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Western Animation / Felix the Cat (Otto Messmer)

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The original Otto Messmer cartoons that started it all, these are the original Silent Age and Golden Age cartoons that jumpstarted the famous Felix the Cat cartoon series.

Unlike Joe Oriolo's softer take on the character, the original Felix the Cat cartoons were geared more towards an adult audience, and are unmistakably set in a surreal, comedic caricature of 1920's urban culture, with some fairy tale and fantasy elements sandwiched in. Felix is portrayed as a nomadic Anti-Hero who acts on his own in the bulk of these cartoons, with recurring side characters being kept minimal and only sporadically appearing. The newspaper comics and comic books are all derived from this era, but there is an overlapping period between them and the Oriolo Felix due to Joe Oriolo taking over the art and writing chores for them around 1954 and running them up to the early 60's.

Paramount distributed the earliest cartoons from 1919 to 1921, while Winkler distributed the shorts from 1922 up to 1925, the year when Educational Pictures took over the distribution of the shorts. In 1928, Educational ended distribution and several shorts were reissued by First National Pictures. Copley Pictures distributed the sound cartoons from 1929 to 1931.

In 1936, a few years after the original Pat Sullivan studio that produced the cartoons had folded, a very brief three short revival of the series was made by the Van Beuren cartoon studio and distributed by RKO as part of Van Beuren's Rainbow Parade cartoon series. Being helmed by ex-Disney director Burt Gillett, they have very little in common with the Otto Messmer cartoons, completely throwing out the comic like art style and surrealistic tone in favor of pure fairy tale style cartoons, with Felix himself being revamped into a more child like character. Three shorts were made for this revival, and evidence has surfaced that at least two more were planned, but the Van Beuren studio abruptly went belly-up in 1936 before anything beyond story and design work had been done.

While the cartoons were put on ice, the classic Felix series managed to find new life in the form of various newspaper comics and comic books, with the former running all the way up to the series transition into the Joe Oriolo era. The newspaper comics often carried a topper page centered on a parrot named Laura and her owners, and the comic books often had an anthology format that featured side stories of oneshot or bit-player characters alongside the main Felix stories. Otto Messmer drew the lion's share of the comic books up to his retirement around 1954, with Joe Oriolo and Jim Tyer sometimes moonlighting artwork in them. Oriolo himself took over art duties of the comic once Otto left, and would eventually end up running the iconic made-for-TV revival of the series.

Although the majority of these cartoons have become Public Domain material, the ancillary rights to all of the original cartoons, including the remaining original film elements, merchandising/licensing rights and the copyrights to the few cartoons that didn't lapse into the public domain, are owned by NBCUniversal, the parent company of Felix the Cat owner DreamWorks Animation. Universal gained ownership of the cartoons and the character in August 2016 after acquiring DreamWorks, who had bought the character and related material in question from Don Oriolo in 2014. So far, there has never been an official home video release of the surviving cartoons, due to a combination of the deteriorating film elements and the slew of public domain releases in the market. It may take a while before Universal decides to do anything with the cartoons.

A recap page for these cartoons can be found here.

