Oswald the Lucky Rabbit: Disney’s First Cartoon Star

Before there was Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney had a rabbit.

Previously, Walt Disney made a series of live-action/animation hybrid short films called the Alice Comedies.  They focused on a young real-world girl who ventured into the cartoon world where she had lots of adventures.  However, after three years, the series was discontinued due to money constraints.

There was a need for a new series of cartoons.  Disney’s distributor, Charles Mintz, told Disney about how the studio Universal, wanted to release cartoons.  A deal was made with Universal, and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was created.

The first cartoon in the series, Poor Papa, depicted Oswald as being old and tired.  The bosses at Universal did not like the short and the portrayal of Oswald, and therefore, Disney made a new one, Trolley Troubles, where Oswald was depicted as being much more young, spirited, and energetic.  This cartoon was released in 1927, whereas Poor Papa did not see the light of day until 1928.

Oswald became very popular, and he was even the first character created by Disney to be made into merchandise.

However, things would not be this way forever.

When time came to negotiate a new contract with Charles Mintz, Disney asked for a 20% budget increase in order to improve the quality of animation of his shorts.  Mintz not only rejected his request, he said that Disney would have to accept a 20% budget decrease; the reason was financial constraints, but Mintz promised more money if things turned around.  Then it got worse.  Mintz revealed that he was already hiring away Disney’s staff as part of a new commitment.  Since Walt Disney did not own the rights to Oswald, he had no choices other than to accept Mintz’s terms or to walk away.

Disney finished his contract, and he left, accompanied by only a small number of his former staff including, most importantly, Ub Iwerks.  Disney vowed to make sure that he works for nobody other than himself, and he also made sure that he owned the rights to whatever characters he created so that no matter what, nobody could stop him from making cartoons with those characters.  Disney and Iwerks created Mickey Mouse, and the rest is history.

Meanwhile, Mintz oversaw the production of more Oswald cartoons.  Some of his staff included other men who were instrumental in the history of animation including Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising, and Friz Freleng.

Then things went south.

After Mickey Mouse appeared in the first cartoon with synchronized sound, Steamboat Willie, which of course was a huge success, Universal was angry that he had allowed Disney to walk away.

Mintz attempted to get Disney to come back.  But Disney refused to accept his terms.  The terms were hardly any better than the previous terms that he previously offered Disney.  The terms would be that Universal would own Mickey Mouse, Disney would get a small increase in pay, and a lack of control over his staff.  Disney said no.  Oswald cartoons eventually moved to sound, but that   Universal later fired Mintz and his studio in 1929, and they hired Walter Lantz to make more cartoons with Oswald.  Mintz would find a new home making cartoons for Columbia Pictures

Lantz changed the course of Oswald, making his shorts more and more driven by fantasy.  Eventually, as Disney created his signature style of being very cute, Lantz tried to emulate it, but Oswald gradually lost his popularity, being phased out in 1938.

Oswald was revived in 1943, in a short film called The Egg-Cracker Suite, but this attempt was a failure because Oswald was depicted as being very cute, when by that time, most audiences favored abrasive, assertive cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Universal’s own Woody Woodpecker, among others. This was his last appearance in a theatrical cartoon, except for a cameo in a 1952 Woody Woodpecker cartoon.

Fast-forward to 2006.  The Walt Disney Company negotiated with NBCUniversal for the rights to Oswald.  By trading sportscaster Al Michaels to NBCUniversal, Disney got in exchange, the rights to the Oswald character and the surviving Disney Oswald cartoons.

The cartoons were released in December of 2006 under the Walt Disney Treasures collection (Only 13 shorts were known to exist at the time, but two more were discovered since then).  Oswald began appearing in videos games, Disney theme parks, and even in short films (2013’s Get a Horse).  This is a happy ending for a Disney’s very first cartoon star.

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oswald_the_Lucky_Rabbit

 

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/WesternAnimation/OswaldTheLuckyRabbit?from=Main.OswaldTheLuckyRabbit

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Obscure Warner Bros. Cartoon Characters: Bosko

This post is the first of a series, where I will educate you about things about the Looney Tunes cartoons that most people don’t know.

