British archive pulls 'lost' Disney rabbit film out of hat

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit as seen in a vintage Walt Disney short called Sky Scrappers.
Oswald the Lucky Rabbit as seen in a vintage Walt Disney short called Sky Scrappers. PHOTO: YOUTUBE

LONDON (REUTERS) - Just in time for the Christmas season, film archivists in London say they have rediscovered a long-lost Walt Disney animated film Sleigh Bells from 1928 featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, said to be a prototype for Mickey Mouse.

The short film, with a running time of about six minutes, will be shown in early December as part of a programme including other Disney shorts from the 1930s to the present day, the British Film Institute (BFI) National Archive said on Tuesday.

"Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was invented by Walt Disney in 1927 and was loved for his mischievous and rebellious personality. A number of other films do survive but Sleigh Bells has been, until now, a lost film, unseen since its original release," the BFI said in a statement.

It said a print of Sleigh Bells had been discovered in the BFI National Archive by a researcher browsing the online catalogue of the archive's holdings. Walt Disney Animation Studios used what is thought to be the sole surviving print to make a new preservation masterprint and digital copies, it said.

"We're thrilled to be collaborating with the BFI National Archives in the restoration of the 'lost' Oswald short, Sleigh Bells, and to be sharing this delightful animated discovery with audiences in the UK as part of this special Disney holiday programme," Andrew Millstein, President of the Disney animation studios, is quoted in the statement as saying.

Walt Disney and his colleague Ub Iwerks drew the animations for the Oswald character, and later went on to create Mickey Mouse following a contractual disagreement with Universal, for whom they had created the Oswald films, the statement said.