Two Oswald the Lucky Rabbit shorts were recently added to Disney Plus worldwide as part of Disney100 celebrations. Along with 25 other shorts, they were scanned and restored in 4K by the team behind the recent restorations of Cinderella and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
When I first heard about this project, I was intrigued as to what the quality was going to be like. I knew that shorts originating from the middle part of the twentieth century would look amazing, as they always did. I was uncertain about the 1920s Oswald shorts, as we have grown used to seeing them in their public domain form; A flickery, shaky and blurry image punctuated with artefacts from various less-than-ideal media sources.
I needn’t have worried about a thing, because this is the best this version of Oswald has ever looked. When I sat down to watch Trolley Troubles (1927), I was blown away by the work that had gone into restoring it from its original elements. Unlike previous restorations that have scrubbed some of the human elements from animated productions, it is clear both cartoons were made by hand. I would like to take a moment to appreciate the animation in these shorts by animators including Ub Iwerks. For the period, there is a degree of innovation that is present here. The trolley scenes are breathtaking, especially the moments where it is coming towards the camera, switches to a first-person view and the fast-moving isometric sequence at the end; Incredibly ambitious considering how new the medium of animation still was
Sequences in the other short, All Wet (1927), do suffer from some things that would look like imperfections to the modern viewer. However, the shadows around Oswald at the start of the cartoon possibly have more to do with the animation technique as I’ve noticed similar issues in cartoons from the same era. This cartoon displays one of Walt’s first forays into water animation, an animated sequence that was later recycled for the 1929 Mickey Mouse cartoon Wild Waves.
The musical accompaniment, which sounds new but may not be, helps to bring another dimension to these originally silent productions. They were originally reissued in the early 1930s by Walter Lantz Productions with music and sound, but the ones present on Disney+ don’t sound old enough.
I have seen arguments against waiting for the restoration of shorts, and simply adding previous versions to Disney Plus. This approach would work in cases where the quality couldn’t get any higher, but most of the shorts are capable of more. These Oswald shorts, along with the Skeleton Dance (1929) are excellent examples that support this. These new transfers which present the artist’s original vision without the inconveniences of the past, are more likely to appeal to new audiences too.
These two cartoons are well worth seeing because they’re an important piece of animation history. Even if you have viewed them in their public domain versions, this is far superior. I’m hoping people jump on this so we can see more vintage Oswald material restored, but I have doubts at this time. Two 1920s Oswald the Lucky Rabbit shorts are available to stream on Disney Plus worldwide.