Missing Disney film predating Mickey Mouse resurfaces in Japan

A 1928 Disney animation, which predates the creation of Mickey Mouse, has been unearthed in Japan, according to Japanese media.

The Asahi Shimbun reports that the cartoon short, entitled “Neck n’ Neck,” was part of the collection of an anime history researcher, Yasushi Watanabe, who bought it in Osaka while still a high school student some 70 years ago.

At the time the film, which had been given the Japanese title “Mickey Manga Spide,” or Mickey cartoon speedy, cost ¥500 ($4.40 at current exchange rates).

It features a character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, who, in the two-minute consumer version owned by the researcher, is chased by a dog traffic cop while on a date. A longer version of five minutes was also produced.

The find came about after Watanabe read “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit: The Search for the Lost Disney Cartoons,” by former Disney animator David Bossert, which details the history of the character and notes that a number of the early animations had disappeared.

Despite his profession, prior to reading the book Watanabe was unaware of how rare — and significant — the film was.

Suspecting that his copy may be one of the missing films, Watanabe worked with the Asahi Shimbun to contact Bossert and the Walt Disney Archives, which confirmed that the film was indeed one of the missing works.

“As I’ve been a Disney fan for many years, I’m happy that I was able to play a role (in the discovery),” Watanabe said.

“We’re absolutely delighted to learn that a copy of the lost film exists,” Becky Cline, director of Walt Disney Archives, told the newspaper.

A shorter clip of the film was also unearthed in the Toy Film Museum in Kyoto as a result of Bossert’s book, the Asahi Shimbun article reports.

Oswald was phased out by Disney after legal wrangling over the character’s rights led to another company gaining control over the creation — described in Disney archives as a “brazen theft” — leading the famed cartoonist to devise another animal-based character — Mickey Mouse — in 1928.

November 18 marks the 90th anniversary of the premiere of “Steamboat Willie,” the first public appearance of arguably the most famous cartoon character in the world, and the mainstay of what would become one of the world’s largest entertainment companies.