Control Nathan Rabin 4.0 #42 Felix the Cat: The Movie (1989)
Welcome, friends, to the latest entry in Control Nathan Rabin 4.0. It’s the career and site-sustaining column that gives YOU, the kindly, Christ-like, unbelievably sexy Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place patron an opportunity to choose a movie that I must watch, and then write about, in exchange for a one-time, one hundred dollar pledge to the site’s Patreon account. The price goes down to seventy-five dollars for all subsequent choices.
In addition to more expected choices (Rad, Pass Thru, a Neil Breen joint that hurts the brain and wounds the soul of anyone watching it), patrons have tossed me a delightful series of curveballs. In that respect, y’all have been acting as uncompensated (hell, you’re the ones actually paying me!) scouts scanning the pop culture spectrum, and their own fuzzy memories/childhoods for movies so weirdly resonant they merit paying a hundred dollars to have some dude chronicle them for posterity on a modestly read personal pop culture website.
That tradition continues with the 1989 Hungarian-American animated fantasy Felix the Cat: The Movie. Felix the Cat: The Movie is a weird selection for this column for a couple of reasons. Even for this column, it’s a bit obscure. It took five years for it to go from the start of production in 1986 to a low-profile direct-to-video VHS release in the States and has never been released legally here on DVD.
Also, it’s just fucking weird in the way lazy, half-assed yet overwrought children’s movies sometimes are.
It wants very desperately to be a Felix the Cat movie, of course, but also Star Wars and a psychedelic fantasy in the She-Ra/He-Man mold, with some sanitized Frank Frazetta thrown in for extra what the fuckery.
Instead, it accidentally ends up feeling like a crazy collection of the worst, most misguided elements in other kiddie fodder. Did you enjoy the soul-scarring, childhood-traumatizing sequence in Follow That Bird where an imprisoned and enslaved Big Bird, looking like he wishes he had hands and arms so he could slit his wrists in despair, is forced to perform in an abusive traveling carnival?
Then you’ll absolutely adore the sizable portion of the movie devoted to Felix the Cat and an enslaved princess who is part She-Ra, part Princess Leia and part fantasy world Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez striving to improve her kingdom against the angry wishes of cruel fat cats and inter-dimensional dictators are enslaved and forced to perform in an abusive inter-dimensional carnival.
The tragic princess is forced to dance for the delight of deranged voyeurs, not unlike Diahnn Carroll in the Star Wars Holiday Special. Felix, meanwhile, wants to abuse audiences with his terrible sub-open mic-level stand up comedy, but is sensibly forced instead to do a double act with his Magic Bag doing outlandish stunts.
Of course Felix always could just turn the Magic Bag into a submachine gun and pepper his audience with bullet fire until the bleachers run red with the blood of the oppressors, after which Felix could of course go after the slave-master running the carnival. But instead of taking that sensible step to free himself and his comrades, he instead goes along with this creep’s sinister plans.
Felix the Cat: The Movie anticipates the Star Wars prequels in its ridiculous decision to further weigh down an already ponderous narrative with a never-ending deluge of groaningly adult, screamingly boring, dry details involving inter-dimensional travel, the political machinations of a Princess in distress fighting for her people’s survival, talk of treasuries and surpluses, a dark figure of prophecy (who turns out to be Felix the Cat, of course) and a whole bunch of bullshit no one could conceivably care about, let alone small children wanting to see a silly movie about a cat with a magical bag.
I went into Felix the Cat: The Movie knowing almost nothing about its titular character. I knew he was an old-timey black and white character, the kind you can imagine flappers enjoying while dancing the Charleston and chugging bootleg liquor, like Betty Boop. I knew, of course, that Felix had a Bag of Tricks, that served as a sort of Deux ex Machina he could use to get out of pretty much any jam. And I knew that Felix the Cat looked a little like Mickey Mouse. They both benefitted from a sort of sublime simplicity: they’re so basic, a series of interlocking circles, really, that even small children can draw them.
Judging by Felix the Cat: The Movie, Felix the Cat is a terrible character. The worst. So goddamned tiresome. The Magic Bag of Tricks? That’s a great fucking character. People love the Magic Bag of Tricks. It’s literally the only thing anyone remembers about Felix the Cat. Felix the Cat is so lame that he is completely upstaged by one of his accessories. Dude cannot compete with his goddamned man-purse.
The Magic Bag of Tricks is Britney Spears. Felix the Cat is Kevin Federline. The bag gets invited to the Vanity Fair Oscar party, and Felix is his plus one. The Magical Bag of Tricks produces a pound of pharmaceutical-grade cocaine when Jack Nicholson mentions he sure wouldn’t mind a little high-quality booger sugar to kick the evening into high gear. Felix the Cat nearly gets kicked out of the party for asking model types, “If this is an Oscar party, then where’s Oscar the Grouch and his trash can?” until the Magic Bag of Tricks vouches for him.
