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As we close the chapter on the year of the rabbit, it’s ironic to consider that this story might have been better suited to commence the year.

However, instead, we’re culminating this period with a tale of triumph and redemption.

In the vibrant era of the 1920s, Walt Disney and his team set the animation world ablaze with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a character brimming with mischief and charm. Yet, amid the laughter and creativity, a clash over contracts brewed behind the scenes—a classic saga that would reshape the history of animation.

In 1928, Disney found himself in a cartoonish tussle with Universal Studios, the distributor of Oswald’s antics. The dispute was as lively as an animated chase scene, focusing on two key points: money and who held the artistic reins. Disney wanted a budget bump to make Oswald’s adventures even zanier, but Universal playing the thrifty role, would not budge. Moreover, Universal held the magic wand of rights, giving them the power to steer Oswald’s cartoon ship.

This contractual standoff was like a scene out of a silent film—dramatic gestures, pointed discussions, and no background music to lighten the mood. Faced with contractual shackles that crimped his artistic style and stretched his patience, Disney had to make a tough call. In a move that felt like losing your lucky rabbit’s foot on Friday the 13th, Disney bid adieu to Oswald, parting ways with his floppy-eared creation.

Universal retained custody of Oswald, continuing the rabbit’s antics without Disney’s quirky touch. Yet, out of this contractual dust-up emerged a new star – Mickey Mouse. Losing Oswald nudged Disney and his team to conjure up Mickey, who would soon become the megastar of the animation universe.

Decades drifted by, and Oswald remained a distant memory, held hostage in the vaults of animation history. But alas, the 2000s brought forth a twist worthy of a blockbuster script!

In 2006, Disney was back in the negotiation ring, this time with NBC Universal, the big cheese behind Universal Studios. The star player in this trading game was none other than Al Michaels, a sports commentator under Disney’s wing at ABC Sports.

In a jaw-dropping trade maneuver that felt more like swapping collectibles than multimillion-dollar deals, Disney pulled off a magic trick. They offered NBC Universal the prized broadcasting rights to Al Michaels in exchange for the long-lost treasure – Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

This momentous deal marked Oswald’s homecoming to the Disney family, reclaiming his position as the very first character created by Walt Disney. The return of Oswald signified not just the reacquisition of an intellectual property but a rekindling of the earliest roots of Disney’s legacy. It was a reunion akin to finding a buried treasure map and hitting the jackpot. This spectacular moment brought Oswald back into the fold, a triumph echoing through the halls of animation history. However, it was a bittersweet victory, as Walt Disney didn’t live to witness the return of his very first creation, the rabbit who once leaped through the imaginative landscapes of Disney’s early career.


Disclaimer: The above tale involves dramatic contracts, whimsical characters, and magical deals. No real rabbits or their lucky feet were harmed in the making of this contractual saga. While this story involves contracts and characters, it’s purely a whimsical journey through the animation universe. No actual magic wands or rabbits were exchanged in any contracts, and the spectacular moments are confined to the delightful world of storytelling!


This content is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion as neither can be given without reference to specific events and situations. © 2021 Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.

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