Animation History
July 8, 2013 posted by Jerry Beck

The “White” Oswald Rabbit

oswald_white550

oswald_blbToday, a small tribute to the white version of Oswald Rabbit… The middle Lantz lucky rabbit, who failed to impress in approximately 33 cartoons produced between 1935 (first appearing in Case of The Lost Sheep) and 1938 (Feed The Kitty seems to be the last – though an Oswald-like Rabbit appears in Happy Scouts later that year, but is no longer all white). This Oswald is preceded by the “black” Oswald, the character inherited by Universal from Walt Disney (by way of Charles Mintz and Margaret Winkler). He was succeeded by a sometimes beige or grey Oswald who appeared in a few cartoons and numerous comic book stories.

oswald_ad225The white rabbit appeared during the same later 1930s period when audiences seemed to demand that cartoon characters progress realistically with the times – thus Bosko went from a rubber-hose “whatzit” to a humanoid black boy, and Mickey’s eyes turn from pie-cut black spots to white ovals with pupils. The White Rabbit films aren’t a bad lot, they just weren’t as exciting as the original character was, or as zany as the forthcoming Woody Woodpecker films would be.

One of my favorite in-jokes of all time – something you’d expect from Tex Avery (but he was at Warners at this point) – occurs in one of these white rabbit cartoons, the last one in fact – Happy Scouts (1938). Oswald leads his troops through the woods, with one of them, a little duck, walking off the background art where he encounters all kinds of scribbles, tic-tac-toe scrawl and notes from Alex Lovy!

Below (click thumbnails to enlarge) are a few beautiful original cels from Martin Almeyra’s collection – these are from Mysterious Jug and Football Fever (both 1937).

OSWALD1OSWALD2OSWALD3OSWALD4

oswald_white-poster

This was a period of change for Walter Lantz. Universal had just emerged from bankruptcy (now operating as “The New Universal”), and Lantz bought the studio from Universal, becoming an independent producer. He was looking to replace Oswald with various try-out characters – Baby Face Mouse, Nellie The Indian Chief’s Daughter, Meany Miny and Moe, L’il Eighball, etc. Lantz seemed to be trying anything and everything to attract attention. Here’s one of the strangest reels Lantz released during the “white rabbit” period, Puppet Show (1936), embed below, featuring live action marionette footage combined with animation.

One of the poorest of the “white” Oswald’s was Softball Game (1936) – which I personally believe was solely concocted to demonstrate how an animated cartoon was produced for this Lowell Thomas Going Places short below. I think Lantz produced the demonstration materials for the short – then decided not to waste it and produce a full cartoon… unfortunately it turned out to be a true dud.

So hail to thee white Oswald… gone but not forgotten. We salute you!

16 Comments

  • Great post! Oswald has a really fascinating history, spanning studios and various reincarnations. These white Oswalds are perhaps a more obscure part of his history. With less of a connection to Disney and a design that no longer looks any at all like Mickey, this version of Oswald seems a lot more forgotten (although perhaps his history in comics is even more obscure). It doesn’t help that these cartoons and the ‘cute’ white Oswald himself are kinda boring. It’s always weird when you see a reissue version of an old black Oswald cartoon which uses a white Oswald title card – they’re like two completely different characters.

    I wonder what’s next for Oswald? It’s a pity his Epic Mickey games, which seemed like they were going to be his big come back, failed to live up to the hype and flopped – resulting in the cancellation of the series. At a recent shareholder meeting, Bob Iger was asked about Disney’s plans for Oswald and said he wasn’t aware of any plans to revive him for TV or film (source: http://www.deadline.com/2013/03/disney-shareholders-meeting/). Since the character holds such a fascination, I’m sure he’ll pop up again.

  • That was the era when Oswald, Mickey and Bosco were playing straight man to an ever growing list of scene stealing supporting characters. And Lantz saddled poor Ozzie with not one but two Pluto-nic relationships, Elmer the Great Dane AND Doxie the Dachshund (granted, at least one of their films, THE PLAYFUL PUP, ranks among the best of this era)!

    Watching these on NY TV back in my misspent youth, I could never get my six year old mind wrapped around the fact that, black OR white, Oswald never looked like he did in the all purpose television title card.

  • Thanks Jerry.

    It’s been a long hard road for Oswald. I suppose he’s come full circle, landing back at Disney, but who has noticed or cared?

    Buddy gets more respect, fercryinoutloud.