People want to fuck the Bag of Tricks. They want to be it. They want to drink in the bag’s magic, its wonder. Felix the Cat is just there to happily collect the runoff.
Felix The Cat: The Movie opens on a nightmarish note, with a primitive CGI Felix the Cat head floating ominously in space, disembodied and horrific, like a Lovecraftian monster or something from Zardoz. His eyes are as black as the devil’s, as a shark’s. Verily, he is the stuff of nightmares. He looks like a vinyl balloon that gained sentience through black magic.
Sounding freshly castrated, Felix squeaks, “Oh, hi everybody! Glad you can make it! You know, we’ve been on some amazing adventures together, but I’ve just gotta tell ya about one that beats them all. You see, I just got back from the land of Oriana.”
He pauses briefly, before delivering what, to his addled mind, qualifies as a punchline: “Never been there? That doesn’t surprise me. It doesn’t have an airport!”
Felix laughs long and proudly at his own joke even though it’s less a gag than a dry statement of fact: even if you do want to travel their via Delta you can’t because for some fucking reason they decided this 75 minute long Felix the Cat movie had to take place in multiple dimensions, in multiple realities, like Into the Spider-Verse if it wasn’t hilarious and great, only confusing and convoluted.
It was hatred at first site. I hated everything about the little creep: his helium squeal of a voice, the endless barrage of terrible one-liners and wisecracks, the tortured wordplay. He’s nothing but a lame sidekick. The bag is the star.
Felix the Cat: The Movie opens in the land of Oriana, which is being invaded by the forces of the evil forces of the sinister Duke of Zell. In distress, Princess Oriana, a very poor man’s Princess Leia, cries a perfect magical tear that somehow travels through a thingamajig called a Dimensporter and alerts Felix the Cat to her plight, not unlike Leia using a hologram to get help. EXACTLY like that only shitty.
This leads to Felix traveling through an inter-dimensional portal to try to rescue the Princess that lands him alongside her highness in the aforementioned abusive space carnival.
To give a sense of Felix’s personality, early in the film he comes across a skull and, in a sadly typical bit of banter, quips, “Boy, could you use a Big Mac!” Not content to merely mock the death of this human being, who undoubtedly possessed dignity and a family and a whole lot more personality than fucking Felix the Cat, the obnoxious feline with the impressive bag cruelly mocks the rotting remain, taunting it mercilessly like a bratty child antagonizing a playground rival.
Felix is nothing more than a generic one-liner-dispensing machine, with a groaner for every occasion, whether he’s quipping of a swamp-like fantasy realm, “Yuck! Where are we? New Jersey!” Or when he’s roasting the Duke of Zill with a vicious, "That duke. He’s got a kind face. The KIND you’d like to forget.”
Like an inter-dimensional Bill Maher, Felix the Cat is politically incorrect. Felix speaks truth to power with his comedy, toppling false idols with the mega-ton force of his wit. When Felix is deluged with rotten fruit and vegetables, meanwhile, he jokes, “I haven’t seen this much fruit salad since I was in California!”, which, depending on how you look at it, can very charitably be deemed a joke.
All of Felix’s material is that weak. Funny how this Magic Bag can do anything and be anything but it can’t give its owner a tight five, a point of view or good stage presence. When the cruel carnival proprietor/low-key slavedriver forbids Felix from making jokes during his performance, it’s the most sensible thing anyone has said in the film. It makes you wonder whether he’s really a secondary villain or the film’s true hero.
An international dub of Felix the Cat: The Movie that cut all of Felix’s dialogue, taking him back to his silent roots, could only be an improvement. I can’t say I’d miss anyone’s dialogue. This is the kind of over-produced, over-written muddle that introduces something called the “The Book of Ultimate Power” fifty minutes in.
In a twist not unlike that found in the message song “One Tin Soldier”, the peacenik anthem Satanists Coven recorded for Billy Jack, when the evil Duke of Zill finally gets the Book of Ultimate Power the “secrets” contained within its pages are the words “Truth, Love and Wisdom.”
Yes, love was the real Fifth Element all along. And the true Green Book. And Rosebud, if you really think about it. For that extra dollop of schmaltz the Princess, who has not been responding to Felix’s Fuck eyes at all, tells the little bastard that he possesses gold—a heart of gold that is.
Like so many terrible movies I’ve written about for this site, this ends by teasing a sequel nobody asked for and nobody wanted that of course did not not get made.
The world was not lesser for it. Felix the Cat was produced by Don Oriolo, the son of Joe Oriolo, co-creator of the Felix the Cat TV show. As a desecration of a father’s life work/legacy, Felix the Cat: The Movie isn’t quite up there with The Happytime Murders but this makes one of the most popular animated characters in history an alternately bland and annoying background character in a convoluted and ridiculously over-plotted fantasy mess.
It’s seventy-five minutes of tacky, pastel nonsense that went a long way towards satisfying what little curiosity I had about Felix the Cat. Felix the Cat: The Movie tries so hard to do so many different things, and be so many different things, that it ends up not being much of anything at all.
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