The Looney Tunes are among the most famous cartoon characters in the world.  The gang of Bug Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Sylvester, Tweety, Marvin the Martian, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, and the Tasmania Devil are loved around the world for their humor and overall zaniness.

However, it did not start with them.  It was several years before such characters first saw the light of day and became famous.

First, let’s step back in time to the late 1920’s.  There were two animators named Rudof Ising and Hugh Harman.  They worked for Walt Disney on the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons for Universal.  Things were good, and the cartoons were a success.

Then Disney had Oswald taken from, as he owned no legal rights to Oswald.

Charles Mintz, Disney’s distributor, set up a new studio, and hired away most of the staff including Harman and Ising.  They made more Oswald cartoons, but things went south.  Disney struck gold with Mickey Mouse, and Universal was angry that Mintz had let him go.  After failed attempts to get Disney to come back, Mintz and his studio was dismissed by Universal, and they hired Walter Lantz to make cartoons for them.

Harman and Ising were in need of another job.  Harman had previously created Bosko and copyrighted him, so that no one could take him from them.

They created a short pilot cartoon called Bosko the Talk-Ink Kid, which is credited as being the first animated cartoon with extended dialogue.  This short pilot got the attention of film producer Leon Schlesinger who decided to feature Bosko in a series of cartoons that he would sell to Warner Bros. called the Looney Tunes.  The short was not seen publically until the around the beginning of the 21st century.

Bosko was first seen by a public audience in 1930 in a cartoon called Sinkin’ in the Bathtub which was first appearance of his girlfriend, Honey.  From then, Bosko starred in 38 more cartoons, and he proved to be quite popular.

Bosko’s cartoons are noted for having little to no plot, and for their reliance on music.

There is also the nature of the character himself.  Nowadays, Bosko is often deemed an offensive character because his design is based on blackface caricatures.  In his pilot film and his first theatrically released cartoon, he even spoke with a stereotypical black accent.  Later cartoons gave him a falsetto voice.  Despite his appearance, however, Bosko was generally portrayed personality-wise (though like many cartoon characters of the time, he had little to no personality) without any of the common black stereotypes of the time.  He was depicted as an everyman, a kind-hearted fellow, and above all good-natured.  In later years, Ising denied that Bosko was meant to be a black stereotype, but this is rather hard to believe due the fact that he was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office as a “Negro boy.”

Bosko’s life at Warner Bros., however, would not last.  In 1933, Harman and Ising got into a budget dispute with Schlesinger.  They wanted more money to improve their cartoon’s quality and make them in color.  Schlesinger said no, and the two men left, taking Bosko with him.

They eventually found a new home at MGM.  They created the Happy Harmonies series, which debuted in 1934.  Bosko appeared in two cartoons with his original design.  Then he was redesigned as a realistic black boy, which seems to provide more proof Bosko being conceived as a black caricature.  However, he was unable to reproduce his success.  Eventually, in 1938, Harman and Ising were let go by MGM because they regularly went over budget with their cartoons.  MGM created their own in-house cartoon studio.

Bosko remained largely forgotten in decades.  His cartoons got their best exposure in a long time, when in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Nickelodeon aired them as part of their showing of the Looney Tunes.  However, they were soon removed.

Bosko and his girlfriend Honey appeared on an episode of Tiny Toon Adventures called “Fields of Honey,” where Babs Bunny attempts to find a female cartoon character to have a role model, and she helps Honey, and as is eventually revealed, Bosko, to find a new audience.  This episode redesigns Bosko and Honey as dog-like characters, who resemble the main characters of the Animaniacs.

Bosko has lived on, despite his obscurity.  Many of cartoons have fallen into the public domain, and they have appeared on low-budget home media, YouTube, and even official releases by Warner Bros.

While Bosko may seem dated and insensitive by today’s standards, it is important to not that without him, we would not have the famous Looney Tunes cartoons that we do today.

