Saturday, November 2, 2013

"Neptune Nonsense" - Felix the Cat (1936)

We all tend to think of Felix the Cat in terms of the 1950’s cartoons we saw on television. But Felix had a long life before that incarnation. He actually dates back to the days of silent films. He is also the first cartoon character to ever have a fan base of his own, preceding even Mickey Mouse in that regard.

Felix’s real background is somewhat obscured, with ownership being claimed by  an Australian cartoonist named Pat Sullivan. He claims to be the original creator of Felix. An American animator named Otto Messmer, who worked for Mr. Sullivan, has also been created with Felix’s birth. But, since Sullivan did have the Felix character in a newspaper comic strip prior to the partnership with Messmer, so I suppose he is the original, although even in that endeavor he had a partner named Joe Oliolo.

Felix was so popular during the 1920’s that he spawned a whole line of products, ceramics, postcards and even stuffed toys. He was also the subject of several jazz songs of the time, the most notable being Paul Whiteman's "Felix Kept on Walking".

When sound arrived in the theater, Sullivan was at first against giving his character a voice, but within a year had caved into the change. For whatever reason, the cartoon failed against the newer characters coming from Disney and others. There was a short time in the 1930’s when Felix enjoyed a short resurgence, and this cartoon is from that period with the Van Beuren Studios.

The Felix cartoons on American TV in the 1950’s, with which most of us are familiar, were the product of Sullivan’s old partner Joe Oriolo. He reintroduced Felix in an altered form with new characters, and a "Magic Bag of Tricks".  And of course there was that theme song…

In this 1936 offering, Felix decides that his fish is lonely and goes in search of a companion for it. A delightfully silly plot and great animation make this one a keeper, as well as a doorway into Felix’s past.

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