Deneb does Felix the Cat: The Movie

“You’re wrong, you scugnant prollyfister! It gets better all the time! You know what her father put me through, scrunted be his name. Would you not have me relish my revenge? Answer me, numbkrut!” 

The Scoop: 1988, directed by Tibor Hernadi and starring Chris Phillips, Maureen O’Connell, Peter Newman and Alice Playten.

Tagline: The cat is back!

Summary Capsule: Felix the Cat shows up in the wrong movie, and decides he may as well stick around. (OK, that’s not literally what happens, but it feels like it.)

Deneb’s Rating: Today’s headline – Deneb does not know how to rate this movie. Film at eleven.

Deneb’s Review: Nostalgia can be a harsh mistress, ya know? Also, a two-edged sword. Possibly a mistress with a two-edged sword. In either case, the point is that it makes you see things with rose-tinted glasses, and when those are snatched away, you may be in for a rude surprise.

So why did I bother with that last, cliché-ridden paragraph? Felix the Cat: The Movie, that’s why.

Hoo boy, this movie. I’m not sure where to begin.

I suppose the only real logical place would be my personal history with it. OK, here goes – I used to love this flick. I didn’t own it myself, but my friends did, and there was a period when we would watch it virtually every time I went over to their house. In a way, it was almost symbolic of our friendship – they introduced me to it, and I only ever watched it over at their place. Hence, watching Felix the Cat: The Movie with them was a sort of bonding experience, and it remains one of the treasured memories of my childhood that shall continue to sustain me when I’m old and gray. Ah, me – how time flies…

*Wipes a tear from the corner of his eye* Er, sorry. Where was I?

Right. The movie. Eventually, my friends and I moved on to other movies, and Felix was left to gather dust. Then, years later, they decided to give it to me as a whimsical birthday gift.

Now, I had had some time to think back on FtC:TM by then, and a terrible suspicion had started to grow – namely, was this film really as good as I remembered it as? Rose-tinted glasses, remember?

Then again, I’d had a pretty good track record with old favorites remaining old favorites throughout the years, so I thought what the heck, and popped it in. After all, I was probably wrong.

I was right. Oh, dear.

Felix the Cat: The Movie had been dashed from its place as one of my all-time favorite movies. It wasn’t as good as I remembered it. It wasn’t even close. With a maybe-metaphorical whimper I cast it from me, and back onto the shelf it went, there to gather dust forever.

Or so I thought. You see, not too long ago I watched the Nostalgia Critic’s review of this flick (which you should check out if you’re interested). It was funny as usual, but also as usual it featured him ranting about how terrible, terrible, this measly little flick was.

Now, while I enjoyed the video well enough, there was a part of me – a small part – a maybe-still-wearing-the-glasses part that rebelled a little bit. “Hang on”, this part said, “you used to love this movie! Sure, it’s not as good as you used to think it was, but surely it can’t be that bad, can it? Can it?”

This nagged at my mind until I figured what the hey, let’s give Felix another look. After all, expectations can be the key factor when enjoying something – if you go in expecting a masterpiece and it falls short, you’re bound to be disappointed.

So I watched it again. How’d it work out? Well, therein lies the review.

First, a little background. For those of you unfamiliar with him, Felix the Cat is a character who goes back to the early silent cartoons, where he briefly enjoyed a success comparable to Chaplin. Where most of us know him from, however, is a TV show from the late ‘50’s, which reinvented him as a cheerful fellow who was the proud owner of a Magic Bag, a satchel that could turn into anything he wanted it to. The other two main characters were the Professor and his nephew Poindexter, a pair of mad scientists who were alternately friends and enemies of Felix, with most of the latter stories featuring them trying to get their hands on his Bag. (OK, stop snickering right this instant. Perverts.)

The movie itself opens in the other-dimensional Land of Oriana, ruled by a princess of the same name (Maureen O’Connell). She’s perfectly sweet and generous and princessy, and her kingdom is thriving, as they tend to do when the good guys are in charge.

She won’t be in charge for long, however, ‘cause hey, here come the bad guys – namely her uncle, the nefarious Duke of Zill (Peter Newman), and his army of robot Cylinders. As his name suggests, he’s the ruler of Zill, the hellhole wasteland next door, and he’s decided it’s time for a bit of a hostile takeover.

The Princess has one last ace up her sleeve, though – the Dimensporter, an ancient device that allows one to hop dimensions. She plans to use it to get help, but the Duke nabs her before she can finish the process. She then proceeds to sheds a tear, which comes to life, does the rest of it for her and goes in her place.

