Since this time of year tends to be for the bunnies, I thought it would be fitting to take a look at a short starring Disney's very first rabbit, the very lucky Oswald! Why not start with the short that launched his career, Trolley Troubles?
Trolley Troubles opens up at a Trolley Station where Oswald, working as a trolley driver, is cleaning and oiling his trolley. Once getting his trolley started (and hitting a couple of his pesky assistants out of the way), Oswald picks up his passengers (or rather stuffs his cart full of passengers) which consists of various animals from cats, rabbits, mice and the like, and then is soon on his way.
The "troubles" start off as mere bumps on the roads and gaps in the tracks, which the trolley is conveniently able to squish and stretch accordingly. Things get more problematic when they encounter a cow on the track who refuses to move. After pushing and complaining to the cow get nowhere, Oswald starts to back up his trolley and then puts on full speed directly towards cow, only to have the trolley bounce back and the cow remaining unmoved and unscratched by the hit (the cow obviously being made of vibranium). The cow eventually changes position slightly, which allows Oswald to drive underneath the cow.
The trolley's victory is short-lived however, as they soon reach a steep hill in which the trolley is unable to drive over. Thankfully, due to some clever engineering, Oswald attaches a pole to a goat, and by luring the goat with his tail, the goat is able to push the trolley up the hill. After the trolley rushes down the hill, the car finds itself down a long bumpy road, which throws all of the passengers out of the vehicle. With all hope seeming to be lost, Oswald does some praying, and then finds himself "luckily" surviving the runaway cart as the trolley crashes into a river. Becoming a raft, Oswald finds himself rowing downstream a river.
Like many shorts of this time, Trolley Troubles doesn't contain a lot of story, as its plot is heavily gag-driven, but oh what gags they are! There is some great squish-and-squash animation in here, wonderfully shattering Newton's Laws of Physics in a way that would make even the Looney Tunes envious. My favorite parts are when Oswald is able to remove his body parts and uses them as props; perhaps most notably when he pulls his foot out and rubs it behind his ear for good-luck. This gag would later be recreated through-out Mickey's career, starting to when Mickey removes his ears as a hat in The Carnival Kid.
If your reading this review, chances are you at least have a basic understanding of who Oswald is, how he started as a character Walt's animation studio created for Universal to distribute, only for Universal to have hired all of Walt's animators away when Walt wanted a bigger budget for the Oswald shorts. Walt would then go on to create Mickey Mouse, thus the birth of the Disney Empire, while Oswald entered obscurity in the early 1940s after a fairly popular run, until The Walt Disney Company gained his rights back in 2006 after trading sportscaster Al Michaels, which has resulted in Oswald slowly becoming a common presence through-out the company.
While Oswald still remains a fairly obscure character in the eyes of most of the general public, it's probably safe to say Trolley Troubles is his most "iconic" short, as it's featured as a level on 2010's Epic Mickey, and is ultimately why Oswald has become a meet-and-greet character in Buena Vista Street near the Red Car Trolley, tying it in perfectly to Trolley Troubles.
In addition to having the distinction of being first, what makes this short stand out from all of Oswald's other shorts is the fact it's about a trolley, which ties into Walt's lifelong obsession with transportation systems. It also makes Oswald's similarities to Mickey that much stronger given that his debut short was also about transportation.
Trolley Troubles can be found on DVD in Walt Disney Treasures volume The Adventures of Oswald The Lucky Rabbit. With news in December that a missing Oswald short, titled Empty Socks, was discovered in Norway, hopefully that Walt Disney Treasure won't be the last time these historic shorts are released on home video.