TV Tropes Tuesday: TV Tropes: On One Condition

This trope is related to Unexpected Inheritance, and very often, it coincides with it. A character receives an inheritance.  But there are conditions to be met.  If they are not met, then the character will lose the money/estate. This trope is often used as a way to guarantee that the character will fail to meet the conditions, so that the premise of the show is not changed too much. There are usually four conditions:

1.  The character has to spend the night in the deceased’s house, which could be haunted.  Someone will try to scare them off buy dressing up as a ghost.

2.  The character is told that he or she will lose the money if they harm a certain person/type of person; such person, then starts antagonizing them because they can get away with it.

3.  The character needs to get married within a certain time frame, either to specific person, or any person.

4.  The character will lose either the entire inheritance or their share of the inheritance, if they die; this results in someone who stands to potentially gain all of the money, trying to kill them.

There are ways of messing around with the expectations of this trope. One way is to show that the character meets the condition, but ends up with no money because the estate was heavily in debt and was ceased by the government for taxes and such. Another subversion is that the inheritance is worthless due to the deceased’s assets having no value. Yet another way is that there is no inheritance, and the benefactor isn’t even dead; it was all a secret test of character.

Some examples:

  • Rose on The Golden Girls was bequeathed $100,000 to take care of her late uncle’s favorite pig for the rest of his (the pig’s) life. When the pig fell ill, the vet believed he was just homesick, so the girls gave up the money and passed him on to another relative back in Minnesota, only to have the pig die of old age 36 hours later.
    • After Aunt Fran dies on Mama’s Family, Thelma learns that she possessed a secret fortune, which she has willed to Thelma. The catch? The notoriously cantankerous Thelma must avoid losing her temper for two weeks, or else the money will go to Fran’s favorite charity.
      • Uncle Beaureguard’s $1 million dollar fortune in Confederate dollars came from an episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!. As mentioned above, Confederate bank notes are worth a lot of money to historical collectors. This never occurred to the writers, nor the Scooby Gang, who treat it as a total loss. Each beneficiary had to stay in Beauregard’s home to receive his/her share and the shares of those who failed to fulfill the condition went to those who didn’t fail. Scooby became the sole beneficiary.
      • The Tom and Jerry cartoon “The Million-Dollar Cat” had Tom inheriting a sizeable fortune on the condition he not harm another animal, not even a mouse. Jerry pesters him until he can’t take anymore, and the cartoon closes with Tom remarking “I’m throwing away a million dollars… but I’m HAPPY!” while trying to clobber Jerry with a broken board.
      • In the Woody Woodpecker cartoon Billion Dollar Boner, a man named O’Houlihan gets a billion dollar check – on the condition that he cannot do any harm to a bird. Woody then proceeds to antagonize him. At the end of the episode, it’s revealed that the check is a rubber fake.
        • A frequent plot in Looney Tunes shorts.
          • The Wabbit Who Came To SupperBugs Bunny moves in with Elmer Fudd when Fudd’s Uncle Louie wills him his entire fortune provided he does not harm any animals, especially rabbits. In the end, Elmer DOES manage to curb his anger long enough to get the money… and immediately loses it all (and then some) to taxes.
          • Hare to Heir uses both the “humiliating restrictions” and “murder” plots together. A broke Yosemite Sam inherits a large lump sum of cash on the condition that he will lose a percentage of it each time he loses his temper. As the amount left inevitably dwindles due to his famous hair-trigger rage, he tries to kill off the executor of the will who’s been making all the deductions before it’s all gone (Namely, Bugs Bunny). In the end, Sam tried to pitch an image of calmness by having his servants hit him without him getting angry at them for this and Bugs had no courage to tell Sam he had already lost all the inheritance by then.
          • In The Fair-Haired Hare, Sam builds his house over Bugs’s rabbit hole; a judge grants them joint custody, with the stipulation that if one of them dies, the other will get full rights to the property. Sam’s poorly-disguised murder attempts start soon after.
          • The feature-length movie Daffy Duck’s Quackbusters had Daffy goldbricking his way into inheriting the massive fortune of millionaire J.P. Cubish. He thinks he’s in the clear once Cubish dies, only to find out that a clause in the will that Daffy be ethical with the money causes a chunk of it to vanish into the spirit world every time he does something dirty.
          • There’s also a story where a cat inherited a fortune with the will stipulating that his parrot friend Louie would get the money if something happened to the cat. By the end of the cartoon, one of Louie’s plans actually seems to work, as the cat’s nine lives start leaving him. However, Loiue then brags about the inheritance he’s leaving behind, causing the lives to return and the cat to declare that if he can’t take the money with him, he’s not leaving.
          • In Tex Avery‘s MGM short Wags to Riches, a millionaire dies and leaves his fortune to Droopy, with a clause that in the event of Droopy’s death the entire estate will revert to his other dog, Spike…who naturally spends the cartoon trying (unsuccessfully) to bump Droopy off.

