Animation Artifacts 22 Nov 2006 08:05 am

Silent Thoughts & Felix

- Felix the Cat was a remarkable series in the era of the silent cartoon.

Other than Felix, there were few interesting film series.

Among the best were the Dinky Doodle films of Bray/Walter Lantz and the odd, rotoscoped Koko films of the Fleischer brothers.

Most of the films in theaters were horrible: the tedious Col. Heeza Liar films of J.R.Bray, the tiresome, repetitive and endless Aesop Fables of Paul Terry, the Hearst recycled comic strips, and the Disney Alice films which stole from the worst of them (the Terry cartoons.) Disney improved substantially with some of the Oswald films.

In this lot, the Felix films were enormously creative and entertaining.

(Click on any image to enlarge.)

Pat Sullivan still gets credit for the character, but it is well known that Otto Messmer was responsible for putting him on the screen. Messmer and his animators imaginatively used the medium with graphic nuance and ingenious wit.

Don’t get me wrong; these films are still bordering on the unwatchable today. But back in the early Twenties, they had to have stood out from the pack. Felix would remove his tail to use for some other need. He’d take type out of the screen balloons to use for graphic gags. It often was quite clever how they manipulated the visuals for Felix to find his anmated deus ex machina.

Of course, the book to read all about Sullivan, Messmer and Felix is John Canemaker’s Felix: The Twisted Tale of the World’s Most Famous Cat.

Unfortunately, the comic strips – which were often done by Otto Messmer as well – didn’t exploit this graphic sensibility well. Poring over a number of strips to find something to illustrate my point, I didn’t have the easiest of time locating the imaginative graphics that the animation always exploited.

Here, I give you two Sunday pages which do take advantage of the visuals around him.

3 Responses to “Silent Thoughts & Felix”

  1. on 22 Nov 2006 at 7:06 pm 1.Nancy Beiman said …

    Hi Mike,

    It is shocking to see some of the good silent Felixes and realize that they are actually from the Thirties…well into the sound era. Sullivan missed the boat with sound, and the character became passe. I think that the Fleischer studio was the top one in the silent era, but Felix was one of the best animated characters.

  2. on 11 Jan 2008 at 6:12 pm 2.Sheila Graber said …

    Hi Michael. Loved your slant on animation..I’ve always admired those early Felix films where truly graphic wit is used..this was his TRUE strength. I can honestly say that no other website (and I’ve looked at a lot) has homed in so clearly on why Felix animation was so innovative. Early “Pink Panther” continued this graphic wit a bit – but,alas,it’s sadly lacking from so many “might as well be live action” animation.. Thanks for making making my day – or is it night?
    Cheers Sheila
    (I have some animations up on YouTube)

  3. on 24 Jul 2012 at 5:18 am 3.silviagoi said …

    Just a simple ink-spot, jumping and tricking in a funny way – in the true spirit of the twenties, and of people watching kittens around their basket, with wollen balls and other things. ‘Say, they can use objects and things…not just animals, or something more than this!

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