Lost Inspiration for Mickey Mouse Discovered in England Film Archive

Caters News/Zuma Press

Before there was Mickey Mouse, another furry creature, a rabbit, was filling the creative mind of Walt Disney.

Now a long-lost short film featuring that cartoon rabbit, named “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” by Disney, has been discovered in a British film archive and will be offered for auction in Los Angeles on Dec. 14.

Called “Hungry Hobos,” the five-minute film was created by Disney and cartoonist Ub Iwerks in 1927 for Universal Studios.  Missing for decades, it was recently discovered at the Huntley Film Archives in Herefordshire, England, by an archivist working to catalog the collection’s 80,000 items.

“This was made in 1928 and has been in our collection for decades,” Amanda Huntley, director of the archives, told the UK’s Daily Mail.  “But my colleague took the film from the shelf and Googled it…we quickly realized it was one of the great lost films.”

The short was first shown on May 14, 1928, just one day before Mickey Mouse was given his first trial screening. When Universal denied Disney’s request for more money, he and Iwerks left Universal and went out on their own, according to Robert Dewar, commercial director of the archives.

Just like that, the rabbit became a mouse, and a generational icon that continues today, 80 years later.

“Oswald is a proto-Mickey,” Dewar said.  “If you see him, you see the same shape of the head, the ears, the mannerisms.”

The five-minute, silent, black-and-white film, one of 26 episodes created by Disney and Iwerks featuring “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit,” follows the antics of Oswald and his friend “Peg Leg Pete” aboard a train, attempting to steal an egg from a chicken when they get hungry.

The film is expected to fetch $30,000 to $40,000 at the Bonhams’ Entertainment Memorabilia auction in Los Angeles next month.

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