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E3: Disney's Epic Mickey game reunites the iconic mouse with older, bitter brother [Updated]

June 17, 2010 |  1:25 pm

Remember Oswald? Most people don’t. He was Mickey Mouse’s older brother, created by Walt Disney in the 1920s. Disney left behind Mickey’s obscure sibling in 1928 in a bitter contract dispute with his publisher.

Swearing never again to lose the rights of his characters, Disney’s insistence on complete control went on to become legend.

Fast forward 78 years to 2006. The Walt Disney Co. regained the rights to Oswald. How? Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger had made a swap: "Monday Night Football" announcer Al Michaels for the black-and-white mouse. When ESPN became the new home of "Monday Night Football," Michaels wanted to go to NBC to be part of its Sunday football package. 

Many assumed the trade was done to smooth out a historical wrinkle. This week, Iger revealed he had other plans in the back of his mind. Oswald was to be reunited with his younger brother in an unusual video game called Epic Mickey.

Epic Mickey Ears

[For the record: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to Oswald as a mouse. Oswald is a rabbit. Disney is describing Mickey and Oswald as brothers for the purpose of the video game.]

Slated for release later this year, the game gives Oswald a starring role as ruler of Wasteland, a misshapen cartoon world that Mickey had inadvertently devastated. We find Oswald, steeped for years in resentment over his younger brother’s meteoric rise.

In the game, the player assu

mes the role of Mickey, trapped in Wasteland, a strange parallel cartoon world inhabited by rejected and forgotten Disney cartoon characters. As Mickey, the player has to decide what he must do to correct his mistake.

Oswald’s journey from basement filing cabinets at Universal to Disney and into the game started in 2004, when the head of Disney’s video game unit, Graham Hopper, decided to pull the plug on future Mickey games after a string of poorly performing titles.

“We weren’t happy with the quality of the titles,” said Hopper, who asked a team of developers to rethink the company’s approach to games featuring Mickey.

They came up with a bold concept: Put Mickey in a dark world inhabited by Oswald. They showed the concept to Iger, who immediately set about acquiring the rights to Walt Disney’s first animated character.

“It’s a family reunion," Hopper said, then adding with a wink, "That's why it's epic."

If you think Oswald is angry, think how Al Michaels felt when he learned he was traded for a mouse.

-- Alex Pham