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Lost Disney Film Discovered in BFI National Archive

Walt Disney Animation Studios restoration of 1928 short, ‘Sleigh Bells,’ featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, to be screened at BFI event on December 12.

A scene from ‘Sleigh Bells’ (1928): Oswald the Rabbit skates towards his wife, Ortensia the cat. © Walt Disney Animation Studios Ltd.

LONDON -- The BFI National Archive and Walt Disney Animation Studios have announced the rediscovery of a rare, long-lost, Walt Disney animated film Sleigh Bells (1928) featuring the first ever Disney character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a long-eared precursor to Mickey Mouse. The world premiere of the new restoration of the film by Walt Disney Animation Studios will take place at BFI Southbank on December 12 as part the “It’s A Disney Christmas: Seasonal Shorts” screening program, screening other festive Disney gems from the 1930’s to the present day.

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was invented by Walt Disney in 1927 and was loved for his mischievous and rebellious personality. A number of other films do survive but Sleigh Bells has been, until now, a lost film, unseen since its original release. The animation in the film was accomplished by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, both of whom went on to create the character of Mickey Mouse, following a contractual disagreement with Universal, for whom they had created the Oswald films.

The print of Sleigh Bells (1928) was preserved in the collections of the BFI National Archive. The exciting re-discovery was made by a researcher browsing the online catalogue of the BFI National Archive’s holdings. Walt Disney Animation Studios have taken this unique surviving film print and created both a new preservation print and digital copies. The film has a running time of approximately six minutes.

“What a joyful treat to discover a long-lost Walt Disney film in the BFI National Archive and to be able to show Sleigh Bells to a whole new audience 87 years after it was made,” said, BFI National Archive head curator Robin Baker. “The restoration of this film will introduce many audiences to Disney’s work in the silent period -- it clearly demonstrates the vitality and imagination of his animation at a key point in his early career. We thank Walt Disney for working with us and are thrilled to present the world premiere of this restored version here in London at BFI Southbank.”

“We're thrilled to be collaborating with the BFI National Archives in the restoration of the 'lost' Oswald short, Sleigh Bells, and to be sharing this delightful animated discovery with audiences in the U.K. as part of this special Disney holiday program,” added Andrew Millstein, President of Walt Disney Animation Studios, which oversaw the restoration. “The Oswald shorts are an important part of our Studios' history, and we have been working with film archives and private collectors all around the world to research the missing titles. We are grateful to Katrina Stokes, Robin Baker, and their associates at the BFI for helping us locate and preserve Sleigh Bells.”

TRT 90 minutes (suitable for all ages)

There has always been a special connection between Walt Disney and Christmas, so what better way to prepare for the yuletide season than by watching some of the best Disney shorts from the 1930s to the present day?

This special program includes the world premiere of the newly restored Oswald the Rabbit film Sleigh Bells (1928), missing for decades and recently discovered by the BFI and restored by Walt Disney Animation Studios, alongside gems such as Mickey’s Good Deed (1932), Night Before Christmas (1933), The Art of Skiing (1941), Pluto’s Christmas Tree (1952), Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983), Prep and Landing: Operation Secret Santa (2010) and Frozen Fever (2015).

Tickets are available at Under 16s £4, adults £11.75, concs £9.20. Combo ticket offer: 1 adult + 1 child £10 (Members pay £1.50 less)

Source: British Film Institute

Jennifer Wolfe's picture

Formerly Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network, Jennifer Wolfe has worked in the Media & Entertainment industry as a writer and PR professional since 2003.