A copy of a long-lost Walt Disney film, which featured a character that predates Mickey Mouse, was recently discovered in Japan.
“Neck ‘n’ Neck” is a black-and-white animated short featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a character Walt Disney created in 1927. The iconic Mickey Mouse was introduced the following year.
When the two-minute film was released in the United States, a few copies reportedly reached Japan.
Yasushi Watanabe, then a high school student, purchased a copy from a toy store in Osaka city about 70 years ago for ¥500 (around $4.40 today), reports The Asahi Shimbun. The film was given the Japanese title “Mickey cartoon speedy.”
Watanabe did not realize how significant his purchase was until he read a book titled “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit: The Search for the Lost Disney Cartoons” many decades later.
Filmmaker David Bossert, a veteran visual effects artist at the Walt Disney Company, published the book in 2017.
Walt Disney made a total of 26 “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” short films, but only 19 have been recovered, Bossert wrote.
According to the book, collectors and the film studio itself have long been searching for the missing copies of the remaining seven for the last 90 years.
Watanabe, who is now 84 years old, then reached out to the author and Walt Disney Archives, informing them that he owns a copy of “Neck ‘n’ Neck.”
In the short film, Oswald and his girlfriend are in a car being chased by a dog police officer on a motorcycle.
“I’ve been a Disney fan for many years and I’m happy that I have been able to play a role in this discovery,” Watanabe was quoted as saying.
Bossert found the discovery of the film to be “very exciting” and expressed that he aims to screen the footage for a group of animation scholars at an event in Los Angeles.
“We are absolutely delighted to learn that a copy of the lost film exists,” noted Walt Disney Archives director Becky Cline.
After creating 27 animated Oswald one-reelers, Disney lost the rights to the character to Universal Studios in 1928.
As a replacement to compete with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks created Mickey Mouse for the Walt Disney Studio in November 1928.
Through the efforts of Disney President and COO Bob Iger, The Walt Disney Company managed to acquire the intellectual property of Oswald and the catalog of Disney-produced Oswald films in 2006.
Sunday will be the 90th anniversary of Mickey Mouse’s first appearance in a movie.