Don’t look at me that way. I just work here.

Anyway, the tear travels to Earth, where the first person it comes across is Felix (Chris Phillips). Turns out he fits the description of a “dark stranger” who is prophesized to save Oriana in its hour of need. (If you ask me, this just means that Oriana needs a better class of prophets. I mean, of all the “dark strangers” you could envision to help save you, you pick FELIX THE CAT?! What the hell is wrong with you?)

Fortunately this tear is of the help-me-Obi-Wan-Kenobi variety, and by projecting an image of the Princess it manages to lure Felix back to the Dimensporter. From there he’s spirited off to Oriana and, through various shenanigans, fairly rapidly to Zill, where he’s quickly captured and winds up an unwilling performer in a circus run by one Wack Lizardi (Newman again), the Duke’s lacky. This is fortuitous, in a way, since it turns out that the Princess is also there, forced to dance nightly for her uncle’s sadistic pleasure.

Meanwhile the Professor and Poindexter (both played, as far as I can tell, by Chris Phillips), who happened to be snooping on Felix at the time the tear came for him, have followed him through in hopes of snaring that elusive Bag. Eventually, of course, all these kooky characters will run into one another, and hence lies the rest of the plot.

OK, let’s get the bad stuff out of the way, because there is bad stuff, and it’s probably pretty much the entirety of what more negatively-minded viewers will get from this. Let’s start with Felix himself. Why is he in this movie? Who dreamed up a universe full of monsters and mutants and captured princesses and then said “y’know who this would fit like a glove? Felix the Cat!”

Actually, I have a theory about this. In fact, it’s been cooking for a while, and involves any number of other films that have this weird disconnect between plot and characters.

Here’s the deal – some scriptwriter has come up with what he thinks is a great idea for a movie. Unfortunately, no one seems to agree with him. “Sorry,” the producers say. “We are looking for someone to write this other movie, though – should be easy; it features a well-known character who’s been around for decades and could practically write himself. How ‘bout it?”

“Sure!” the writer says brightly, but inside he’s seething. “Spurn my brilliant ideas, will they?” he thinks. “I’ll show them! I’ll give them their stupid old well-known character in a movie – my movie! Bwahahahaha!”

So basically, Felix gets plugged into this whole other movie that has nothing to do with him simply because someone somewhere along the line was determined to make that movie, dang it, no matter who they had to star in the lead. I don’t have any actual evidence to support this conclusion, mind you, but if it wasn’t something like that, then I got nothin’. Felix has plainly and simply no reason whatsoever to be in this movie. This is the sort of story that just begs for a more traditional adventure hero, or at very least a diminutive-yet-plucky type like Link from Legend of Zelda. Instead, we get “that wonderful, wonderful cat”, with a voice one octave more grating than Mickey Mouse’s and a tendency to break out into belly laughs at the slightest provocation. Genius casting. Simply genius.

Mind you, I’m not knocking Felix himself. I have nothing against him as a character, and Phillips is actually doing a very faithful interpretation of his voice from the show, as he does with the Professor and Poindexter. And for that matter, none of them are really all that horrible here. It’s just that they’re not being used properly. Felix and his supporting characters were designed to work in short, incremental stories – putting them in a feature-length adventure story is like putting gravy on pancakes, or strawberry jam on hamburgers. Even if it does somehow work, it’s never going to seem anything but out of place, and that’s the problem here. Felix the Cat: The Movie has sweet diddly-squat to do with Felix the Cat.

That would be my main complaint, really, but there are others, and to keep from droning on forever about the subject I’ll try and fit them into this one paragraph. The ending is rushed – very rushed – and even when I was really into the movie as a whole it never made sense to me. On a related note, the plot, which is actually fairly strong to start with, kind of blithers away into not-much-happenin’ territory starting around the middle, and even in the better parts there are numerous short episodes which have absolutely no reason to be there (watch the “Sly as a Fox” musical number and tell me I’m wrong). There are several minor characters who we are obviously supposed to be attracted to and want to see more of, but are mostly just kind of… there. They never really do anything noteworthy, they just exist and the film plays over them. Hell, for that matter the Princess Oriana, a main character, is pure blah. She’s very nice and beautiful and all, but she has no distinguishing characteristics besides that, and for someone who the film is theoretically, y’know, about, that’s a fatal flaw. Oh yes – and the animation ranges up and down the scale from good to just plain sloppy (although admittedly, I only realized this after reading the reviews of others; I never noticed it before that).

