Waiting for Oswald

Thursday, November 04, 2010

It's been a few years now since Disney traded sportscaster Al Michaels to NBC in exchange for the return of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. I'll bet I wasn't the only one immediately scouring the internet for Oswald merchandise, though given the responses I received from earnest and hard-working Disney Cast Members, I may have been the only one rushing excitedly into Walt Disney World stores, expecting they'd have Oswald pins and t-shirts flying off the racks. (They also found it strange whey I was looking for an HSM3 Ryan doll . . . but that's another story.)

It took a number of months, but Disney did eventually start rolling out the Oswald merch, most notably a DVD set from the Walt Disney Treasures Series, The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Finally, I could curl up on the couch with a hot cuppa tea and enjoy Oswald in all his glory, complete with corny sight gags, endlessly re-used segments and background images, and early work of cartoon physicists. Plenty of these cartoons have also made their way to YouTube; I'm partial to Trolly Troubles but my son's favorite is The Mechanical Cow. You really can't go wrong with either.

As Oswald was essentially locked up in a vault all this time, he had a little time to himself over the last many decades. So, he was never sanitized or prettied-up, like some of the other characters. Mickey himself started out rather mischievous (practially criminal in Plane Crazy, actually), but softened considerably as he became a corporate icon. Donald was created to take Mickey's place as the cranky one, but even Donald just doesn't get that edgy anymore. So, in bringing Oswald back, Disney's got a character who simultaneously has an empty slate with most viewers, and a rowdy, frolicsome visual style.

And now, as IFC's Evan Narcisse puts it, "Warren Spector wants Mickey Mouse to take out Master Chief." Mickey's got a brand new look for the upcoming Epic Mickey video game, and who better to play the villian than Oswald? Sure, we know that Oswald was grabbed out of Walt's hands in an intellectual property grab by Universal, and that Walt grieved him terribly, but poor Oswald must have been too young to understand. And now he's ready to wreck a little havoc.

I get all worked up just watching the trailers for Epic Mickey. I have a sinking feeling that the game mechanics may disappoint, but for me, this one's about the story. Video games can be a powerful medium for storytelling, and all signs point to Epic Mickey being Oswald's true return to the Disney canon. The imagery is overwhelmingly appealing; I'm especially struck by the image of Oswald and Walt portrayed in a "Partners" statue, in the alternate-universe Magic Kingdom, shown in the Epic Mickey "Journey" trailer. And all the cut-scenes I've seen so far suggest that Epic Mickey will develop Oswald's relationships with Mickey, Minnie, and others in the Disney world.

I'm hoping that this also might bring a new wave of Oswald merchandise. Hot Topic already has a pin available, so can Oswald t-shirts be far behind? We've certainly seem some cool vintage-style Mickey shirts from Disney recently. My husband (not a theme parks fan) came home from Epcot this August with a stylish Plane Crazy t-shirt, so can we please ask Disney to take a leap forward and start marketing shirts with Oswald and the mechanical cow?

I'm so glad you're back in the fold, Oswald. I'm looking forward to getting to know you better.