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Neptune Nonsense

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Felix the Cat is a cartoon character created in 1919 by Pat Sullivan and Otto Messmer during the silent film era. An anthropomorphic black cat with white eyes, a black body, and a giant grin, he was one of the most recognized cartoon characters in film history. Felix was the first animated character to attain a level of popularity sufficient to draw movie audiences.

Felix originated from the studio of Australian cartoonist-film entrepreneur Pat Sullivan. Sullivan and his lead animator, American Otto Messmer, created the character. What is certain is that Felix emerged from Sullivan’s studio, and cartoons featuring the character became big in popular culture. Aside from the animated shorts, Felix starred in a comic strip (drawn by Sullivan, Messmer, and later Joe Oriolo) beginning in 1923, and his image soon adorned merchandise such as ceramics, toys, and postcards. Several manufacturers made stuffed Felix toys. Jazz bands such as Paul Whiteman played songs about him (1923’s “Felix Kept on Walking” and others). In 1926, Felix became the first high school mascot for the Logansport, Indiana, Berries.

By the late 1920s, Felix's success was fading with the arrival of sound cartoons. The new Disney shorts of Mickey Mouse made the silent offerings of Sullivan and Messmer, who were then unwilling to move to sound production, seem outdated. In 1929, Sullivan decided to transition and began distributing Felix sound cartoons through Copley Pictures. The sound Felix shorts failed, and the operation ended in 1932. Felix saw a brief three-cartoon resurrection in 1936 by the Van Beuren Studios.

Felix cartoons began airing on American television in 1953. Joe Oriolo introduced a redesigned, “long-legged” Felix, with longer legs, a much smaller body, and a larger, rounder head with no whiskers or teeth. Oriolo added new characters and gave Felix a “Magic Bag of Tricks” that could assume infinite shapes at Felix’s behest. The cat has since starred in other television programs and two feature films. As of the 2010s, Felix is featured on various merchandise from clothing to toys. Joe’s son, Don Oriolo, later assumed creative control of Felix.

In 2002, TV Guide ranked Felix the Cat number 28 on its “50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time” list.

  • Category: Short Film
  • Directors: Burt Gillett · Tom Palmer
  • Writers: Pat Sullivan
  • Stars: Walter Tetley
  • Genres: Animation · Short · Adventure · Comedy · Family
  • Release Date: March 20, 1936
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Language: English
  • Production Company: Pat Sullivan Cartoons · Van Beuren Studios