So the film has all these flaws, I’ve cast it from my favorites list, I’d eschewed watching the thing for years – that means I hate it, right?

Wrong.

I don’t hate this film. I don’t even dislike this film. Having come to grips with the flaws that I never saw when I was little, I now find myself quite fond of this film.

Sure, it’s not on my favorites list anymore, and probably never will be. Sure, Felix’s bad jokes grate on the nerves, and his voice grates on the ears. Sure, the Professor is useless and the Princess is bland and the plot tends to get lost at times. Sure all of that.

But y’know what? I knew about all of that going in, and because I was prepared for it, I found myself revisiting all the things that I liked about the flick way back when. And hey, check it out – they’re still there! Woo!

Let’s start with… well, I guess you’d call it the world. Let’s start with the world. I’ve always been a sucker for good art design and a well-thought out environment, and the Land of Oriana just hits all the right buttons for me. Oriana itself is looming and majestic, with a good mixture of medieval pageantry and high-tech deco, while Zill is a cartoon wasteland/urban hellhole filled with the most insane and varied assortment of mutants and monstrosities I have ever seen, ever. Sure, some are fairly pedestrian, but others are just so bizarre that I can’t even describe them properly. Like, say, the little fat guy with reptilian features that otherwise looks something like a shaved fly. Or the big dude with lumpy grey skin and multiple trunks where his nose ought to be, who keeps his son in his jacket pocket. And there are hundreds of these guys, each with their own unique design and most of whom leave an impression on you. And those are the more civilized types – don’t get me started on all the random creatures that live in the howling wilds.

Speaking of “the more civilized types”, we’ve already covered the heroes, so let’s talk about the villains. Specifically, the main villain. Oh, holy crap, the main villain.

The Duke of Zill, baby. The Duke. Of. Zill.

The Duke seems to be one of those “love him or hate him” characters. Some other reviews I’ve read have lambasted him as being silly and two-dimensional, with a ridiculous design. I couldn’t disagree more. Yes, it’s true that he looks like a combination of Darth Vader and Mysterio with a little Dracula thrown in for good measure, but so what? This is bad? Darth Vader is cool! Mysterio is cool! Dracula is cool! A combo of the three, therefore, is freakin’ awesome, and I will fight to the death anyone who says otherwise! Bring it on!

Ahem. ‘Scuse me. As you may have gathered, I really dig the Duke of Zill. FtC:TM may not rank in my favorites anymore, but in terms of villains, it’s still way up there. Not only does the Duke look awesome (he even manages to make those red ribbon-things he wears look like a perfectly legitimate fashion choice, which ain’t easy), he just generally is awesome. Peter Newman delivers his lines in a sort of growling roar that makes every line sound epic – and this is appropriate, because the Duke is a creature of grand passions. He never does anything halfway – he’s either bellowing with rage, chortling with glee or stewing with frustration, sometimes all at once. Moreover, although he is pretty much rotten to the core he actually has a fairly sympathetic backstory, of a sort – I won’t give it away, but it has a fair amount to do with the government of Oriana being astoundingly naïve, even by the standards of sweetness-and-light. This is a guy who’s gone through hell and accomplished great (not good, but great) things to get to where he is right now, and the journey has not been pleasant. You can’t really like him – after all, we’re talking about someone who forces his niece to dance for him every night simply so he can savor his victory over her – but you can at least sympathize with him a little bit.

Add to this his occasionally bizarre vocabulary (“scrunted be his name” indeed), the naked oppressive power he wields over the Zillians and one of the best villainous theme songs ever (“Who Is the Boss”, a little ditty that will stick in your head for the rest of time), and you have someone to be taken seriously. Sure, he’s an old-fashioned I’m-evil-and-make-no-bones-about-it sort of bad guy, but I have a soft spot for just that type. Duke of Zill, you magnificent bastard, how I love thee.

Really, I could gush about the Duke all day, but there are other villains here, so I’ll tear myself loose. Newman also voices the number two baddie, Wack Lizardi, and while he’s not quite as memorable as his boss, he does manage to come off as simultaneously a complete sleazebag and oddly likable. (Plus he has this bizarre little living baton thing that he carries around which words can’t do justice to.) The Duke’s foot-soldiers, the Cylinders, obviously don’t have much in the way of personalities (being, y’know, robots), but they have a nicely distinctive look and manage to convey a sense of faceless, unstoppable menace, which is pretty much perfect for a bad guy army.