Tropes Related To The Silent and Golden Age Felix Cartoons and Comics

  • Animation Bump: The series got much more refined in its animation as time went on. The early cartoons were very stiff and rather crudely made. But come the 1922-1924 period, when Messmer starting hiring more animators, including the esteemed Bill Nolan, the animation got much more rubbery, fluid and appealing.
    • The three Van Beuren Studios Felix shorts are fairly well animated and feature lavish color and backgrounds, and as such are a considerable animation upgrade from the original cartoons—no surprise, considering their director, Burt Gillett, was a former Disney animator and director.
    • For a more specific example, "Bold King Cole", the third and last of the Van Beuren shorts, has an impressively animated staircase scene that moves in perspective.
  • Anthology Comic: Typical of 40's and 50's comics, the Felix comic books had multiple stories, some of which were centered on characters unrelated to Felix. Issue #53 had side stories of characters like Uncle Minus, Don Poco, Joe Blow, a boy named Danny, and a two page prose story about a child named Tod.
  • Anthropomorphic Shift: In his very earliest incarnation (as "Master Tom" in 1919's "Feline Follies"), Felix is shown as being a regular house cat. By the 1920s, he walks upright and talks, even though he's still the pet of humans. In the handful of Felix cartoons made in the 1930s, he's shown living in a society of anthropomorphic animals, and actually keeps pets.
  • Artistic License – Physics: In "Eskimotive", Felix and an (unnamed) little kitten are playing around and blowing bubbles. Eventually, the kid gets trapped in a giant bubble and is sent flying all the way up to the North Pole, where the bubble freezes in mid-air and safely drifts to the ground without popping. In real life, while it technically is possible to freeze a bubble, a bubble that large would have popped well before its moisture could've been frozen, especially if it was hanging in mid-air.
  • Bankruptcy Barrel: In "Felix in the Swim", after Felix and the kid's clothes get eaten by a goat, they go home in barrels. It's pretty odd, since they had both been in swim trunks when their clothes got eaten, and Felix hadn't been wearing clothing to begin with.
  • Baseball Episode: "Felix Saves the Day", which has the bulk of the cartoon centered on a baseball game.
  • Bedsheet Ghost: In Felix the Ghost Breaker, the "ghost" (actually a traveling salesman in disguise) takes on this appearance.
  • Big Budget Beef-Up: The Van Beuren era Felix shorts had much higher budgets than any of the Silent era shorts, and thus have very fluid animation, vivid backgrounds and colors and have a level of polish to them that sometimes borders on Disney quality animation.
  • Cat Concerto: In "Forty Winks", Felix conducts his friends in a chorus outside a guy's house.
  • Cats Have Nine Lives: In Felix Doubles for Darwin, Felix is pacing around hungrily in the opening, and remarks “I'd give eight of my lives for a square meal!”
  • Charlie Chaplin Shout-Out: Felix meets and imitates Chaplin in Felix in Hollywood.
  • Chaste Toons: Perhaps the earliest example, as the kittens Inky and Dinky (the latter renamed Winky in the Joe Oriolo comics) were introduced as Felix's sons in 1926, then suddenly retconned as nephews in 1930. A few pre-1930 comics were even reprinted with the familial relationship changed.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: In "Felix the Ghost Breaker", the ghost scares off a donkey from the farmers barnhouse. In the ending, when its revealed the ghost is really a salesman in disguise, the agitated farmer whistles for his donkey, who returns on the spot and proceeds the kick the salesman into the air, sending him flying to the moon.
  • Cheesy Moon: Present for a gag in a 1920's Felix sunday strip. Felix decides to help out a struggling cheese vendor by climbing a tower and pulling the moon directly out of the sky like its a wheel of cheese, which the shopowner gratefully chops up and begins selling. Unfortunately, he is arrested shortly afterward—the crime being that he's selling Moonshine!
  • Constantly Curious: Otto Messmer described boylike curiosity as being a major trait of Felix's personality, which often ends up getting him into one adventure after another.
    Otto Messmer: "I used an extreme amount of eye motion, wriggling eyes and turning his whiskers, and this seemed to be what hit the public - expressions! I think instead of just having him chase a lot of things around and bumpin' each other, which might be funny, I made him act as a little boy would wonder... how high is that star, how deep is the ocean, what makes the wind blow? I used all those things for a theme."
  • Cute Little Fangs: Felix is sometimes drawn with these.
  • Dastardly Whiplash: In "Uncle Tom's Crabbin", Felix faces off against the original whiplash, Simon Legree, who is the villain of the cartoon.
