An early Walt Disney Film Of Oswald The Rabbit In Poor Papa will be one of the highlights at Bonhams Entertainment Memorabilia Including Animation Art on May 4th and 5th. The film is one of only three known copies. The 16 mm Kodak Safety Film double perforated celluloid acetate positive print, is silent, and has a total running time of 5 minutes and 12 seconds. Poor Papa is one of twelve Oswald cartoons that is presumed “lost,” and is not present in the collection of the Walt Disney Company. The film is accompanied by a HD Prime Focus digital transfer.
Poor Papa is the story of Oswald getting a visit from the stork again and again with babies coming down the chimney at a rapid pace, overwhelming “poor papa.” He thinks that he has outsmart the storks by blocking the chimney, but the storks start dropping the babies in the water tower. Oswald turns on the tap and babies come out in the water droplets. This story line is very reminiscent of Disney’s short Mickey’s Nightmare, which was released in 1932.
In 1927, Disney and Ub Iwerks decided to discontinue the Alice Comedies and pursue new creative opportunities. At the same time, their distributor, Charles Mintz had been meeting with Universal about the studio’s ambition to enter the cartoon business. Feeling that there were too many cat characters already on the market, Universal requested a rabbit. Disney’s sketches were approved by Universal on March 4, 1927 and he and Iwerks quickly set to work on the first Oswald film, Poor Papa. Time was of the essence as Disney was under contract for twenty-six films, and the short was produced in only two weeks. Unsurprisingly, this rushed timeline came across and in the finished product, and Universal did not approve. Their various complaints about Poor Papa included comments that: “approximately 100 feet of the opening is jerky in action due to poor animation … there is too much repetition of action … the Oswald shown in this picture is far from being a funny character. He has no outstanding trait … the picture is merely a succession of unrelated gags” (Thomas, Bob, Walt Disney: An American Original, NY: 1994, p. 83). Additionally, Mintz felt that Oswald should be “young and snappy looking, with a monocle,” rather than the older, pear-shaped father figure depicted in Poor Papa (Gabler, Neal, Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, NY: 2006, p. 102).
Disney and Iwerks refined the character’s appearance and on September 5, 1927, Trolley Troubles was released, introducing Oswald to the public. With each successive short film, Oswald’s popularity grew and his image was widely reproduced on commercial merchandise. In February 1928, Disney’s contract for the Oswald shorts ran out and he flew to New York to negotiate with Charles Mintz. With the character’s success in mind, Disney asked for an increased payment for the shorts. Mintz countered him with an offer to continue the series at a lower rate of payment, eventually revealing to Disney that Mintz had signed up most of his animators for Mintz’s own company and that Universal, not Disney, owned the rights to the character. Defeated, Disney returned to Los Angeles and his one remaining animator, Ub Iwerks. Success would be theirs though, as their new creation, Mickey Mouse, quickly took over the popular imagination. Poor Papa was finally released on August 26, 1928 and Charles Mintz and later Walter Lanz continued creating Oswald cartoons until 1943.