At Walt Disney Animation Studios, the staff members refer to them as the “lost cartoons.” There are 26 of them, and they all pre-date Walt Disney’s creation of Mickey Mouse.
Until recently, the studio had just 14 prints of the lost cartoons. However, Disney recently purchased the rights to a 15th, “Hungry Hobos”, a short by Disney of Oswald The Lucky Rabbit.
The cartoon, which has not been seen in approximately 50 years, will return to form during the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s 24th annual Silent Film Gala on June 8. The short will be accompanied by a new score written and conducted by six-time Emmy Award-winning composer Mark Watters.
“I think it’s terrific,” said Dave Bossert, producer, creative director and head of special projects at Walt Disney Animation Studios. He added that the cartoon is over five minutes long, and the score makes it “really enjoyable” to watch. “It’s just an absolutely terrific, funny cartoon.”
Bossert said the cartoon surfaced in a film archive project in the United Kingdom, and an article online stated that the cartoon was to be sold in an animation memorabilia auction. That same day, he received an e-mail from an executive at the studio inquiring about the cartoon.
“It was just a happy, sort of serendipitous moment,” Bossert said.
He said Disney purchased the cartoon, which then underwent a full digital restoration. The cartoon was kept in its black-and-white format, but the print was not in good condition, Bossert said. Staffers scanned the entire print digitally and cleaned it up.
“We got rid of some dirt, scratches,” Bossert said, adding that the studio sought to retain its historical nature while presenting it in the best quality possible. “It looks really good for presentation purposes.”
Despite what could be considered an insensitive title, “Hungry Hobos” is about a rabbit, Oswald, and his friend, Pete, who are essentially hobos “riding the rails,” he said.
“There’s really nothing offensive about it,” Bossert added.
The cartoon was developed by Disney and one of his artists, he said. The two were essentially contracted to make the cartoon, which was distributed by Universal Pictures, the Disney producer said.
Bossert said Charles Mintz produced the cartoon, with Disney as director. Disney would eventually lose the rights to Oswald The Lucky Rabbit to Mintz. Following that development, Disney created Mickey Mouse, Bossert said.
“Oswald is actually a really important cartoon character,” he said, adding that Disney may not have developed Mickey Mouse otherwise.
With the loss of Oswald, Disney also lost many of his artists to Mintz, Bossert said. However, the creator of Oswald, Ub Iwerks, stuck with Disney and in 1928 helped him animate the first three Mickey Mouse cartoons, “Plane Crazy”, “The Gallopin’ Gaucho” and “Steamboat Willie”.
Bossert said Walt Disney Animation Studios would “without question” like to obtain the remaining “lost cartoons” and restore them.
“When one pops up … we’re certainly interested,” he said. “I think we’d like to see the remaining lost cartoons found and repatriated [to complete a record of Walt Disney’s directing].”
The cartoon will be presented, along with Buster Keaton’s “Our Hospitality”, at UCLA’s Royce Hall at 7 p.m. on June 8. General admission is $35.
“The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra Silent Movie night program is really spectacular,” Bossert said. “It’s a great evening out for anyone who likes film. You have not experienced cinema if you haven’t sat and watched one of these silent-era movies with a live orchestration. …It’s a wonderful, wonderful event that the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra does. I think that Walt Disney Animation Studios is really proud to be part of it.”
Watters has composed nearly 400 scores for Disney since his first Disney project in 1991. “Our Hospitality” is a comic take-off on the Hatfield/McCoy feud in the Old South, with music composed by Carl Davis.
For information or tickets, call (213)622-7001 ext. 1, or visit www.laco.org.
Royce Hall is located at 752 Charles East Young Drive.
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