Lost Disney film showing Mickey Mouse's predecessor found in Japan

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit appears in another 1928 animated film called Sleigh Bells

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit appears in another 1928 animated film called Sleigh Bells

It may be Mickey's 90th birthday this weekend, but his predecessor Oswald the Lucky Rabbit is also in the spotlight this week.

When Yasushi Watanabe bought a cartoon film decades ago as a high school student in the Japanese city of Osaka, he had no idea he was purchasing animation history. After speaking with Watanabe, the paper reached out to the Walt Disney Archives and confirmed that it was one of seven of the 26 Oswald cartoons that had been thought to be lost for good.

Originally called Neck & Neck, the 16mm cartoon was tagged with the name Mickey Manga Spide (Mickey Cartoon Speedy), and remained in Mr Watanabe's personal collection for 70 years. Of course, any animations Disney did of Oswald are now incredibly valuable, and several have always been thought to be lost.

The original runtime of "Neck "n" Neck" was five minutes, but it was cut down to two minutes for the 16mm release. In the short, Oswald and Ortensia ("Sadie") are out for a ride in his vehicle when they're pursued by a dog policeman. Becky Cline, director of the Walt Disney Archives, said, "We are absolutely delighted to learn that a copy of the lost film exists". It is now housed at the Kobe Planet Film Archive. Over the years, a few other previously-lost cartoons in the series have been rediscovered.

While Mickey Mouse is the character on which Walt Disney built his empire, the creator had an even earlier iteration of the cartoon that many fans tend to forget about. Due to a contract dispute with Disney's distributor, Charles Mintz, Disney lost control of the character in 1928. This time, Disney retained the rights to his creation. In exchange for minor assets, including the rights to the lucky rabbit, Disney allowed sportscaster Al Michaels to move from Disney-owned ABC and ESPN to NBC Sports.

The discovery was reported by Japan's Asahi Shimbun daily, which Watanabe contacted after reading a book about the history of "Oswald the Lucky Rabbit", the character Disney created in the 1920s.

He never thought anything of it until recently, when he read the book Oswald the Lucky Rabbit: The Search for the Lost Disney Cartoons, by Disney animator David Bossert.