Oswald Plays Dem Dry Bones
Universal and Their Lucky Rabbit Prosper in Hells Heels (1930)
Oswald was lucky for Universal, if not for Disney, being a nice and ongoing revenue stream from the time Laemmle and associates commissioned him in 1927 till the character's screen retirement in 1943. My impression, and correct me if I'm wrong, is that Universal wanted a cartoon character and subcontracted Charles Mintz to develop one, which he did by way of Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. Then Universal's publicity named the rabbit they came up with. Oswald was inarguably the studio's property. It was only a matter of hiring artists to draw him, and they'd prove interchangeable, from Disney at first, to Mintz after he euchred Walt, then Walter Lantz once Universal got done with Mintz. Lantz proved most durable of the lot where the Lucky Rabbit was concerned. His cartoons with Oswald maintained a fair standard throughout the thirties. I don't recall seeing them on TV growing up. Were they around much? Maybe it was just our NC stations that skipped them.
By Hells Heels, Oswald was talking and risen high among cartooned faces. Am I safe to say he was second only to Mickey Mouse in 1930 polling? (for that matter, were there cartoon popularity polls in 1930?) Felix seemed finished, Fleischer had not (yet) star characters of weight, and Bosko/Flip The Frog were just starting out of WB/MGM. Oswald was established and an object of intense promotion, Universal making with trade ads and merchandising that Disney surely envied, and would imitate, as he developed Mickey. The Oswalds copied Walt on screen, but the rabbit's selling arm was a strongest among cartoon contestants, which is why it mattered less if Hells Heels and other Oswalds fell short of emerging Disney's quality. Universal had well-tuned machinery, and the Rabbits were good enough to keep it greased. Oswald could more than get by for helping fill a Universal program and not antagonizing his audience, as Flip The Frog risked doing at Iwerks/MGM when that character proved so unappealing. Oswald pads six minutes of Hells Heels with song/dance and gags looted from betters so recent as Disney's Skeleton Dance. Lantz and his animator, Bill Nolan, seem infatuated with skeletal matters. At one point, Oswald's surprise is expressed by his bones leaping out of his body, which would be lots more disturbing had it not happened so fast. Hells Heels is part of the Woody Woodpecker and Friends --- Volume One DVD, along with other Oswalds and Lantz oddities.
More Oswald The Lucky Rabbit at Greenbriar Archive HERE.