Saturday, 7 October 2017

Farewell For Now, Felix

There’s a pretty distinct line between the stars of silent cartoons and the stars of the sound era. Mickey Mouse, Bosko, Flip the Frog, Tom and Jerry (human and animal), Betty Boop, Scrappy—all gained fame when music, voice and effects was added to a track (or a disc) that came with the film to theatres.

Few characters made the transition to sound. Krazy Kat did, but he wasn’t exactly a huge star in sound cartoons. Oswald may have been the most successful, but he was running out of steam by the mid-‘30s. Koko the Clown became a supporting player at Fleischer’s. The one who may have suffered the biggest fall was Felix the Cat.

The problem wasn’t Felix himself. The problem was the man who owned him, Pat Sullivan. Some producers were skittish about sound. Adding sound was expensive. Sound was unproven. Sound was risky. And Sullivan evidently didn’t want to take the risk. Unfortunately for Sullivan, other producers with new cartoon characters came in to fill the vocal void. Felix had no choice but to jump in—late. Noise was added to some silent Felix cartoons, not exactly the marriage of sound and moving image that enchanted fans of the new Walt Disney cartoons. Before long, Felix was off the screen. Then Sullivan died.

In England, the Guardian reviewed a sound Felix cartoon in its February 22, 1930 edition. The writer seems forlorn about Felix’s fate; that one of the greatest stars of the silent screen had lost it.
A Famous Film Cartoon Synchronised.

London, Friday
Felix the Cat is the latest star to come back to our screens complete with sound. In a trade show given by Gaumont to-day some of the new cartoons of the most famous of all cartoon animals were shown. They were sandwiched in between some “colour symphonies” evidently designed for children, and the morning’s programme contained only two films of Felix. After so long an absence Felix seems to have lost some of his high spirits. The second film was better than the first, but even that, called “One Good Turn,” did not seem as good as one’s memory had made previous Felix pictures. It dealt with the cat’s rescue from a bear by a fox. In return for this Felix saved the fox from a huntsman by sweeping up his tracks and flinging them up a tree. The hounds ran up the tree, and were carried off by birds nesting in the branches.
But even this was unimaginative; the incidents could as well have been done by trick photography, and owed nothing to the fact that they were drawn. In this Felix perhaps gains; he does not enter into competition with Mickey Mouse, or the Silly Symphonies of Ub Iwerks. Felix is literal; the only use made of the pencil is that things become things—they never take on the imaginative quality of the transformations of Mickey’s world. There is the same use made of the tail—it becomes a flute or a violin bow,—and the cat’s face turns into the dial of a clock, but these are for mundane purposes. There is little fantasy, and this fact is emphasised by the attachment of sound.
There is not the same blending of sound and sight as in the later cartoons which have cropped during the retirement of Felix; the sound merely accompanies the actions, and it is undistinguished sound. Great opportunities have been missed in the vocalising of what is, after all, a cat, one of the most vocal of all animals, and Felix seems to have lost the expressiveness of his youth. Whether he has aged or not it is hard to say after only two films; perhaps he is as good as ever. He certainly does all that one remembered and expected of him, but there is something missing. His is not the rich world of inventiveness and wit in which Mickey moves, and the truth probably is that while the cat has been away the mice have learnt to play too well for him to regain his old sway over us. R.H.
Still, there was always a chance for a comeback. Van Beuren made some Felix cartoons shortly before the studio shut down in 1936. It wasn’t until the late 1950s that Felix returned in a series for children on television that had little of the imagination of the silent days, and less of the animation, but entertained youngsters nonetheless.

1 comment:

  1. I'm wondering how characters like Heeza Liar and Bobby Bumps would have fared in the sound era...