The silent cartoons were some of the earliest rubberhose cartoons ever made, and they still hold up as appealing to look at and smoothly animated. Later shorts like "Felix Woos Whoopee" are just as great as anything Fleischer Studios ever did.
The artwork Otto Messmer did for the newspaper comics and comic books is just as great, if not better than the animated cartoons. One has to read a Felix Sunday strip or read one of the 40's/50's comics to really see Messmer's drawing chops and super appealing rubberhose drawing style in action.
Awesome Music: Winston Sharples' energetic and dramatic music scores are considered one of the best elements of the Van Beuren Felix cartoons. Fittingly, he would be hired by Joe Oriolo to compose music for his TV Felix cartoons decades later.
Fair for Its Day: "Uncle Toms Crabbin". While the blackface designs and deep south slavery setting would turn heads today, its surprising in that it clearly shows Felix on the side of a sympathetically portrayed Uncle Tom against Simon Legree (with his race and plight not being played for laughs), with Felix even helping Tom against Legree and coming out on top in the end.
The silent films got off to a good start, but the 1922-1924 period, when Bill Nolan worked at the studio for a couple years, redesigning Felix and started introducing smoother animation in the cartoons, was when the series really started getting great.
The newspaper comics greatly improved over time, too. Before 1929, the comics were only partly drawn by Otto Messmer, with a lot of the art being recycled from the cartoons by artist Jack Bogle, resulting in enjoyable but fairly straightforward adaptations of the cartoons. Ironically, the dearth of new cartoon material to adapt by 1929 proved to be a creative boon for the Felix comics, even as the animated cartoons went into a decline. Messmer, who finally took over all art duties for the daily newspaper comic, starts getting more experimental and ambitious with his artwork, redesigning Felix and the other characters to look more funny and detailed than in the cartoons, and he even began to creative beautifully illustrated, full blown cartoon story arcs for the funny pages, such as the 17 week "Felix's Ark" storyline, and with some storylines like "Felix the Cat on Cannibal Island" that run as long as a whopping eight months in length.
Hilarious in Hindsight: Felix is remembered as one of the first television stars. How? In the form of an NBC test pattern featuring Felix as a doll. Its significance comes from being one of the first images to be broadcast on the then-fledging medium of television, when NBC was just a decade old. 85 years later, NBC parent NBC Universal acquired DreamWorks Animation, the current rights-holder of Felix, ultimately bringing his legacy back to NBC after more than a century.
Moment of Awesome: Felix gets one of his shining moments in the silent short Uncle Toms Crabbin, a short that is a surprising example of Fair for Its Day—Felix travels to the deep south and finds the eponymous Uncle Tom, who is antagonized by Simon Legree by whipping him and smashing apart his banjo for keeping him awake with his music. While Tom is drawn in stereotypical cartoon blackface of the time, his race and plight is not played for laughs at all, and Felix is clearly on his side. He not only improvises a new banjo for Tom, but when Simon Legree shows up again, Felix distracts him into chasing after him and even hurls rocks back at Legree while he gives chase. And when Legree sicks a hunting dog after him, Felix proceeds to beat the animal into a limp noodle. Considering the institutionalized racism of the 1920's (and that other Felix cartoons sometimes used unfortunate black stereotypes), its amazing that they were able to get away with making a cartoon like this.
Nightmare Fuel: The bizarre climax of "Felix Dines and Pines", where Felix has a truly deranged stream of conscious nightmare induced by eating an old shoe.
Seasonal Rot: While the post-B&W Felix shorts have a divided reception, one point of the series that no fans will defend is the brief period when the original cartoons tried to upgrade to sound, and failed miserably. Cartoons like April Maze and Skulls and Sculls had post-synchronized soundtracks slapped onto them in a half-assed attempt by Pat Sullivan to cash in on the sound cartoon craze started by Disney's Mickey Mouse a few years too late, and Otto Messmer was forced to pad out the length and scenes of the sound cartoons to excruciatingly long periods of time so that it would be easier for the soundtracks to be added on afterward, making the cartoons extremely slow paced and poorly timed.
"Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: The silent Felix the Cat cartoons were considered very smoothly animated for their time, and its personality based visual humor and impossible cartoon gags were very unique compared to other early animated cartoons, pioneering many of what are now standard cartoon tools and cliches (with the rubberhose art style becoming the cartoon industry standard for decades), and he was also the first cartoon character to achieve significant popularity, being the forerunner for cartoons that took its foundation and considerably built on it, like Mickey Mouse, Looney Tunes and Betty Boop, so it can rather hard to appreciate just how innovative and creative the original silent cartoons were at the time. The rather slow pacing of the cartoons and Felix being the only central character the bulk of the time doesn't really help matters, either.
In spite of the Fair for Its Day example cited above, the silent shorts and a few of the newspaper comics and comic books tended to have some unfortunate racist gags and cannibalistic depictions of African natives sprinkled throughout them, such as in Felix Saves the Day and Tee Time, and even the occasional sexist gag too, like in Felix Lends a Hand.
In a couple of the 1950's Felix comics, there a trio of dwarfs called the Merry Midgets who pop up as side characters. While the word isn't used derogatorily, as it had innocuous connotations at the time, it's now considered an unfortunate slur for short people.
We're Still Relevant, Dammit!: The later B&W Felix the Cat cartoons upgrade to sound was a very obvious attempt by producer Pat Sullivan to try and cash in on the sound cartoon craze started by Mickey Mouse, a series that had not only usurped the cats popularity, but was unwittingly aided by Sullivan's own reluctance to upgrade the Felix cartoons to sound in the past, which was what got his original distribution contract for Felix cancelled. Sullivan not only missed the boat, but the new Felix sound cartoons were so poorly done, that it only guaranteed that Mickey Mouse would remain the heir apparent to Felix, while the Felix theatrical cartoons that inspired Mickey in the first place would be sent to an early grave.
What Do You Mean, It's Not for Kids?: Fans only familiar with the TV era Felix will be surprised to find out that the Silent era Felix has subject matter that is definetely not kid friendly—like Felix's womanizing and suicide in Feline Follies, Felix partying hard and getting drunk out of his skull in Felix Woos Whoopee, and the grim, war torn setting of Felix Turns the Tide, complete with dead corpses of animals laying around—and it is not played for humor. John Canemaker's Felix the Cat history book makes it clear that the early cartoons were not made for kids.