Sunday, March 3, 2024

FELIX KEPT ON WALKING [438]

Original and current versions of Felix the Cat and "Felix the cat"

Felix the Cat is an animated cartoon character that first appeared in the cartoon “Feline Follies” in 1919. Like a hand-drawn Charlie Chaplin, but with a tail that magically transformed into anything needed in the moment, Felix’s surreal cartoons were a big hit in the 1920s, making him a mascot to celebrities and sports teams, and entering homes in toy form. Losing out to Mickey Mouse by the end of the decade, Felix continued in newspaper comics strips and on television, now carrying a magic bag that changed shape as required. Having not starred in a major film or series in over twenty years, Felix survives as intellectual property owned by DreamWorks Animation since 2014, his image licensed for merchandise in a manner not unlike that of another character not seen on screen in years, Betty Boop. 

“Felix the cat” has been the mascot of Felix cat food since 1989. Originally a manufacturer of dry cat biscuits in Biggleswade, Felix Catfood Ltd was bought by the Quaker Oats Company in 1970, and a relaunched product range included wet food in tins. A new advertisement campaign launched in 1989, including television for the first time, which featured a realistically-drawn black-and-white cat, named for the product and behaving as mischievously as any regular cat. This campaign continues to the present day, surviving the brand’s change in ownership to Spillers, the former makers of Kattomeat, and to Nestlé Purina Healthcare.

Searching “Felix the Cat” on Amazon.co.uk brings up “Felix” ahead of Felix, and while that is an indicator of which one has consistently made more product in the last thirty-five years, it still annoys me – I never got used to one of the UK’s Brexit negotiators being named David Frost, when they were not the same David Frost that interviewed Richard Nixon and presented “Through the Keyhole”.

There is precedence in the UK, also involving cat food and a cartoon cat, of something arriving with the same name, but it resulted in a name change to avoid confusion: Spillers already had a cat food named “Top Cat”, meaning the Hanna-Barbera series was renamed “Boss Cat” on television from 1962. This cat food is no longer produced, so there is no longer any confusion. Later in the 1960s, Marvel Comics were able to introduce their own superhero named “Captain Marvel” in the absence of the original Fawcett Comics character, now largely known as “Shazam” due to new owner DC Comics being legally unable to use their original name to title their books.

With DreamWorks’ copyright for Felix the Cat extending to “prerecorded goods” and “musical instruments, namely, guitars” with licensing of that image from there, there is the space for two Felix-es to exist, and because they exist in industries separate from each other, there should be no issue, apart from my own cognitive dissonance.

What I do find amusing is that, while DreamWorks’ copyright covers the later version of Felix the Cat, with a rounder head, larger eyes, no whiskers, longer legs and shorter body than the 1920s version – this also means that, like the “Steamboat Willie” Mickey Mouse, the original Felix the Cat is in the public domain – the cat food “Felix” that continues to appear in animated ads on television was recently redrawn with larger eyes, a more human-like smile and, like the original Felix, their own song “It’s Great to Be a Cat”, sung by Robbie Williams. However, this will remain contained within the space of an ad break, and away from the original Felix.

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