"It all started with a mouse" - so went Walt Disney's famously self-depreciating assessment of his burgeoning cartoon empire. But what Disney buffs didn't find out until a few years ago is that Walt made that statement with his fingers crossed behind his back.
He knew back then what the Disney's Epic Mickey series has since taught the world; if you tear down the House of Mouse to its foundations and strip its walls of their Cinderella gloss, you'll discover that it was all built off the back of a hutch belonging to a certain Oswald The Lucky Rabbit.
Those who played the first Epic Mickey will already be well aware of Mickey's gangly-eared half-brother. Those who haven't (and were born after 1920)? Maybe not so much. Oswald, to bring you up to speed, was a young Walt Disney's first major success story.
The leery lagomorph first oozed out of Disney's pen while he was employed as an artist for Universal Pictures, and for an eighteen-month period in 1927-1928, Oswald was legitimately one of the world's most popular cartoon characters. Clause 15.1 of Walt's contract ended the fun; it allowed Universal to strip Disney of the rights to Oswald and boot him out the door, and that's precisely what they did. Gits!
We all know how that worked out for Universal: Disney formed his own company, hired Mickey Mouse and took over the world; Oswald wilted into obscurity and ended up wallowing in NBC's scraps drawer until 2006, when the Disney Company swooped to reclaim his rights in exchange for Football commentator Al Michaels. It was possibly the only time in history an actual human being was traded for a cartoon entity, and it makes us wonder what animated treats our own writing staff could be converted into. Surely our wordbot Tom is worth a Penny Crayon, if not a What-A-Mess.
After nearly 80 years of slumming it in NBC's basement with Teddy Ruxpin and the cast from Saved By The Bell: The College Years, you could forgive Oswald for harboring a grudge against his well-to-do rodenty bro, and indeed this conflict formed the basis for the plot of the first Epic Mickey game. But while Epic Mickey re-introduced us to Oswald, it didn't let us get to know him, and that's where the sequel steps in. Mickey Mouse might be the name on the matinee, but make no mistake about it: this is a story about Oswald the Lucky Rabbit...
You only need to spend a moment in producer Warren Spector's presence to know that this is a man who loves himself some Disney. Ask him about what it was like to be let loose in Disney's video vault and his eyes light up. Question him on whether there's enough material to warrant an Epic Mickey sequel and the lights turn to flames. ("Are you kidding me? There's enough material there to make a hundred Epic Mickey games"). In short, he's the perfect man to undertake one of the most delicate Disney operations of the last 50 years - giving a silent era star a modern day voice.
And we do mean a voice - for the first time ever, words will tumble out of Oswald's mouth courtesy of the dulcet tones of Frank 'Megatron' Welker. That Oswald breaks his 85-year silence in a videogame is obviously a big deal for the medium and Spector says that we, as gamers, can be proud that we're at the "vanguard" of Oswald's rebirth.
To celebrate, we were shown one of the 14 surviving Oswald cartoons, "Hungry Hobos". Presumed lost until as recently as this past March, the five minute clip is chock-full of vintage animal abuse-orientated humour. In just 300 seconds, our boy Ossie manages to punch a cow in the face and rips the neck off a hen to access her eggy innards. Admittedly hilarious slapstick comedy, but not the sort of thing that flies in today's more cow-friendly society. We know: it's political correctness gone mad, etc.