Once upon a time, there was a cartoon character who was long forgotten. Lost to Universal when Walt Disney left to start his own studio in 1928, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit has lived in the shadow of Mickey Mouse for nearly 80 years. But he's back — accompanied by all the pomp and circumstance of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.
Before we get to the happily-ever-after, there's the story. In 2006, the copyright to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and his 26 titles were handed from Universal to Disney as part of a trade for football sportscaster Al Michaels, who jumped from Disney's ESPN to Universal's NBC. But half the cartoons were missing.
Then, in 2011, the 16mm print of Hungry Hobos was discovered in England's Huntley Film Archives and subsequently won by Disney at auction. Now, after having been painstakingly restored and freshly scored by six-time Emmy winner Mark Watters, Hungry Hobos is returning to the screen after 50 years to be enjoyed anew.
This five-minute silent cartoon shows Oswald and Peg Leg Pete (another Disney character of yore) as two vagrants who've hitched a free train ride. Shenanigans follow — as is to be expected — along with some Charlie Chaplin–esque physical comedy gags.
Dave Bossert, creative director and head of special projects at Walt Disney Animation Studios, says, “There are some really, really funny moments in the cartoon that I don't think people get a chance to see these days, with a lot of the politically correct and Standards & Practices type of … policies being put on content.”
Outside of film, Oswald has made his way into Disney theme parks and merchandise (especially in Japan, according to Bossert), as well as co-starring in the Epic Mickey video games.
When asked about the lucky rabbit's future, Bossert said he didn't know if there would be a modern cartoon featuring Oswald or if he'd appear in Epic Mickey 3, should the game be made. But he is hoping this fairy tale can be made complete by the discovery of the remaining Oswald cartoons.
In the meantime, you can watch a newly restored print of Hungry Hobos as part of LACO's Silent Film Gala, accompanied by the orchestra and guest conducted by Watters himself. —Sherrie Li
LOS ANGELES CHAMBER ORCHESTRA SILENT FILM GALA | UCLA Royce Hall | June 8 | laco.org