Seventy years ago, teenager Yasushi Watanabe purchased what he thought was an obscure 16mm cartoon for only $4.40. Here’s where the story of the lost Disney film begins—it wasn’t what he thought. Instead, it was a rare film of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Mickey Mouse’s obscure and historic predecessor.
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Watanabe, who grew up to become an anime historian, realized the film’s true contents while reading Disney-employed artist David Bossert‘s Oswald the Lucky Rabbit: The Search for the Lost Disney Cartoons. (Even more shockingly, you just realized ‘anime historian’ is a real job.) Though the film bore the label ‘Mickey Manga Speedy,’ Wantanabe recognized it as lost Oswald film Neck ‘n’ Neck. Time and copyright law have hidden Oswald from a modern audience. Debuting in 1927, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit existed for just one short year.
By 1928, intellectual property disputes killed Oswald, with Universal Studios snatching up the rights. Though there were later Oswald cartoons, they were more slapstick and topical, lacking Disney’s intentions to create a cartoon character who could be complex and human. In an incredible (if unintentional) screw-you move, Disney went on to create a new animated protagonist. Maybe you’ve heard of Mickey Mouse.
Image Via Disney.wikia.com
The lost film features a wild car chase as police officers try to capture Oswald and his girlfriend. (No, we don’t know what Oswald did.) Disney Archives director Becky Cline said of the discovery: “we are absolutely delighted to learn that a copy of the lost film exists.” Of the twenty-six total Oswald films, only nineteen have been properly archived. That means that Neck ‘n’ Neck is one of seven lost films, an incredible rarity. It also means there might be as many as six more. Where might they turn up? Who knows, when anyone could find one—apparently, all you need is $4.40.
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