Lost Disney Cartoon, Featuring The Precursor To Mickey Mouse, Found In Japan After 70 Years

Before Mickey Mouse, there was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, the very first major animated character created by Walt Disney who starred in as many as 27 short films. But misfortune struck the long-eared anthropomorphic animal in 1928 when Disney lost the rights to the character to a rival studio, eventually bringing about the creation of Mickey Mouse (rocking a very similar design but belonging wholly to Disney). Things went from bad to worse for poor Oswald, whose many short films ended up becoming lost in time. Only 19 of the original Oswald short films survived, but miraculously, a lost Disney cartoon starring Oswald has resurfaced in Japan 70 years later.

Seventy years after the Disney short film Neck 'n' Neck was thought to be lost, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit has popped up his head again in Japan, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Released in 1928, Neck 'n' Neck was a 5-minute black-and-white film starring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit as he and his girlfriend are pursued by a dog policeman up a steep mountain road. A handful of copies made their way to Japan, where one was purchased by a high school student named Yasushi Watanabe at a toy wholesaler near his home in Osaka. For decades, the now 84-year-old Watanabe didn't realize the treasure he had in his hands, until he recently read David Bossert's book Oswald the Lucky Rabbit: The Search for the Lost Disney Cartoons, which chronicled the many lost films of the Mickey Mouse precursor.

"As I've been a Disney fan for many years, I'm happy that I was able to play a role," Watanabe told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, which contacted Bossert and the Walt Disney Archives to confirm that Watanabe's copy was one of the seven Oswald films thought to be lost forever. (It was.)

What Happens Now?

In the wake of the discovery, Becky Cline, director of the Walt Disney Archives, told The Telegraph, "We are absolutely delighted to learn that a copy of the lost film exists." Bossert, who said the find is "very exciting," hopes to screen the long-lost footage at an event in Los Angeles for a group of animation scholars.

However, Watanabe's 70-year-old copy, which he bought for 500 yen in 1928 under the title Mickey Manga Spide (translated to "Mickey cartoon speedy"), is only two minutes long — three minutes cut for the 16mm version sold for home projection use. Nevertheless, the copy of Neck 'n' Neck has been taken to the Kobe Planet Film Archive, one of the largest private film collections in Japan. It's the latest Oswald short film to be recently discovered, following the resurfacing of another Oswald movie at the British Film Institute archives back in 2015. Both discoveries of the rabbit that inspired the creation of Disney's iconic Mickey Mouse are a godsend for animation fans and come just in time for the 90th anniversary of Mickey's movie debut in Steamboat Willie, which debuted on November 18, 1928.