Contact Us Find Us on Facebook Follow Us on Twitter Subscribe to our RSS Feed


5. Felix the Cat Animated Cartoons, 1922-1927 (8)

- Felix Busts a Bubble, 1926 [flapper's dream of stardom] NHC


- Felix Saves the Day, 1922 [interracial baseball game]
- Felix Revolts, 1923 [labor strike]
- Felix in Hollywood, 1923 [movie industry]
- Felix Doubles for Darwin, 1924 [evolution]
- Felix Finds Out, 1924 [Prohibition]
- All Puzzled, 1925 [Red Scare]
- The Non-Stop Fright, 1927 [Lindbergh]

To offer a unique perspective on the Twenties, six collections of primary materials are presented in Theme I, each from a single source—newsreels, cartoons, political cartoons, animated cartoons, subway posters, and a 1931 retrospective. We encourage you to mix and match materials from two or more collections as a device for studying the period; a collection discussion guide is offered to stimulate study and analysis. Let's proceed to this section's collection—Felix the Cat silent animated cartoons.

Feisty, headstrong, and ever resourceful, Felix the Cat was the first animated star of the screen, appearing in his first cartoon in 1919, nine years before Disney's Steamboat Willie premiered Mickey Mouse. With his zany escapades, appealing but never sweet persona, and his signature back-and-forth pacing while plotting his next move, Felix became a Hollywood favorite, a popular mascot, and a marketing icon, his wide-eyed visage appearing on ceramics, toys, and even a balloon in the first Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in 1927. As was true for many stars of the silent era, Felix was a casualty of the transition to talkies. He survived in other entertainment venues, however—the comic strip through the 1940s and television in the 1950s. [See the resources on silent and sound movies in the section, MACHINE: Movies.]

As did later Disney and Looney Tunes cartoons, Felix cartoons reflected mainstream attitudes of the time and occasionally highlighted controversial issues or headline events. In the eight cartoons presented here, Felix leads a feline strike, learns what "moonshine" is, tries to prove Darwin's theory of evolution, gets "blown away" by Russian revolutionaries, plays baseball in an interracial game, tries to replicate Lindbergh's transatlantic flight, gets a Hollywood film contract, and dissuades a flapper from doing the same. Keeping humor as the top priority, how did Felix's creators incorporate social-political issues in the cartoons? When did Felix himself take a position, and when was he a vehicle for the creators' positions? How partisan were the cartoons? What attitudes did they assume in their audience? Who might have objected to some content?

Note: Ethnic and racial stereotypes that were prevalent in the 1920s appear in the Felix cartoons (see NOTE after each synopsis), providing an opportunity for classroom discussion of cultural stereotypes in mass entertainment.

  • Felix Saves the Day, 1922. In a baseball game between white and black boys in New York City, Felix "saves the day" by getting the game called (on account of rain) when the star white player is jailed for punching a policeman. [6:41; with musical accompaniment] INTERNET MOVING IMAGE ARCHIVE

    NOTE: -intermixture of animation with live action footage
    -stereotyped caricature of black children
    -title illustration of a beer stein (during Prohibition)
  • Felix Revolts, 1923. When the city council resolves to ban cats, Felix leads a feline strike by orchestrating nighttime caterwauls and giving rats free rein to pillage the town. [8:16; with theater organ accompaniment] INTERNET MOVING IMAGE ARCHIVE

    NOTE: -Felix's "union organizing" in the town square
    -other allusions to postwar labor strikes and worker unrest
  • Felix in Hollywood, 1923. Felix ingeniously raises money to go to Hollywood, auditions for a job as an actor, but "ruins his chances" when Charlie Chaplin catches him doing his Chaplin impersonation. By inadvertently being the hero during the filming of a western scene, he is offered a longterm contract. [7:58; with piano/orchestral accompaniment] INTERNET MOVING IMAGE ARCHIVE

    NOTE: -economic hard times
    -the allure of stars and stardom
    -film-making as a new American industry
    -ethnic stereotype (Jewish) of the starving artist and the Hollywood movie producer
  • Felix Doubles for Darwin, 1924. Felix sets out for South Africa (via transatlantic cable) to find proof of Darwin's theory of evolution. Showing a monkey some satirical illustrations of human types, he asks "Are these your relatives?" Insulted, the monkey calls to his family, "Ye gods fellers—he says we're related to these!!!" They chase Felix back to the U.S. where Felix is asked, "Well—? Do we come after monkeys?" "No," he replies. "The monkeys come after us!!" [11:28; no audio] INTERNET MOVING IMAGE ARCHIVE

    NOTE: -telegraph office and Morse code; Charleston dance contest
    -stereotyped African animals and landscape
    -"family tree" where Felix meets the monkeys
    -caricatures of a "modern statesman" and "modern cake-eaters" (1920s slang for effete men)
    -1924 redesign of Felix's face and body to be rounder and more appealing
  • Felix Finds Out, 1924. When Felix distracts his young friend from completing his homework, he resolves to find the answer to the boy's assignment: "What makes the moon shine?" In the process, he finds out what "moonshine" is. [9:12; with jazz band accompaniment; the moonshine sequence begins at 5:15. INTERNET MOVING IMAGE ARCHIVE

