The BFI National Film Archive have unearthed what is believed to be Disney’s earliest film, Sleigh Bells. The film was thought to be lost. It features Disney’s first character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, considered to be an early prototype for Mickey Mouse.

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt Disney's first character

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt Disney’s first character Image by BFI National Archive / CC BY 2.0

The film was discovered by a researcher browsing through the BFI’s online archives in London, and now it’s to get its world premiere after 87 years. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was invented by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks for Universal in 1927 before they went on to create Mickey Mouse.

Other Oswald cartoons have survived but Sleigh Bells was lost until the lucky researcher came across the one surviving print. The cartoon has been fully restored by Walt Disney Animation Studios and is due to be screened on December 12th as part of a series of Christmas Shorts that will be shown at BFI Southbank. For more information see here.

Sleigh Bells is to be screened for the first time in 87 years

Sleigh Bells is to be screened for the first time in 87 years Image by BFI National Film Archive / CC BY 2.0

Speaking to the BBC, Robin Baker of the National Archive said, “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.”