Today, 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.
The 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).
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!