Back in 1928, a six-minute-long animated short called “Sleigh Bells” aired, entertaining the nation’s children with an adorable character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. This character was Walt Disney’s precursor to the now-famous Mickey Mouse.
It was thought that all copies of “Sleigh Bells” had been lost, and it has since faded from the public’s memory. But now, a copy of the film has been restored to its former glory after being discovered among one million items housed in the British Film Institute National Archive. It will now be screened for the first time in decades.
Apparently, the film was donated to the archive in the early 1980s after a Soho laboratory closed and was forced to give away their collection of film stock.
Back then, no one realized the significance of a certain film in that collection. It was entered into the archive’s database with the others before a researcher realized the significance of the film: it is the only surviving copy of “Sleigh Bells” in the world.
In early 2015, an American researcher was going through the BFI archives in an attempt to find lost titles and entered the name of the film. He was shocked to find they had it in stock.
Now, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit will return to the big screen.
Fans of Disney will notice numerous similarities between this character and Mickey Mouse. In fact, the only striking difference between the two are the ears: Oswald has long, floppy ears, rather than the iconic mouse ears.
The similarities make sense — Mickey Mouse was created by Walt Disney in a fit of anger after Universal Studios took Oswald from him, leaving Disney feeling ripped off and angry. On his train ride home from the emotional meeting with Universal, he sketched Mickey.
Mickey turned out to be Disney’s ticket to mega fame, though the company did buy the rights to Oswald back from Universal in 2006.
A spokesman for the BFI said, “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was invented by Walt Disney in 1927 and was loved for his mischievous and rebellious personality. A number of other films do survive but ‘Sleigh Bells’ has been, until now, a lost film, unseen since its original release.”
Robin Baker is the head curator at BFI National Archive. He added, “What a joyful treat to discover a long-lost Walt Disney film in the BFI National Archive and to be able to show Sleigh Bells to a whole new audience 87 years after it was made.”
“The restoration of this film will introduce many audiences to Disney’s work in the silent period,” Baker continued. “It clearly demonstrates the vitality and imagination of his animation at a key point in his early career.”
Since the first photograph was taken 186 years ago, 3.5 trillion photos have been taken. Because of the medium’s increasing popularity, photo and film restoration has been made much easier over the last decade, with technology consistently being improved within the industry. It is because of those advancements that this restoration was made possible.
“The Oswald shorts are an important part of our Studios’ history, and we have been working with film archives and private collectors all around the world to research the missing titles,” said Andrew Millstein, president of Walt Disney Animation Studios.
The film will be screened as a world premiere on December 12 as a part of “It’s A Disney Christmas: Seasonal Shorts,” which will take place at BFI Southbank.