Sunday, July 31, 2011

Felix the Cat: The Movie - Part 1

Animated films; the form of entertainment that people use when they objectively look at animation.

To the populace, an animated film with a giant budget and a contained story that has to be told in a given amount of time is the best way to present the craft of animation. Animated TV shows could get away with being cheap because they're the soulless byproduct of an industry, but not films. No, no, no. Not with Pixar around who always thinks about the art and never about the money! (although this state of mind is slowly dying out with the advent of Cars 2) And with animation studios constantly competing with each other in order to make the next film that will be as great as Disney or Pixar, animated films have become a profitable business.

At least most of the time, because for every well-made cartoon with a budget over several million dollars, there are probably like five cheaply made movies that were made with a budget that couldn't get you a Happy Meal from McDonalds. These are the movies that are usually forgotten by the wayside. This movie was one of those movies.

Felix the Cat: The Movie was an attempt to revive an aging cartoon icon after years of being nothing more than a seller of merchandise. Their heart was in the right place (unlike Heathcliff who just repackaged episodes from the TV show and shilled it off for a quick buck) least until they decided that the best way to revive one of the oldest cartoon characters still in existence today was to ship off the cartoon product to Hungary and then put the movie in theaters to compete with Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Yeah, that was smart.

Needless to say, Felix the Cat: The Movie bombed at the box office and wasn't the Felix revival the creators had hoped for. Ironically, Disney, possibly still laughing their asses off at the fact that this movie had the same opening day as the Disney movie that almost won Best Picture in the Oscars, would run this movie a lot on the Disney Channel and that's how most people know of its existence.

That being said, I have a sad confession to make. The reason this is going to be my first animated movie blog post is because this was one of my favorite movies from my childhood and still remains a personal favorite for me. I'm currently going to school for an Animation BFA so I know bad animation when I see it, and unfortunately, even though this animation is from an outsourced Hungarian studio, there's admittingly a bizarre charm to it that I can still deprive some entertainment from.

That doesn't change the fact it's a strange as hell movie, though, so into the grinder it goes.

Since I blab so much about only 22 minute episodes, I'm splitting this analysis into multiple parts. So sit back and gaze into the strangely animated abyss that is...

Felix the Cat: The Movie

Original Release Date: October 1988 (November 1991 in the United States)

Availability: On DVD, but be prepared to pay over 30 dollars for it.

Okay, the best way to start on this movie is to bring up the opening before the actual title. This is probably the one of the biggest things that gets made fun of in this movie, because the creators decided very wrongly that the first thing that should entertain the audience is some CGI effects.

Unfortunately, CGI effects in 1988 are just laughable now.

Oh hey, I still remember the level select code for this game.
Up, Down, Left, Right, Hold A and press Start!
So yeah, Felix the Cat decides to talk to us in the form of a disembodied CGI head with bad lip syncing and weird floating pupils set against a stark black void. Can you imagine being in a movie theater in 1991 and seeing this creepy smoothed down cat head instead of the beautifully stylistic opening in Beauty and the Beast? I imagine the reason why this movie did as bad as it did (besides the most obvious answer) is that audiences took one look at this opening, thought the whole movie was be floating heads set in pitch black darkness, and then demanded a refund.

"Yeah, folks. I'm sorry about this too."
Creepy decapitated CGI Felix tells the audience that he just came back from the kingdom of Oriana in a voice that sounds like Mickey Mouse, which fits because he had a falsetto voice since the 1930's. There's a law somewhere that all black and white cartoon characters from the 1920's talk in falsetto voices, apparently. He cracks a joke that really isn't that funny and mentions that Oriana is in another dimension and that the creatures there are pretty strange, and if a magic floating cat head calls something strange, you'd better believe him. He concludes his little badly animated monologue with what could be a moral, I guess: "Trouble is trouble, no matter where you are". It's a bit early in your movie to be ripping off Song of the South, Felix.

Save for the annoying glow effect, I actually really like this shot.
Finally, we get to the actual movie with the actual animation, and thankfully it looks a lot better than the decapitated CGI horror we just witnessed. Unfortunately, it never gets at Disney level, and you can totally tell from the moment we see Princess Oriana. Oriana likes to alternate between rotoscoped animation to merely sliding across the screen like an amorphous blob of princess. Rarely does Oriana move in a believable fashion. Ironically enough, she's the most humanoid character in this movie and she's also the worst animated.

I like that she uses a quill pen but has a modern lamp sitting right there.
There's a knock on her door, she invites the person to come in and...good lord. The colors for her room are atrocious! It took me a while to focus on the guy who comes in through the door was saying because my retinas were seared out by such a color combination.

Just because she's royalty doesn't mean she can't be tacky as hell.
And then we are kindly introduced to Grumper, someone who will probably deflect to the villain's side just from his outfit and his appearance. I shouldn't even be spoiling anything; he's that obvious.