    NOTE: -rural moonshine distributor and passwords/gestures
    -cartoon depiction of drunkenness; cartoon produced during Prohibition
  • All Puzzled, 1925. Felix offers to help his human complete a crossword puzzle by finding the answer to the final clue—a seven-letter word for "Found Chiefly in Russia." Arriving in Russia through the kick of a helpful donkey, Felix discovers himself amidst Bolshevik revolutionaries and their bombs, one of which explodes and sends Felix flying home. "Did you find the seven-letter word?" asks his human. Felix shakes his head "no." "All I found is Russia was trouble"—which is the answer to the puzzle clue: T-R-O-U-B-L-E. [3:17; no sound accompaniment] INTERNET MOVING IMAGE ARCHIVE

    NOTE: -crossword puzzle fad that began in the 1920s
    -caricature of the bomb-wielding Russian revolutionary; cartoon produced after the
    postwar Red Scare in the U.S.
  • Felix Busts a Bubble, 1926. Felix "busts the bubble" of a flapper who dreams of film stardom and earns a screen test in Hollywood. [8:02; with musical accompaniment]

    NOTE: -flapper's rehearsing "how to be a vamp"
    -caricature of movie moguls
    -bottle of liquor in the screen test; cartoon produced during Prohibition
  • The Non-Stop Fright, 1927. Aspiring to a Lindbergh aviation feat, Felix vows to win a $50,000 prize for arriving first in "Timbuctoo" in West Africa. INTERNET MOVING IMAGE ARCHIVE

    NOTE: -sandwich-board advertising
    -allusions to wingwalking and barnstorming
    -stereotyped African animals and landscapes
    -caricature of black African cannibals

Discussion Questions

  1. Characterize the unique humor of the Felix silent animated cartoons. What made them funny? Why was Felix so widely popular?
  2. How might the addition of controversial content have influenced their humor and popularity?
  3. Which Felix cartoon did you find most successful at addressing a contemporary issue with humor? the least successful? Why?
  4. To what extent did the topical content reflect mainstream attitudes of the 1920s?
  5. To what extent might they have represented the personal perspectives of the Felix creators?
  6. What were the creators' likely opinions about Prohibition, the theory of evolution, racial relations, unions, and Russian revolutionaries?
  7. What ethnic, racial, and cultural stereotypes prevalent in the 1920s appear in the Felix cartoons? What does their presence indicate about mainstream attitudes in the period?
  8. Chronicle the development of the animated animal character from Krazy Kat in the 1910s through Felix the Cat and Mickey Mouse in the 1920s (see supplemental sites below). Compare the star appeal of the animated character and the live hero or heroine.
  9. What could Felix do or "say" on film, in a political sense, that Rudolph Valentino or Clara Bow could not?
  10. Combine the Felix issue-oriented cartoons with other single-source collections in this Theme, e.g., with printed humor cartoons (New Yorker) or with another silent film genre (Detroit News silent newsreels). What unique insights can be gained by studying single-source collections from a period? What limits do they present? [See collection discussion guide for THE AGE.]

Framing Questions

  • How are the Twenties immediately familiar to 21st-century observers? In what ways does the decade seem remote and old-fashioned?
  • Identify and explain four characteristics of the Twenties that most differentiate the decade from the 1910s and the 1930s.
  • What are benefits and downsides of snapshot views of a historical period?
  • What research would you conduct to test a hypothesis about the 1920s gained from these snapshot views?

Supplemental Sites

Felix the Cat (personal site of David Gerstein)

The Evolution of Felix the Cat, with video clips (personal site of A. R. Colton)

Disney's Steamboat Willie, the premiere of Mickey Mouse, 1929 (Disney Animation/YouTube)

Origins of American Animation (Library of Congress)
 -Krazy Kat animated cartoons, 1916
Paul Whiteman Band, Felix! Felix! Felix the Cat!, jazz band composition, 1928 (Internet Archive)

Images: stills from Felix the Cartoons, 1923-1926; in the public domain, courtesy of INTERNET MOVING IMAGE ARCHIVE.
– "Hollywood at last!" still from Felix in Hollywood, 1923.
– "Well—? Do we come after monkeys?" still from Felix Doubles for Darwin, 1924.
– "All I found in Russia was trouble," still from All Puzzled, 1925.
– "On strike," still from Felix Revolts, 1923.
– Felix and the moon, still from Felix Finds Out, 1924.
– "Now I'll find out what makes the moon shine," still from Felix Finds Out, 1924.
– "Get to the Polo Grounds," still from Felix Saves the Day, 1922.
– Felix and the flapper, "How about servin' some eats around here!" still from Felix Busts a Bubble, 1926.

*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.