    • Oswald may not be Disney’s star character, but a lot of people have noticed his return to Disney and he is slowly becoming more recognisable to an increasing amount of people. Thanks in no small part to his role in the Epic Mickey games, he now has a definite cult following. Image search for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit on Google and you’ll find an awful lot of fan art. Search for him on YouTube and just about all of his known surviving cartoons have been uploaded by dedicated fans – many of which have been viewed tens of thousands of times. When ‘Hungry Hobos’ turned up unexpectedly in an archive, its auction made all the news sites.

      No way does Oswald get less respect than Buddy!

  • Great post…i loved it. “Puppet Show” was QUITE fasnicating, (since i do that for a living!).

    But where does that put “Eggcracker Suite” in the history!??

    • It’s conceivable that Lantz felt he needed to work with the character periodically, to retain some familiarity of the character with the filmgoing public, perhaps in support of the regular comic book series. Egg Cracker Suite seems pretty much a throwback to a Silly Symphony type cartoon, just with updated music.

  • Are Martin’s cels (particularly the two on the right) shellaced to something? Alternately, are they framed in the traditional “a bunch of late ’30s/early ’40s cels come in these stepped wavy wood frames” frames?
    My 100 Pygmies and Andy Panda cel’s framing background is similar ( it falls in the later category http://tag.rubberslug.com/gallery/inv_info.asp?ItemID=244895 )

  • That ‘Puppet Show’ is a fascinating concept if there could have been a melding of a great animation studio with a great marionette troupe.

  • These shorts were definitely ‘the dark age’ for this character. They were an attempt to make Oswald more realistic and distinct looking, but ending coming off as very bland, cute funny animal castoffs. Never the less, the history of Oswald is always fascinating too learn about.

  • Seeing that “How It’s Made” video, notice that when they were photographing that pan background, the background wasn’t attached to any pegbars. The cels were held stationary with it, but the panning background was simply laid under it, and the cameraman just slightly moved it. I guess they didn’t have sliding pegbars back then.

    I love those behind the scene videos, and even if the cartoon’s lame I can’t get enough of ‘em. Thanks for posting it.

  • By 1936 Oswald was more often than not a secondary character in his own cartoons – a telltale sign that he had worn out his welcome. Just watch BEACHCOMBERS!

  • Wikipedia entry for puppeteers Walton and O’Rourke
    (“The only known filmed record of their work is the 1953 motion picture Lili…”):
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walton_and_O'Rourke

  • I’m still looking for the OSWALD “white rabbit” cartoon that is somewhat similar to Warners’ “HECKLING HARE” in that Oswald is being “hunted” by a droopy-faced bloodhound. In fact, there is a similar gag that is found in other cartoons, from Bugs Bunny to Barney Bear. Once caught, Oswald produces a small picture of his “family”, bringing tears to the old dog’s eyes and forcing the dog to let him go, because he cannot bring himself to kill him with a family that size.

    Love this history, though; and it is true that, when you make cartoons too real, it removes some of the comedy, but I think that there are other ways to bring comedy out of the more “realistic” impression of the animal character in question. Chuck Jones could do this with the relationship between Mark Antony, a rather large and jowly bulldog, and Pussyfoot, a tiny little kitten. The “comedy”, at times, comes from the difference in their size–Mark Antony is growling, large and loud, and there’s little Pussyfoot, just curling up and purring and softening Mark Antony’s anger, with teh finale being the memorable scenes in which Pussyfoot kneads his little claws in the dog’s back, looking for a nice warm spot to go to sleep!

  • In the ‘how its made’ film, I noticed at the end of the Oswald cartoon there is a black reel-change cue mark on the top right. This makes me thing that “THE SOFTBALL GAME” was already completed and ready for theatrical run when that staged sound recording session was filmed.

    This puts some doubts about Lantz deciding to complete the film later. My guess is that the cartoon was already in production when this ‘how its made’ film was going to be produced. It was probably a matter of convenience to use a cartoon already in production rather than create a new one for the documentary..

  • Well, here’s a mystery I hope somebody can solve.
    The White Oswald, if owned by Lantz, has trespassed?
    Take a look at Mickey Mouse Magazine Volume 1, Issue 1 Summer Quarterly 1935.
    Mickey is holding open a book where all the Disney characters are comming out of the pages.
    Just below Mickey’s hand and just over his nose is a white rabbit that sure looks like Oswald.
    And I have done a thorough search but can not find any other disney white rabbit in the 1930s.

    • Just a short reply to my own post. I forgot to mention that there was a 1934 Disney cartoon called, “Funny Little Bunnies” which you can see on Youtube. However, there was no particular bunny in that cartoon and none had a name, whereas all the other characters on the Mickey Mouse Magazine cover have specific names. So for me the identity of the white rabbit on the mag cover remains a mystery.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>