The book Marry Your Baby Daddy by Maryann Reid is about three sisters who receive an inheritance from their late grandmother.  The catch is that they have a certain amount of time to marry the fathers of their children.

Daffy Duck

Since I don’t have any characters who have names beginning with the letter D, (I have several ideas that are not completely developed and planned and that have characters that are not yet named) I will talk about one of my favorite characters that I did not create, and who has a name that begins with the letter D.  That would be Daffy Duck.

Daffy Duck was first created in 1937.  He was one of the first characters to be  what is called a screwball character.  He acted completely crazy and tormented his antagonists with his nuttiness.  This is was what made him popular with audiences.  He eventually supplanted Porky Pig (who was the first Warner Bros. cartoon character to truly become popular) as the most popular Looney Tunes character.

However, as with many characters, he changed.  In some cartoon shorts, Daffy was toned down, but still rather goofy.  But 1948 gave him a significant change.  In the cartoon called, You Were Never Duckier, he is upset that at a fair, the best rooster will win $5,000, but the best duck will win only $5.  He decides to disguise him as a rooster to win the money.  This was the beginning of Daffy being changed into a greedy, negative character, although his personality was not as negative at the time.

Director Chuck Jones fully changed Daffy when he pitted him against Bug Bunny, who by then had been the most popular Looney Tunes character for several years, in 1951 with the cartoon Rabbit Fire, which showed them arguing over whether it is rabbit season or duck season.  This caught on and many other cartoons depicted Daffy as greedy, arrogant, and mean-spirited. Director Friz Freleng took the Bugs-Daffy rivalry further by making them show business rivals in shorts like This is a Life?, A Star is Bored, and Show Biz Bugs.

In the 1960s, after Warner Bros. shut down their cartoon studio, due to the growing popularity of TV, and contracted out animation to outside entities.  Most of the Looney Tunes characters were dropped;  Daffy was one of the exceptions.  He became an antagonist of Speedy Gonzales, and most of such cartoons are criticized not only for being unfunny and slow, but for making Daffy completely unlikable.  By 1968, Daffy and Speedy made their last theatrical appearances, and the following year, Warner Bros. pulled the plug on theatrical cartoons.

Despite this Daffy Duck cartoons continued to be rerun on TV.  There were several revivals of Looney Tunes in the forms of TV specials, compilation films, TV series, and more.  Al of this ensured that such a complex character would never lose his popularity.

My Favorite Pieces of Classical Music Monday: My Favorite Pieces of Classical Music: Part 12

Happy Monday!

Here are more pieces of classical music to share today.  I will share two pieces by Johann Strauss:  Tales from the Vienna Woods and  The Blue Danube

These pieces have a film connection with me.  The first time I heard them was probably when I was a child, and I first saw a Warner Bros. cartoon called A Corny Concerto.  It was a parody of Fantasia, and it featured Elmer Fudd introducing two pieces of music: Tales from Vienna Woods and The Blue Danube.  The first segment featured Porky Pig and a a hunting dog, pursuing Bugs Bunny; the second focused on a young Daffy Duck being wanting to be accepted by a family of swans, but all of attempts fail.

 

In addition both pieces inspired two separate MGM cartoons.

This one is about deer interacting with the faun known as Pan.

This one is a sweet fantasy taking place in the forest.

And here are the pieces in their original contexts.

Tales from Vienna Woods

Blue Danube