LESSONS FROM WALT: LOSING OSWALD

In 1927, after a successful run of an innovative series of a live action girl mixed within a cartoon called, Alice Comedies, Walt Disney created an animated cartoon character by the name of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. This “peppy, alert, saucy, and venturesome” Oswald was an instant hit for Disney and his team. Although the first 27 shorts were produced at the Walt Disney Studios, they were distributed by Universal Studios. Without doing much homework, Disney signed a contract that didn’t leave him financially secure. Long and complicated story short, a year later, Charles Mintz (a middle man from Winkler Pictures) claimed the rights to Oswald and hired away his animators, telling Walt Disney….“You’re finished!”

Imagine living in that moment. You’re successfully on top of the world with a great product. But suddenly, the sheets of paper with your creation is pulled out from your desk, with those final words that your career is done. You’re broke as it is, and now you’re lost. You feel like a complete failure. 

I’ve been there. I was on top of the world and reaching for Heaven while I was working in Monterey, California. Then, suddenly…out of nowhere, I was pulled aside, not to be congratulated on a job well done, but to be told that I was done.

I was a bit shocked, to say the least. Despite all the the success, I felt like I absolutely failed. Then the realization that I’m going to be penniless hit me. What Would Walt Do?

For Walt Disney, he was crushed. He just lost his Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. But he was determined to move forward. And this time, he was not going to let anyone own his creation. There was no time to waste. With the help of his long time friend and animation partner Ub Iwerks, they were able to come up with a new character that would change not just animation, but become a mascot of an empire. Where would the world be today without Mickey Mouse. 

Think about this. We would not have Mickey, then Snow White, perhaps even Disneyland, had it not been for Walt’s world crashing down all around him. And that is what I needed to focus on. I needed to move forward. Indeed, better days were ahead.

If you’ve found yourself in the same situation, don’t give up. I know. Easier said than done. Especially when you’re living in the moment. Take your talents to the next level. Imagine the future. Find your ‘Mickey Mouse’, if you will. And build upon it.

Disney would tell you that it all started with a mouse. But it may not have happened, had it not been for losing the rabbit.

FOOTNOTE: In 2006, Universal Studios returned Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to the Walt Disney Company.

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