Now this is something that you don’t see everyday…a 1936 short featuring an animated Oswald Rabbit “performing” live action marionettes.
Oswald is better known as “Oswald The Lucky Rabbit”, a cartoon character originally created by Walt Disney who was extremely popular in the late 1920s. When Disney famously lost the rights to Oswald in 1928*, a mouse named Mickey took Oswald’s place as the studio’s star and the rest, as they say, is history.
Walter Lanz’s studio – probably best known for creating Woody Woodpecker – eventually took up production duties on the Oswald cartoons in 1929 and this short is from Oswald’s mid-1930s “White Rabbit” period. Lantz had recently bought his cartoon studio from the then-bankrupt Universal Studios and was eagerly experimenting with new characters, designs and production techniques to gain public attention (that “Puppet Show” was likely a lot cheaper to produce than a full animated short no doubt helped).
Paul Walton and Michael O’Rourke – generally considered two of the better American marionette artists of the 1930s – apparently performed the routine seen in the film. This is believed to be one of the only known recordings of their work that exists.
What’s really unfortunately about this short is that it features a pair of Minstrel-esque “Blackface” puppets. These sort of caricatures are deeply offensive to most people today, but were sadly all-too-commonly performed by White puppeteers during the 1930s. Despite (or perhaps because of) the film’s condescending portrayal of African-Americans, Puppet Show provides an interesting glimpse at what some puppet shows looked like in Depression-era America.
A big thank you to Steve Abrams for discovering this and sharing some of the background information included in this post!
*True (bonus) story about Oswald…in what’s surely one of the weirdest entertainment deals ever, Disney actually traded sportscaster Al Michaels to NBC Universal to get back all of Disney’s long-lost Oswald rights in 2006.