delight of my 8 year old daughter, who loves the character.
We actually "discovered" Oswald a couple of years ago, when my daughter was really into Mickey mouse. We used to sit together and watch the cartoons on youtube. For some reason, she really loved the very old 1930's toons, even though they were in black and white and looked very basic compared to the slicker modern cartoons. I think the weird humour appealed to her! Because of this, we started to watch other 1930's cartoons, and discovered Oswald, quite by accident. She loved the cartoons and has been a fan of Oswald ever since, despite being frustrated that she could not find any Oswald merchandise in the shops.
That changed a few weeks ago, when she managed to find this Oswald toy on the Disneystore website. I don't actually know how she found it, because it seemed to be buried on a page with lots of other soft toys! He was selling for £16, which seems a bit steep, but this is the going rate for the official Disney Store soft toys, which, I must admit, are very good quality and will last generations if well looked after. I had not seen this toy in the actual store itself, and it seems to be only available online at the moment, which means you also have to factor in postage costs of about £5(!).
Oswald is about 16 inches tall, roughly the same size as your average teddy bear. He is bigger than he looks in the picture. He is made of a very soft material, which seems much softer to the touch than our Mickey and Minnie toys that we have, although this may be because they are quite old. Oswald has long ears, which are made from the same soft fabric, but are reinforced inside with what feels like strong card, so that they keep their shape. His black eyes are embroidered on, so there is no danger of this toy losing any parts, which means he is perfectly safe for very young children to play with. Again, I think that very young children and babies would really like the face on this character, as it is black and white which provides strong contrast, with large eyes and nose and a happy smiling mouth. Oswald looks every bit the 1930's cartoon character, and obviously bears a very strong resemblance to the early Mickey Mouse. His head is stuffed with very soft material, which makes him very huggable, and so is the upper part of his body, legs and arms. However, his bottom seems to be stuffed with bean bag beans, which sems quite bizzare, as he is soft and cuddly all over apart from his bean bag bum! Maybe they did this so that the toy wouyld sit better on a hard surface like a shelf, rather than sliding off, as he does sit really nicely and keeps his place on display better than other soft toys. While i am reviewing him, he is sitting quite happily on top of my computer cupboard, smiling at me.
Oswald wears a pair of blue shorts, which feel like they are made from cotton. They are very similar to Mickey's, but wthout the buttons at the front. The shorts are sewn onto the toy, so can't be removed, and there is a little hole in the back for his fluffy tail to poke through! Unlike Mickey, Oswald does not wear gloves, but has four chunky fingers that you can lock your own fingers into to hold his hand. My daughter was worried because he didn't have five fingers, but I explained to her that this is the way that cartoons are animated. Oswald has a special embroidered pad on the sole of his foot, certifying that he is a Disney store exclusive toy. The toy is surface washable only, and I really don't think I would risk putting something like this in the washing machine, as he is so precious to my daughter.
Oswald has definitely gone right into the top spot on my daughter's favourite toy list, knocking Losto and Jessie from their place at the top of the bed! She sleeps with him every night and loves to make stories with him and the other teddies as well as our two Mickeys and Minnie, who are of course, his family! I often can hear her chatting away to the toys when I go past her bedroom. She really loves them. When people come to visit, this is the first toy she gets out to show them, as well as telling them the "Oswald Story" and explaining who he is, as most people aren't familiar with him! When her friends come round they play together with Oswald and the other soft toys. We are going to Disneyland Paris next month, and Oswald will likely be coming with us too! It would be great if they introduced an Oswald character at the parks.
Oswald is an absolutely loveable toy, which will appeal to anyone interested in old cartoons or Disney history. I think he would make a great display item, but really, where he wants to be is cuddled up to someone, after all those decades of being forgotten.....
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If you want to check out Oswald cartoons, Youtube is the best place to go. The best ones, in my opinion are "Sky Scrappers" and "Oh what a knight". Enjoy!