(Oh, and apropos of nothing – uh, because I couldn’t think of anywhere else to fit it in – while I may not be wild about Felix as a protagonist, I do think his Magic Bag is perfectly at home here. A bag that can turn into anything fits in very well with the overall aesthetic, and gives us some nicely unusual scenes. I just wish they’d managed to keep the bag and lose the cat.)

Overall, it’s just basically the sheer weirdness of Felix the Cat: The Movie that saves it from ruin. The creators clearly put a lot of time and energy into thinking out the world and characters of Oriana, and that shines through in every scene and makes it memorable. For better or for worse, this thing is unique – I can’t think of a single film like it, and that’s saying something.

So, thumbs up thumbs down? Ooh – this is gonna be tricky. Frankly, I’m still not sure how I’d rate it in terms of my own tastes, let alone anyone else’s. There are so many things I like and so many things I dislike wrapped up in this thing, and then there’s the nostalgia factor and oh it’s a mess.

I suppose I would tentatively have to give this a thumbs up, but only if you are prepared to look past the film’s flaws. For the more cynical or nitpicky types out there, steer well clear of this. I can’t say whether or not you’d enjoy it, but chances are you’d just be confused, and possibly angry.

If, on the other hand, you are possessed of an adventurous nature and an open mind, by all means give this strange little film a look-see. Personally, I owe it a great debt – there is no doubt that exposure to its sheer bizarritude at a relatively early age was in no small part responsible for shaping me into the oddball that I am today. Whether this was for good or ill I cannot say, but if you do see this film and we ever run into each other, there is no doubt we will have something to talk about.

Oh, and harsh mistress with the double-edged sword? If you actually do exist and happen to be reading this, kindly stay far, far away from me. I’d prefer the rest of my cherished memories to be left intact, thank you very much.

If you don't think this image is at least a LITTLE awesome, then you and I will have no further dealings.

Intermission! 

  • The film was animated in Hungary, and although it was completed in ’88, it wasn’t actually released until ’89, and not on video until ’91.
  • Some of the… let’s be charitable and say ‘odd’ choices regarding songs was apparently done so that the full versions could be released on a soundtrack album. However, the album was never released, which is frustrating, as several of the songs (specifically “Who is the Boss?” and that haunting little tune that the princess dances to) are actually quite good.
  • The Cylinders were inspired by a minor villain from the show, one Master Cylinder, who is fairly well-remembered today. In fact, he has a cameo in the movie, albeit a rather important one that I’m not going to spoil.
  • I’m guessing that there were a few short scenes that were intended for the final version but never actually animated, as there are several lines and reactions that would make much more sense if they were following up on things we haven’t seen. For instance, although the Princess tells Felix that the Duke was banished from Oriana, she never actually says why.

Groovy Quotes:

Duke of Zill: So, my fellow Zillians – have your fun, as long as I let you have fun! But don’t forget who is the boss!

Felix: For a minute, I… I thought your light was a little drop I was following. It had a beautiful girl in it.
Pim: (to himself) Sounds like the only drop around here was on his head!

Song lyric: Who is the boss?/The Duke of Zill, of course!/Who’s never at a loss?/The Duke of Zill, of course!

Poindexter: Hyenas live on the plains; they don’t live in hair.

Madame Pearl: Exploding meteorites!

Felix: (with his bag jammed over his head) Whoa! Let the cat out of the bag!

Grumper: It’s always the same.
Duke of Zill: You’re wrong, you scugnant prollyfister! It gets better all the time! You know what her father put me through, scrunted be his name. Would you not have me relish my revenge? Answer me, numbkrut!
Grumper: Er, I, uh, ah…
Duke of Zill: Exactly! Now shut up and watch.

Wack Lizardi: Boy, it’s good to be me, Wack Lizardi.

Felix: Yuck! Where are we – New Jersey?

Duke of Zill: I’ve been saving something for you, sniveling crustaceans. Something good. Something bad!

Felix: Flat bag!

Professor: Poindexter, what is he doing? You think Felix’s brain has finally left his head?

Cylinders: Princess, princess, princess, princess…

Felix: (to a skeleton) Boy, could you use a Big Mac! Huh? Ahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

Wack Lizardi: I didn’t hear any knock, smidge.

Professor: Amazing! Biguarden Sensitivus, I believe.
Poindexter: Actually, it’s Biguarden INsentitivus, Uncle.

Felix: Not so hyper, bag!

Madame Pearl: Cosmic caladium!

Duke of Zill: Stop them, Wack, you numbskrut!