  • Demoted to Extra: In the comic "Felix And His Friends #3" (1954), the story "Felix and the Merry Midgets" has the story mostly focus on three little dwarfs who help plan a surprise birthday part for Felix, who doesn't show up until late in the story.
  • Deranged Animation: One of the oldest examples. Shorts like "Felix Woos Whoopee" and the climax of Felix Dines and Pines are as weird and surreal as anything Fleischer Studios ever did.
  • Digital Destruction: The 1990's reprint of the old Felix comics, Felix Keeps on Walkin, deliberately altered the original artwork, redoing all of the colors digitally and adding gradients that weren't in the original art, and its linenotes even brag about how they removed bits of the original artwork, such as the expressive cartoon spark lines that pop up around Felix's head.
  • Disney Acid Sequence: The nightmarish climax of "Felix Dines and Pines", where Felix eats way too much stuff, topping it off with a shoe and gets a stomachache induced nightmare from it, including being chased by a monster, encountering Santa Claus (who turns into a monster), running down a spiral tunnel, and then getting chased by a giant chicken that turns into an old man, a mouse, a bandito, a giant boot, and then a fish as the ground turns into an ocean!
  • Disproportionate Retribution: In the comic story "A Fishy Official" (Felix The Cat #54), Felix gets a job at a Census Bureau to count how many fish are in the ocean. He uses a submarine and film to estimate a count of 2,000,000,000 fish and reports the info back to his boss—who has just come back from fishing with six hanging from his hand. His boss immediately fires Felix for inefficiency.
  • Disney School of Acting and Mime: Felix is one of the earliest examples of using this in animation, and it's justified, since almost all of the original B&W films were silent cartoons. Otto Messmer had studied actor Charlie Chaplin extensively (even working on a cartoon series based on him prior to creating Felix) and realized how important it was to get this kind of expressive acting into drawings. While the cartoons do employ speech balloons for the characters to talk, a lot of the personality is conveyed through the broad, hammy poses and animation.
  • Downer Ending: Felix's first theatrical short ends with him sucking on a gas pipe after he gets kicked out of his home and finds out his girlfriend already has kittens.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Feline Follies is so different from the rest of the series, that one would be surprised to believe its the debut of Felix, who is a relatively normal housecat named Master Tom in the cartoon. Heck, the silent cartoons are so drastically different from the rest of the Felix series in tone and style that the only thing that ties them together is that they all star Felix. Also, there was no Magic Bag of Tricks in this era—that iconic element of the series wasn't introduced until the Joe Oriolo era, when the series was 40 years into its life. There are also very few major or recurring characters aside from Felix himself and Kitty Kat, and no recurring antagonists—-often, there wasn't any real antagonist at all in the original films. The pure fantasy elements of the later Felix cartoons were also not as ubiquitous in the silent cartoons.
  • Funny Octopus: "Neptune Nonsense" features an octopus working as a traffic cop on the sea floor. This octopus tickles Felix for bumping into him.
  • Grievous Harm with a Body: Inverted in "Gym Gems", where a boxer ties up Felix and uses him as a punching bag, knocking him around hard enough that he flies right out of the building.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The opening of "Bold King Cole" had Felix singing the lyric "We laugh and play, it keeps us gay, nature and me!". In the 1930's, the word Gay had a different connotation than today, meaning "happy, carefree, joyful".
  • Haunted Castle: The castle in "Bold King Cole", which is inhabited by ghosts of King Cole's ancestors.
  • Hypno Fool: In the opening of Felix the Hypnotist, a hypnotist tries out hypnosis on Felix and a mouse, which allows a mouse to beat up Felix. Felix, despite his defeat, is intrigued by this and steals the mans book on hypnosis to learn how to do it himself.
  • Idea Bulb: Quite often seen in the silent cartoons.
  • Impact Silhouette: In "Felix Goes West", this happens when Felix is thrown through a door by an angry house owner.
  • In Name Only: The Van Beuren era shorts have virtually nothing to do with the original cartoons save for starring Felix himself, who is characterized fairly different than in the past.
  • It's Been Done: Parodied in Felix in Hollywood; Felix invents what he thinks is a new act, but in reality has already been done by Charlie Chaplin, who indignantly scorns Felix for allegedly stealing his act. This also doubles as a Mythology Gag, since Otto Messmer had worked on a series of silent Charlie Chaplin cartoons in the past, and Felix was initially inspired by Charlie Chaplin.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In "Felix the Ghost Breaker", when the ghost is attacking Felix in the dark, it stops to get very close to the camera point its finger directly at the audience, implying that he's going after them next once he's through with Felix.