He's not pretty enough to be a good guy.
Which is kind of sad, because the first thing he does in this movie is call Oriana out on how much she absolutely sucks at being a monarch, and even if you have a passing knowledge on the functions of an economy, you'd agree with him. I mean, for starters, Oriana gave everyone in the kingdom extra money because the treasury had a small surplus. No. Bad princess! That's not how you run a kingdom!

She's a fan of Earth modern art at least.
Before Grumper can lay down a verbal smackdown against the princess for failing Government 101, another character bursts into the door, screaming that the end is near and that doom shall rain down on them all. Harold Camping? No, it's Madame Pearl, the resident predictor person girl thing. She's apparently the "Royal Appointee" but I have no idea what the hell that means. She's basically there so that Oriana has an ally.

"You summoned my trap cards!"
Madame Pearl drops a hell of a bomb on Princess Oriana and Grumper. (I love how that's his name, by the way) Because she spotted the black duck on a green planet (oh geez), Oriana's evil uncle the Duke of Zill broke through The Impasse. And while Pearl is saying this, she makes all these pointless, elaborate gestures like she's having a seizure, doing things like slitting her throat with her tarot card and randomly shivering like she's having the opposite of a hot flash. Remember, this animation was going up against Beauty and the Beast.

My pokemon brings all the nerds to the yard,
And they're like "Hey wanna trade cards?"
Well, surely since Princess Oriana owns a prosperous city, she should be able to hold off her crazed uncle and keep her people safe, right? No, because we learn casually from Grumper that Oriana disbanded the army leaving them without any defense. Okay, I don't care if she's a pretty little princess who can write her name in glowy, sparkly magic ink. She's a horrible leader. 

The Duke's elbow ribbons are just adorable!
Oriana shrugs off the fact that she doomed all of her subjects to being overthrown by the Duke by saying "I don't need to be reminded" and saying that her people will stand up against that tyrant. Yeah, big words for a woman who can't understand the purpose of a treasury.

Unfortunately, Madame Pearl informs Oriana that everyone in the kingdom already surrendered or fled and the Duke of Zill is just a couple minutes away from seizing total control of the castle. Uh, you guys? Couldn't you have informed Oriana about this a little bit earlier instead of waiting until the last minute? I'm pretty sure you can see his army coming, especially if they look like this:

The single most eye-searing evil army ever.
Grumper suggests that they take the underground railway and use the Dimensporter, and sure enough, there's a prophecy attached to the Dimensporter and receiving a dark stranger from the outside. Gee I wonder if that has anything to do with Felix the Cat? Grumper makes a big deal about staying behind, so of course he stays and suspiciously sits on Princess Oriana's throne. The movie plays this out to be a bad thing, but Oriana got rid of the army and the treasury so to hell with her rule.

So yeah, underground railroad, which has nothing to do with slavery. There are some near misses with the Duke of Zill's glowing army of blinding death (geez, did they blow like 80% of the budget on those glow effects?), but they finally end up at the underground railroad.

What do you have against my eyes, movie?
Long story short, they end up in the Dimensporter room and this is where I have to give my first compliment to this movie. When they don't make bad color choices (like in Oriana's room), the backgrounds are pretty awesome and suggest some really nice world building that probably would've suited a different type of movie. I remember being a little kid watching this movie and wanting to know more about the world of Oriana and that cool-looking Dimensporter as opposed to Princess Oriana herself. This becomes more readily apparent when we get to the Land of Zill, but I'll talk about that later.

Pretty inconvenient place to store an interdimensional piece of equipment.
Anyways, back to Oriana. She tries to activate the Dimensporter, but the Duke catches up to her and says that he's got big plans for her in the Land of Zill. See, Princess? This is the kind of situation where an army funded by the money from the treasury would've come in handy. Don't you feel mighty silly right about now?

"Maybe I shouldn't have slept through my political science classes..."
You know, so far this animated film hasn't been strange enough to properly suit a Felix the Cat cartoon. Don't worry folks, because this is when the story takes a sharp turn into Strangeville and pulls out one of the craziest plot points ever. Everyone who's talked about this film has made fun of this plot point and now I get my chance to do the same.

Anyways, we get a close-up of Oriana's obviously rotoscoped face and we see her cry a single tear of composed princess sadness. Sounds normal enough, at least until the tear turns gold and shiny, starts flying through the air, and shouting "Help me!" while inputting the correct code for the Dimensporter. Yeah, what the hell, movie? They never explain how this works, if Princess Oriana did this because she has magic in her royal blood, or if tears just work differently in this universe. They just expect us to accept this plot point.

Yeah, Oriana's tear turned into Navi from Ocarina of Time. And ironically, as a kid, I liked the tear more as a character than Princess Oriana herself. It probably helps that the tear has a cute little high-pitched voice and doesn't have distracting animation like the princess sometimes does. I don't know how the tear can somehow work the Dimensporter when the actual princess failed, though. I guess since tears can heal wounds and revive Ash Ketchum in the first Pokemon movie, they're also good at figuring out complex machinery.

