Lost Disney film featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit discovered in BFI archive

The 77-year-old animation 'Sleigh Bells' features the first ever Disney character, created by Walt in 1927

Ian Burrell
Media Editor
Tuesday 03 November 2015 22:12
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Long lost Disney animation found

An animation featuring the first ever Disney character – a long-eared precursor to Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit – has been discovered in the archive of the British Film Institute.

The 77-year-old film, Sleigh Bells, was discovered at the National Archive in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, by a Disney researcher who recognised the missing title when searching the online catalogue. The last remaining copy of the film had come to the BFI from a Soho studio in the 1980s after being brought to London for distribution soon after its release.

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was invented by Walt Disney in 1927 and was known for his rebellious personality. A number of other Oswald films survive but Sleigh Bells has been, until now, a lost film, unseen since the 1930s, when Oswald was an international star of a cartoon character.

He might be a rabbit – and married to a cat called Ortensia – but his big black floppy ears are reminiscent of the greatest symbol of the House of Mouse.

The animation was the work of Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, both of whom went on to create the character of Mickey Mouse, following a contractual disagreement with Universal, for whom they had created Oswald.

The film has been restored by Walt Disney Animation Studios and is to be screened as part of an It’s A Disney Christmas: Seasonal Shorts programme at BFI Southbank in London on 12 December.

The opportunity to show the lost film is a “joyful treat”, said Robin Baker, Head Curator of the BFI National Archive. “The restoration of this film will introduce many audiences to Disney’s work in the silent period – it clearly demonstrates the vitality and imagination of his animation at a key point in his early career.”

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