  • Lightning Can Do Anything: In a Sunday comic, Felix is harassed by a rather nasty lightning bolt that actively follows him, even vaporizing a house he tries to seek shelter in (save for the doorknob he was holding in his hand). Felix turns the tables on it by attracting the bolt to a mousetrap, which allows him to harness it as a power source and sell it.
    • In "Bold King Cole", it can slice through a cloud like a knife, turn Felix's head into a lightbulb, play a piano, and even destroy ghosts!
  • Lighter and Softer: The Van Beuren shorts have none of the urban tone, dark or vulgar gags or surreal nature of the original silent cartoons.
  • Literal Ass-Kicking: In the ending of "Felix the Ghost Breaker", the ghost is trapped at gunpoint by Felix and is revealed by the farmer to be a salesman trying to scare him into buying something from him. The farmer summons his donkey (who had been scared off earlier by the "ghost"), and the donkey kicks the salesman the butt, sending him flying into the moon in the end.
  • Medium Blending:
    • "Felix Saves The Day" has still photographs for backgrounds in some shots, and it even has live action footage at some parts (but the animation and live action do not interact).
    • In "Felix Makes Good", Felix briefly plays catch with a woman shown in live action footage, with the cartoon cutting back and forth between the two. Soon after, a live-action milkman drops the milk off at the woman's house, and the cartoon cuts back to animation as mice steal the milk.
  • Miles Gloriosus: In "Bold King Cole", Felix encounters Old King Cole, who brags about his supposed heroics but then runs an hides from anything he perceives as a threat. Eventually, the spirits of past kings get tired of his bragging and proceed kidnap him, strapping him to a machine to "knock the wind out of the old windbag", and Felix has to face his own fears to rescue him.
  • Mood Whiplash: The opening of "Bold King Cole", where after the first few seconds of Felix singing a very upbeat song, backed up by some very colorful scenery, suddenly cuts straight into a nasty storm scene.
  • Mr. Vice Guy: The Silent era Felix is unmistakably the hero of the cartoons, but he's not without his vices—he's not above pulling strings to get what he wants, such as his first newspaper comic involving bribing some mice to invade a man's house so that he can get a job and food from him in exchange for catching the mice, and even in cartoons where he has a wife and kids (such as in "Flim Flam Films"), he has no shame in flirting with another kitten nearby.
  • No Antagonist: The bulk of the Silent/Golden Age cartoons had very few if any clear cut villains for Felix to deal with. They're mostly centered in Felix being a cat trying to survive and find food in a selfish, rough n tumble world.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Felix is heavily based off of Charlie Chaplin, and The Tramp himself appears in Felix in Hollywood.
  • Overly Preprepared Gag: The punch line in Felix Doubles For Darwin takes several minutes to set up.
  • Painting the Medium: A few of the old strips had gags involving Felix's speech balloon, be it him literally eating his own words or using his speech balloon for a...well, literal balloon.
    • In another early newspaper comic, Felix is searching for a monkey that escaped from a zoo. Felix ponders where it is, failing to notice that the primate is right behind him, and is resting it's hand on his speech balloon!
    • In "Eskimotive", when two Inuits are revealed to be kissing under the moonlight, they want their privacy, so one of them pulls down the skyline like a sheet of black paper.
  • Pepper Sneeze: In Felix Pinches The Pole, Felix is searching for food and comes across a house where a man is about to eat a chicken dinner. Felix tries to reach for it, but the man shoos him off by throwing a pepper shaker at him. Felix notices the label on it and decides to sprinkle it all back at him, making the man sneeze his chicken right out the window and into Felix's clutches.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: In "Uncle Tom's Crabbin", Felix travels into the deep south and meets Uncle Tom. Not long after, Felix faces off against Simon Legree, who was angered at Tom's music waking up him, promptly whipping him (off-screen) and smashing his banjo apart. Felix is on Tom's side the whole cartoon, quickly improvising a new banjo for him, and when Simon's wrath is incured again, Felix has Legree chase after him. When Legree fails to catch Felix, he sicks a hunting dog on Felix, which the cat proceeds to beat to a pulp.
  • Pragmatic Hero: Felix sometimes falls into this in the silent cartoons and comics. He is unquestionably the protagonist, but he's not above doing something shady to get what he needs to survive, especially since he's often homeless and has to scavenge for food. In his newspaper comic debut, he tries to get a job as a mouse catcher, but is given the boot by a houseowner. Felix is so indignant, that he figures out a plan—he steals a wheel of cheese from a truck nearby, and bribes some local mice with it to terrorize the owner of the house. The fearful owner offers Felix a job and food on the spot.
