Felix the Cat is a funny animal cartoon character created in the silent film era. The anthropomorphic black cat with his black body, white eyes, and giant grin, coupled with the surrealism of the situations in which his cartoons place him, combine to make Felix one of the most recognized cartoon characters in film history. Felix was the first character from animation to attain a level of popularity sufficient to draw movie audiences. Felix’s origins remain disputed.
Australian cartoonist/film entrepreneur Pat Sullivan, owner of the Felix character, claimed during his lifetime to be its creator. American animator Otto Messmer, Sullivan’s lead animator, has been credited as such. What is certain is that Felix emerged from Sullivan’s studio, and cartoons featuring the character enjoyed success and popularity in 1920s 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’s played songs about him (1923’s “Felix Kept On Walking” and others). By the late 1920s with the arrival of sound cartoons Felix’s success was fading. 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Mouse made the silent offerings of Sullivan and Messmer, who were then unwilling to move to sound production, seem outdated.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 make the transition and began distributing Felix sound cartoons through Copley Pictures. The sound Felix shorts proved to be a failure and the operation ended in 1932. Sullivan died in 1933. Felix saw a brief three cartoon resurrection in 1936 by the Van Beuren Studios. Felix cartoons began airing on American TV in 1953. Joe Oriolo introduced a redesigned, “long-legged” Felix, added new characters, and gave Felix a “Magic Bag of Tricks” that could assume an infinite variety of shapes at Felix’s behest. The cat has since starred in other television programs and in two feature films. As of the 2010s, Felix is featured on a variety of merchandise from clothing to toys. Oriolo’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. In 2014, the rights to the character were acquired by DreamWorks Animation. As a result, Felix the Cat is now both owned by Felix the Cat Productions and DreamWorks Animation.