Felix: (while being attacked by a predator) Maybe he just wants to make friends, but I’m not gonna stick around to find out.

Professor: A demented cat in another dimension!

Duke of Zill: Lizardi! Wack Lizardi! You… crepsule! You muck-brained soil-wit!

Wack Lizardi: Zimple!

Felix: Boy – I haven’t seen this much fruit salad since I was in California!

Madame Pearl: A black duck on a green planet; you see, you cannot deny that!

Professor: Maybe…
Poindexter: ‘Maybe’ does not compute, Uncle. Science leaves little to chance.

Duke of Zill: Magnificent! Magnificent! Better than ever! Look how she suffers. Have fun in your wonderful new kingdom, Princess!

Felix: (reading sign) “Enter at your own risk! P.S: I wouldn’t if I were you!” Ha! You’re not me!

Wack Lizardi: What in Zill have you got to be excited about? Someone invent enlarging pills?

Monster: Stella! Stella! I coulda been somebody!

Felix: Who is this Duke of Zill, anyway? He’s the one who’s got me into this pickle. Zill pickle! Get it?

Duke of Zill: I’ve been suffering and waiting all these years for this krut and festration?!

Felix: One thing’s for sure, though – trouble is trouble, no matter where you are.

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20 Comments

  1. I had a similar experience a while back when watching Star Wars. With the Rose-Tinted Glasses of Nostagia off, it was plainly not that great. For example, you could tell that Harrison Ford had been promoted from the position of Set Carpenter because his acting was so wooden. *rimshot* When you also consider Al’s assessment that TPM isn’t that horrible, and a fellow comes to realize that the quality gap between the original and prequel trilogies isn’t as vast as some people make it out to be. BTW I’m at peace with myself regarding all this and can watch all the nerd rage over the movies being altered again with a certain indifferent bemusement.

    • Personally, I actually only watched the originals fairly recently (still haven’t seen the sequels), so I never had the glasses on at all for those, and I still think they’re pretty good (even if the franchise itself is ridiculously overexposed at this point). I don’t expect brilliance from my movies, just entertainment – if they ARE brilliant, that’s icing on the cake, but I rank among my favorite films several that are technically speaking dumb as a post, but are well-made and well-done nonetheless.
      (And speaking as someone who HAS only seen the originals, the only bit of ‘Nerd Rage’ I have over anything SW related is the switching of focus from Luke to Darth Vader – oh, I’m sorry, ANAKIN. I mean, for cryin’ out loud, Luke was an icon for generations and EARNED that status, and now it’s all Darth before he was Darth. Don’t get me wrong, I dig Darth Vader, but I dig him AS Darth Vader, not as some pretty-boy proto-Luke. Give me back my awesome villain, dammit!)

  2. I actually picked up this DVD from a yard sale last summer. I went into it without those rose-colored glasses, having only seen Felix in public-domain silent and mid-30s shorts…and came out with pretty much the exact same opinion as Deneb. This isn’t a BAD movie, per se. The design of Oriana is nifty, the steampunk vibe is cool, and some of the music and the action set pieces are actually quite good. The trouble is, Felix and his 20s by way of 50s world just doesn’t belong in 80s steampunk fantasy. It’s an oil-water thing. For all that, I too think this is worth a look-see if you’re willing to overlook the flaws and revel in the lunacy that happens when animated worlds collide.

    • Affirmation from an unbiased source! Woohoo!
      Personally, though, I wouldn’t refer to Oriana’s vibe as ‘steampunk’, per se. I think that applies specifically to a story where advanced technology is introduced and integrated into a less-advanced period in time (usually the Victorian era), and I’m pretty sure that’s not the case here. The advanced technology in Oriana is more of a natural outgrowth from advanced tech introduced aeons ago by a now-fallen advanced culture (this is specifically referenced in the film, albeit briefly), so while stuff like the Cylinders may be new innovations, they’re not unprecedented ones. The place DID have advanced technology available to them, they pretty much just weren’t using it.

  3. Might I suggest that you review Freddie as F.R.O.7? Its similarly a crazy movie, with strange ideas, a great villain song and a unique atmosphere, not to mention some awesome villains and yet a rather disappointing climax. Still, I love it for how unique and strange it is.

  4. “It wasn’t as good as I remembered it. It wasn’t even close. With a maybe-metaphorical whimper I cast it from me, and back onto the shelf it went, there to gather dust forever.”
    Masters Of The Universe cartoons are the same way for me. Sigh…
    Still, I now want to see this film. Felix has always been a trip.

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