  • Public Domain Animation: Many of the silent cartoons are public domain.
  • Pun-Based Title:
    • April Maze is a play on the months April and May being close together, and the phrase "April showers bring May flowers", given a lot of the episode switches between stormy weather and sunny weather.
    • Skulls And Sculls is also a punny title, as the film starts with nightmarish imagery but ends up becoming a fraternity boat race ("Sculls" is a word for a pair of small oars used by a single rower).
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: Felix's simple, round design set the standard for cute cartoon animals ever since.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: "Felix the Ghost Breaker" is centered on Felix trying to save a farmers house from a pesky ghost who is haunting it. It turns out that it's a traveling salesman who is trying to scare the farmer into buying something from him.
  • Seadog Peg Leg: Captain Kidd steals "The Goose That Laid The Golden Egg" in the 1936 cartoon. He duels ably with Felix at first, until his peg gets stuck in a knothole on the pirate ship's deck.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: In Felix Out of Luck, the whole conflict is set into action because Felix's owner put up a fake sign to trick bill collectors, which Felix thinks is a real sign that she's left town.
  • Show Within a Show: In "Flim Flam Films", Felix and his sons sneak into a movie theater in the back, and the film they watch in the theater turns out to be a Felix the Cat cartoon! His nephews think its the real Felix about to be eaten by a lion in the cartoon though, and they ruin the screening by leaping into and tearing up the film screen. After getting thrown out of the theater, Felix gets them to stop crying by suggesting they all make their own movie instead!
  • Strapped to an Operating Table: Happens to King Cole when he's kidnapped by an army of ghosts in Bold King Cole.
  • Stock Animal Diet: Subverted in "Neptune Nonsense", when King Neptune accuses Felix (who was trying to find a friend for his pet goldfish) of trying to kidnap fish so he can cook and eat them. Felix exasperatedly explains to him that he doesn't eat fish.
  • Stock Animal Name: This cat is called Felix, one of the most generic names to give to a cat.
  • Sudden Name Change: In his first two shorts, Felix's name was Master Tom. The third short, Adventures of Felix, gave him the name that would stick with him forever.
  • Super Not-Drowning Skills: Felix is apparently able to breathe underwater in "Neptune Nonsense", per Rule of Funny.
  • Talking Animal: Felix himself, and many other characters in the series.
  • That's No Moon: In Felix Doubles for Darwin, Felix arrives in South Africa and tries climbing up what he thinks is a tree—but it quickly turns out its the thick leg of a giant bird, which quickly reveals its presence and chases after him.
  • Totem Pole Trench: Felix and his sons use this kind of disguise to sneak into a movie (Felix had the money, but the theater wouldn't allow cats in it) in "Flim Flam Films". Felix accidentally blows the disguise inside the theater, so they're forced to run back outside, and then sneak into the theater by squeezing through a wire near the back door.
  • Traveling-Pipe Bulge: The "Felix Doubles for Darwin" short has a whole scene of Felix traveling through the entire transatlantic cable and then back again, pursued by apes.
  • Visual Pun: In a 1920's Felix Sunday strip, Felix decides to help out a struggling cheese vendor by climbing a tower and pulling the moon directly out of the sky like its a wheel of cheese, which the shopowner gratefully chops up and begins selling. Unfortunately, he is arrested shortly afterward—the crime being that he's selling Moonshine!
  • Villain Song: "You Talk Too Much, You Never Shut Up" from Bold King Cole.
    • Captain Kidd and the rest of the pirates in The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg get a particularly good one:
      Oh, we take what we want and we want what we take
      For we’re pirates out hunting for treasure!
      If we need any gold, we steal it away,
      Robbing widows and orphans of pleasure!
      We fight with our hands, we cuss and shoot,
      We’re mean and we’re bad from our hats to our boots.
      We take what we want and we want what we take
      For we’re pirates out hunting for treasure!
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In "Bold King Cole", whatever happened to those guests that the King was boasting to?
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: In "Felix Pinches the Pole", Felix is on the search for good and successfully snags a piece of chicken from a local. But just when he sets down to eat, a giant snake comes rolling along and gobbles the thing whole, leaving Felix destitute.

Alternative Title(s): Felix The Cat Classic