Golden Anniversary Edition
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All photos © Classic Media
Reviewed by Jason Thompson
efore we start with the review proper for this excellent set of Felix the Cat cartoons, let it be known (as the front of the product’s case states) that this is only 31 episodes which make up the “complete 1958-1959 full-color series.” Some fans have balked at this set saying it’s not the complete full-color Felix series, yet they apparently don’t understand what “1958-1959” means. No, it’s not the complete collection of all 260 Felix cartoons produced for television at the time. How could such an enormous amount of cartoons have even been created in one short year? They couldn’t have. So purists, please get your facts straight before giving short shrift to this set.
Anyway, Felix the Cat is easily one of the most beloved and most recognizable cartoon characters of all time. Even Mickey Mouse was patterned after the feline in his original look. But more on that a bit later. Felix started out as a joint creation of film studio guru Pat Sullivan and animator Otto Messmer. In 1919 the pair were asked to create an animated short by Paramount Studios and the result was “Feline Follies,” which featured a cat character named “Master Tom” who was the basic blueprint for Felix. The short turned out to be so successful that Paramount asked for more. Sullivan wasn’t quite so interested in creating a series, as his intention was originally a one-off project. But he offered the job to Messmer, and so Felix’s long history was kicked off in earnest. It should be noted that it was Messmer who more or less actually “created” Felix, but always let Sullivan have the credit, and without argument.
The original series of theatrical Felix cartoons were both surreal and wonderful. Messmer’s animation would go on to influence the people over at Disney Studios. In the meantime, Felix was hugely popular, the character working its way into mass merchandising and even popular songs of the day. Unfortunately, when talkies took over, Pat Sullivan decided not to follow the other studios and Felix remained a silent feature. Of course, we all know how history turned out. Disney was one of the studios to make the leap into sound and so did their star Mickey Mouse, who soon became bigger than Felix, leaving the cat in the dust, even after Sullivan went ahead and produced a couple of Felix shorts with sound after the success of “Steamboat Willie.”
A series of odd tragedies wound up plaguing Sullivan, and he died suddenly in 1933. Since Messmer had no personal stake in any of the Felix theatrical cartoons or Sullivan’s studio, the shorts ceased entirely. However, Messmer continued Felix’s life in the newspaper comic strips where he remained hugely popular. In 1954, Messmer handed Felix over to his friend Joe Oriolo, who would hook up with Pat Sullivan’s nephew and Trans-Lux studios to begin creating an all-new set of Felix cartoons for the television market in 1958. A few years earlier, all the original Felix cartoons had been given soundtracks by Official Films and redistributed to theaters and TV outlets. They still proved popular, so creating new product seemed like the next logical step.
Oriolo’s version of Felix was slightly changed from the old shorts. He gave Felix a “magic bag” that could turn into any random item that Felix might need in a pinch. Felix was also given a supporting cast of characters to work with, including The Professor, who initially wanted nothing more than to dispose of Felix and steal his magic bag; Rock Bottom, a bulldog-type thug who was always trying to make a quick buck and was always in cahoots with The Professor; and Poindexter, The Professor’s nephew who was always getting Felix into oddball mischief.
In this “Golden Anniversary Edition” collection that we get to see Felix start all over again in the then-strange-new world of television. Oriolo’s style was different, yet not too far removed from Messmer’s original vision. Granted, Felix’s magic bag took the place of his “magic tail” that got him out of jams in the old silent shorts, but a lot of the simple yet elegant animated style remained intact. Fans will instantly recognize Messmer’s dotted “sight lines” (that connect the dots from Felix’s eyes to something important that grabs his attention) that were used countless times in Messmer’s shorts. There is also still a nice feel of the surreal underlying these cartoons, even if Felix was now working with an ensemble cast to play off of. There was indeed still no shortage of bizarre situations that he found himself in. One need look no further than the wacked-out “Friday the 13th” short included here for proof.
All 31 of these episodes have been remastered and look fantastic. Indeed, these cartoons look a lot better than some of today’s popular cartoon series that have been boxed up and remastered (the first season of “Batman: The Animated Series” comes to mind). Hopefully, Classic Media will continue to release more of the Felix cartoons and continue this important archiving of one of animation’s greatest icons of all time. The “Golden Anniversary Edition” is essential viewing for adults and kids alike, who will no doubt be mesmerized by Felix’s magic bag of tricks and his happy-go-lucky demeanor. Excellent stuff, through and through. Though if there’s one fault for this collection to be had, it’s that watching some of the episodes back to back can start to feel a little similar after a while. Trans-Lux wasn’t Warner Brothers and Felix’s situations weren’t always as clever as Bugs Bunny’s or the Road Runner’s, but they’re still a lot of fun.Special Features: Included in this collection is the original “Feline Follies” short, so those new to Felix can catch a glimpse of his origins. The ending to the cartoon has to be one of the most bizarre ever, but understandable, given that Pat Sullivan didn’t know he was going to soon be asked to create a full series. There’s also a short but fun interview with John Canemaker called “Through the Ages.” Canemaker has written an authoritative book on the history of Felix the Cat and in this chat he lays down the basic history of the cartoon. Finally, there is an archival promo reel that features a couple of original TV commercials for the new Felix series, as well as some interesting opening title cards and theme songs sung in other languages. Felix was indeed everywhere.