Review: The Original Felix the Cat (1922 – 1930)
It is damn near impossible to understand the popularity and influence of Felix the Cat during the silent era. Impossible until you watch this cool kitty pull some really surreal tricks, that is. Since I’m sometimes sad that I no longer get to indulge in Saturday morning cartoons, I curled up on the sofa this past weekend and watched The Original Felix the Cat (1922-1920) from Reelclassicdvd.com. This release features 13 animated shorts from Felix’s heyday, and for silent film fans (and the young at heart) this is a must see.
Felix’s origin story is a little foggy (multiple people claim birthrights) but what we do know is that Felix was created in Pat Sullivan’s animation studio and introduced to the public on November 9, 1919 as Master Tom, a prototype of Felix, in a Paramount Pictures short entitled Feline Follies. Then it was on! Felix the Cat became the first animated character to really pack movie theaters. His familiar black body, white face, and giant grin eventually graced merch from toys to postcards to stuffed animals. Felix even has the distinction of being the first giant balloon made for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Felix was riding high – until that insufferable talking mouse came along (but that’s a story for another time).
I wasn’t too familiar with Felix’s actual work until I watched The Original Felix the Cat (1922-1920). Sure I knew his face, but I hadn’t seen too many of the movies. Watching 13 in a row was illuminating and clearly illustrated why Felix was such a silent era sensation. These little cartoons are surreal, people! They all pretty much have the same premise – Felix is hungry, Felix tries to beg/borrow/steal some food, wackiness ensures. But the freedom of animation allowed Felix to do things which really couldn’t be done in the halcyon pre-CGI days. For instance, when Felix decides to go to Alaska where salmon is plentiful, he uses a pair of question mark thought bubbles to make a sled and hitches a team of sausages to pull it. Or in another instance, when Felix needs a telescope he simply plucks off his own tail and uses it as a spy glass. These things are done without fanfare in Felix the Cat cartoons – they just are.
Another striking thing about the Felix the Cat shorts is the lack of intertitles. There are a few, but not very many. Turns out, cartoon cats and their goings on don’t need a lot of exposition. It’s easy to posit why audiences of the day, perhaps largely recent immigrant populations with limited literacy skills, would totally dig these movies. Felix is cute enough and funny enough to entertain children, and just sophisticated enough to amuse adults as well. Maybe Felix is the people’s cat? At any rate, silent film fans have a severe knowledge gap if they don’t know Felix the Cat.
The Original Felix the Cat (1922-1920) includes:
Felix Minds the Kid (1922)
Felix Dopes it (1924)
Felix Gets the Can (1924)
Felix Trifles with Time (1925)
Felix the Cat Hunts the Hunter (1926)
Two-Lip Time (1926)
Felix the Cat Busts a Bubble (1926)
Flim Flam Films (1927)
Felix the Cat Hits the Deck (1927)
Outdoor Indore (1928)
Sure-Locked Homes (1928)
Tee Time (1930)
[sws_yellow_box box_size="600"] I got my copy of The Original Felix the Cat (1922-1920) on dvd from reelclassicdvd.com. For a mere $20, you can too. You can also pick up any of a number of hard to find silent era films on dvd. [/sws_yellow_box]