A long-lost Walt Disney cartoon featuring a precursor to Mickey Mouse has been rediscovered in the national archive of the British Film Institute.
The 1928 film Sleigh Bells, starring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, was found by chance when a researcher was browsing the BFI’s online catalog. It’s since been restored by Walt Disney Animation Studios and will get its world premiere in London later this month.
“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,” Robin Baker, head curator at the BFI National Archive, said in a press release. “The restoration of this film will introduce many audiences to Disney’s work in the silent period – it clearly demonstrates the vitality and imagination of his animation at a key point in his early career. We thank Walt Disney for working with us and are thrilled to present the world premiere of this restored version here in London at BFI Southbank.”
“We’re thrilled to be collaborating with the BFI National Archives in the restoration of the ‘lost’ Oswald short, ” added Andrew Millstein, president of Walt Disney Animation Studios. “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.”
The animation in the six-minute film was done by Disney and Ub Iwerks, who co-created Oswald the Lucky Rabbit for Universal Studios before going off on their own to create co-create Mickey Mouse after a contractual disagreement. (Disney finally got back the rights to Oswald in 2006, in a unique business “trade” that allowed sportcaster Al Michaels to move from ESPN to NBC.)
While there are other films featuring the long-eared, Mickey-like character that have survived, Sleigh Bells was thought to have been lost and has not been seen since its original release.
The restored version of Sleigh Bells will be screened for the public for the first time as part of BFI’s program It’s a Disney Christmas: Seasonal Shorts on Dec. 12.