Thursday, February 9, 2012

Felix the Cat Essay

Felix the Cat Essay

Abstract
The paper describes in brief advent of Felix the Cat animation picture, the main landmarks of its early historical development till 1930s. a summary and evaluation of some of the pictures from the series is given.

History of Advent
For the first time Felix the Cat appeared on the screen on November 9 1919 in short five-minute “Feline Follies” as a part of a Paramount Magazine. The following years brought the Cat as well as the technology of animation worldwide fame. In fact, Felix was the first cartoon character to gain such a level of popularity enough to draw audiences to the picture only by his star power. He was also the first television star, as his image was the first one ever broadcast through means of television. Cat’s black body, huge white eyes and giant grin together with surrealism of situations gets into, made him the best know cartoon character in the world. He remained at the top of popularity until the advent of Disney’s Mickey Mouse. [4]

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Despite the fact that the Cat was actually created by Otto Messmer, Pat Sullivan assumed all the fame for creating him, as Sullivan placed only his label everywhere he could. Messmer was just doing what he liked – he drew. Actually Pat Sullivan in 1917 had made a cartoon named “The Tail of Thomas Kat” starring a prototype of Felix. This character was called Master Tom and this name didn’t change until the third series. In 1923 Felix was for the first time introduced as a newspaper comic and was distributed by King Features. [4]

Felix’s Popularity
The Cat’s popularity was enormous: his image was used to a great range of products from baby oil to cigars. Yet, Felix wasn’t just a wonder of marketing acumen, the cartoons were an example of some of the wittiest animation of the silent pictures era. Owing to his creator, Felix possessed an outstanding personality. While most of other cartoon characters had little individuality, Messmer managed to endow the Cat with his own traits, manners and mimicry. One important feature: when Felix was faced a problem and was seeking for an answer he would walk back and forth with his head handing low and his hands locked behind his back. And he always found an answer, as he was the fastest-thinking animation character ever! [1]

Era of Sound
When the arrival of era of sound many old-fashioned actors have finished their careers. Quite similar thing happened to Felix. Pat Sullivan possessed too narrow vision that didn’t let him to upgrade the studio to new technical standards. So, Felix disappeared from the screen for a while. Sullivan has missed his chance. Such rapidly growing studios like Disney and Fleischers squeezed Felix’s native studio out. Their technology could no longer keep up and creative forces had been exhausted. In attempt to save the situation, sound was added later on. [4] First, the studio added sound to already existing silent cartoons, such as Astronomeows (1928), then original films animated around sound. In the first instance sound was added in attempt to increase the comedy of the situation. Sound cost the Cat too much. Sound-related expenses took their toll on creativity. In later cartoons such as April Maze animation is tragic and awkward. Felix’s movements are no longer so natural, organic and at the same time abstract as Messmer once managed to draw. Over time, the Cat’s character changes for the worse as well. He became more and more domesticated, finally timid and child-like. [1, 2]

Characteristics of Series
“Felix Saves the Day” was the first genuine Felix the Cat cartoon. It presents one of the most archetypical plots of the Felix animation film. Felix comes to the rescue of his friend and finds witty, eccentric way to save the day. In this cartoon the ballplayer friend of Felix is thrown to jail just one day before the important game. While Felix doesn’t win the game literally, he finds a method to put the outcome of the game off to a later date. He beans Jupiter, the god, with a pop that burns into heaven. Jupiter sends a downpour of rain in revenge, which cancels the game. [1]

In this cartoon Messmer reveals a full range of the treats that would make Felix so dear to the audience. The picture is filled with fantastic events, yet the plot revolves around a common thing – a baseball game in New York City. In this cartoon Felix is confused for the first time. A bunch of question marks appear out of his head. It appears that it is possible for him (in Felix cartoon everything’s possible!) to climb up to the window several floors high. He uses punctuation in a witty manner also in “Felix Finds ‘Em Fickle” (1924), as he clubs the bear into head with a exclamation mark that leaped from his head. In this early cartoon Master Tom, a cat, courts a kitty that lives nearby. Tom has no traits like Felix does, in fact, nearly all the early cartoon characters of the silent era were nondescript. Towards the end of the picture Felix uses signs of notes that leap out of Mater Tom’s guitar, makes a go-cart out of them and rides off. This kind of surprising and fantastic action has become a hallmark of Felix the Cat cartoons. [1]

Felix helps a hen-pecked husband to find a coat for his wife in “Felix Goes A-Hunting” (1923). In “Felix in Hollywood (1923) he helps his proprietor to get to the Hollywood and helps an owner of a shoe store sell his shoes. The most endearing quality of Felix’s character is readiness and willingness to help out anyone. Thus, in “Felix Lends a Hand” (1922) he goes to Egypt on a flying carpet to rescue a girlfriend of a shop owner. And whatever the case is, Felix’s solutions and decisions are anything but commonplace things. [2]

He is not always that lucky, though. Sometimes the Cat’s solutions do not work as intended. In “Felix Goes A-Hunting” he causes a bear to chase him so that a hunter would shoot the bear. But the hunter is not ready so that the bear runs right into hunter’s house and his wife. In “Felix Lends a Hand” he finds out that the girlfriend has become so fat he can’t get her on a flying carpet.

In “Felix Dines and Pines” (1927) the action develops in a rather dramatic way. First, the Cat can’t catch a mouse, then a chicken and jumping beans and eats a shoe instead. The shoe brings him a lot of trouble and action turns into hallucinatory nightmare. [3]

Decline of Cartoon
Pat Sullivan’s Studio gradually dissolves and after his death in 1933 only Otto Messmer remains. The value of Felix as a trademark fell dramatically. “The first Cat to Act” now appeared on pages of children books. In spite of this, Otto Messmer continued to draw his Cat on a daily basis, for living. [2]

After a few decades of virtual oblivion, as he was appearing only in children’s books and comic strips, which was nothing compared to the glory he enjoyed before, Messmer’s assistant Joe Oriolo produced TV series about Felix’s Magic Bag of Tricks in 1958. Since then a number of TV series appeared including Film Roman’s Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat. [4]
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