Saturday 15 June 2024

The Felix Arch

Animated cartoons are entertainment and, like any entertainment, a cartoon that appeals to one person might not appeal to another. It’s visceral. That means there may be no explanation as to why someone likes or dislikes animation on a piece of film, any more than someone can explain why they like or dislike eggplant.

Despite this, there is plenty of commentary and analysis of cartoons out there, varying in tone. One book I have seems to have been an exercise of filling it with words no one uses in any kind of conversation. Others treat the subject casually.

Here’s an early attempt to analyse cartoons. It’s in a book written by an Englishman named Huntly Carter and published in 1930 called “THE NEW SPIRIT IN THE CINEMA. An Analysis and Interpretation of the Parallel Paths of the Cinema, which have led to the present Revolutionary Crisis forming a Study of the Cinema as an Instrument of Sociological Humanism.”
Fantasy, which has for so long been accepted as an expression of the whimsical state of mind, is, of course, within the legitimate sphere of the Cinema. On the screen it is seen at its gayest and best in a small line that assumes thousands of fantastic shapes that compose the Cartoon. In the Cartoon, which is one of the most popular and in some respects the best medium of cinema expression, the human atom and its belongings, undergo whimsical changes that cause a continuous stream of images to form in the mind, and that throw an abundance of rich crumbs to the imagination. But the Cartoon never departs from the actual. It consists of an elastic line in evolution. Shapes grow out of it with which we are familiar even though they are distorted and battered by a sort of recurrent earthquake.

In other words, the Cartoon of the Mickey Mouse, the Krazy Kat, the Felix the Cat, the Inkwell, the Adventures of Sammy and Sausage, or the Oswald Sound Cartoon kind, is simply the caricaturist playing with a line that has the elasticity of gas. It shrinks and expands, collapses and recovers, behaves like a spring winding and unwinding, and at the same time assumes the shapes and characteristics of human beings, animals, insects, of animate things, and inanimate ones made animate. These extraordinary puppets of all sorts, that fall to pieces in heaps and reunite, and outdo even an india-rubber ball in diversity of shapes, that speed through space with a velocity that has no parallel outside the Cinema, have a distinct sociological value. They exhibit man in society caught in a network of events undergoing or trying to escape the consequences. They are in fact a comment, a very witty instructive and biting comment on the absurdities of Man and other living things seen in the light of materialism. At the same time they are human, tragic and comic.

According to Mr. W. O. Brigstocke, of the Education Department of the Liverpool University, the Cartoon has a valuable educational side owing to its elasticity. He has suggested that the moving line of a Felix Cartoon can serve to teach architecture. " Felix could illustrate in a film such difficult conceptions as that of thrust in architecture. Suppose the teacher turned two other Felixes into pillars at his side and then constructed a Felix arch. It would be easy and amusing for him to show stresses and how they could be met. You would see the arch sagging at the knees or wherever it would sag. Gothic cathedrals which demonstrated in the sight of all men where they were weak and where they were strong, by bending, writhing, and even falling down promise infinite amusement. In the same way what could not be done with maps? Let Felix be taken up to a great height and let him behold all the kingdoms of the world with their pomps and vanities not to speak of their trade and transport; then drop him a given number of feet, or let him use up one of his nine lives and drop him all the way; in this manner it would be easy literally to see what scale means, both in space and times values. When one thinks of Felix and mathematics — cones sliced in lovely sections, curves developing in a panopoly of perpendiculars, and tangents to illustrate the secrets of growth and motion and form — why, on these lines we could have all the joys of Felix, Professor Einstein and the Zoo simultaneously."[Footnote]1 Einstein in the Zoo? Some persons would say by all means.
1 The Observer, May 8, 1927
Some of you may find this kind of analysis intellectually stimulating. Others may find it a bore. It’s all subjective, the same as the way you feel about cartoons themselves.


  1. “That means there may be no explanation as to why someone likes or dislikes animation on a piece of film, any more than someone can explain why they like or dislike eggplant.”

    Ok I’ll bite. You made that comment because of my previous comments on your posts didn’t you (Special Appearance by Bob Clampett and The Greatest Cartoons of All Time didn’t you).

    I made those comments because you usually explained your reasoning why you didn’t like a cartoon quite well by giving examples but you didn’t in A Cartoonist’s Nightmare’s case. I just wanted to give you some advice so you could understand why some people may be upset at you for not elaborating your reasons WHY you don’t like something.

    1. Ignore that second “Didn’t you” in the parentheses.