If you’ve never heard of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit that’s probably because the early Disney character has for almost 90 years been hiding in a Norwegian library. Now, a 1927 film starring Mickey Mouse’s predecessor has been recovered and digitized, with historians hopeful that the discovery will lead to new information about Walt Disney’s creative legacy.
Archivists at the National Library of Norway in Mo i Rana, just south of the Arctic Circle, were digging through their collection of old films when they stumbled across an unmarked box. Upon projecting its contents, they initially thought what they saw was an old Felix the Cat short, but soon realized it was a 5½-minute Disney film called “Empty Socks.” Until now, the only known footage from the short was a 27-second clip at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Roughly 30 seconds are missing from the middle of the newly discovered print.
“At the beginning, we didn’t know it was a lost cinematographic treasure,” Kvale Soerenssen, an archivist at the library, told Agence France-Presse this week. “The film was in two reels, which weren’t clearly labeled.”
Oswald, considered the predecessor to the better known Mickey Mouse, appeared is about 100 shorts for the Disney studio. Two years after his creation, the rights to the character went to Universal, which continued to produce Oswald films from 1929 through 1943.
This is the second Oswald the Lucky Rabbit film to be recovered in recent years, although the character last made headlines in 2006 when NBC Universal wooed sportscaster Al Michaels away from Disney-owned ABC. In a surprise move, Disney agreed to let Michaels out of his contract, but only if Universal gave licensing rights to Oswald back to the company he originated with.
“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,” Disney president Robert Iger told ESPN at the time.