Her own bodily secretions are more competent than her.
So the tear flies into the Dimensporter and is teleported into Felix's dimension, thanks to the use of the special effects budget. My question is how come no one noticed the crazy light show taking place in the sky? Did this happen every time someone teleported to and from Oriana? I imagine the sky would get pretty distracting if there was like a line of people waiting to get to Oriana and the Dimensporter couldn't house more than a couple people.
Windows Media Player teleportation sequence!
Finally, Felix is in his own movie. The tear lands on his nose and creates a holographic projection of the princess while asking for his aid. I know what you're all thinking, but just for that, I'm not going to make the obvious Star Wars joke.

Okay, fine. "Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi." Happy, now?
What's Felix the Cat's way of greeting this glowing, talking object with a princess inside? Swiping wildly at it and trying to pounce on it, of course. Just because he can talk and has a magic bag doesn't mean Felix can't succumb to his most basic cat instincts. What's funny is that he tells the glowing tear that he won't hurt her while he's doing this. I'm sure my cats told those gophers and lizards the exact same thing, Felix.

Imagine if his enemies were armed with a laser pointer.
So we have ourselves a small chase sequence between cat and glowing princess secretion, and it's here we learn that Felix the Cat, when he's alone, likes to crack a bunch of jokes in rapid secession. Felix is at his most annoying in the beginning scenes because, without another character to talk over him, Felix sort of saturates the scenes with his own mindless chatter. He just loves the sound of his own voice a bit too much. And considering he sounds a lot like Mickey Mouse, you can imagine how annoying this could be.

Also, that tear must be trying to kill Felix, because it leads Felix over a mountain road and Felix narrowly avoids getting flattened by a semi.

It would be kind of a unique subversion if Felix got killed ten minutes
into his own movie.
The bag gets flattened by the random truck, and we learn that Felix's magic bag is invulnerable to damage. Of course, Felix blows it back to its normal size and shape while still standing on that mountain road that cars go screaming down at high speeds. He even walks down in it and continues standing in the middle of the road for the next couple of scenes. Felix, if you had just witnessed a semi nearly turn you into Felix the Roadkill, maybe you should stay out of the road! You know motorists hate it when household pets bolt in front of them.

The movie decides that having just Felix for the entire movie would be pretty annoying, so they introduce two other characters from the Felix the Cat franchise, The Professor and his nephew Poindexter from the 1950's cartoon. And unfortunately the sets for The Professor's lair make him a lot more badass than he really is. I mean, look at these designs...

I wish this wasn't a Felix the Cat movie because man these designs are cool.
And then look at The Professor and Poindexter.

Nothing like a little neighborhood spying to bring an uncle and a
nephew closer together.
Yeah, quite a letdown, isn't it? I will give the voice actors credit, they really nail down the voices from the 1950's cartoon almost exactly. I just kind of wish that they matched the set designs. Either make everything about the Professor and Poindexter badass (sort of like what Sonic SatAM did to Robotnik) or just keep everything about them true to the show. Don't go halfsies on the reimagining.

Immediately, Poindexter is established as the one that does the actual thinking out of the two of them, because their scene involves The Professor asking questions like "What is he doing?" and "What's happening?" while Poindexter obediently answers. Another way you can tell Poindexter is the smart one is because he likes to arrogantly wear a graduation cap at all times in order to advertise his smartness to the entire world.

The Professor makes a point to say that he "always wanted that bag" just to inform the viewers at home that he's some sort of antagonist. Sadly, with his umbrella, his purple striped pajamas, and his previous scene where 80% of his dialogue were confused questions, it feels more like the addled wishes of a senile old gentleman than anything threatening.

"Uncle, your Social Security check came in the mail today!"
He tells his nephew that now would be a great time to grab the magic bag, but not before Poindexter fusses with glasses, revealing to the audience that he has no eyes.

He's so confident of his intelligence that he removed his eyes just
to prove that he could.
Also, apparently their definition of Felix the Cat being "up to something" is Felix accidentally running into a fox den and narrowly being eaten by a family of ravenous carnivores. Makes sense to me!

Come on Fox, do a barrel roll!
What follows next is what best can be described as an absolutely pointless musical number called "Sly as a Fox". And at the risk of giving this movie too many compliments when it doesn't deserve them, the music in this movie can be pretty neat. That is, if it wasn't severely shortened down and usually drowned out by background noise. Apparently they were going to release a soundtrack, but they never did, so thus the shortened, background noise-filled samples in the movie are the only surviving copies available today. This song isn't the best out of the original songs but it's got a nice 80's feel to it, especially when we get to the part where the singer goes "Whoa-oh-oh-a-oooohhhh!" instead of actually making up lyrics.

This warranted a song, apparently.
So we get a 40 second song (geez, I want to know if there's a full length version of this song existing somewhere in a recording studio) about how foxes are really sly but end up outfoxing themselves. As you can guess, it has nothing do with Felix, doesn't advance the plot, and the foxes in the song never appear in the movie ever again. What action accompanies this song? Foxes scratching dirt on the magic bag while the little one tries to urinate on it and fails. Yeah. Surely this needed to be animated, movie!

Ahh, toilet humor. Truly the bread and butter of animated films.
Luckily, this is when the movie finally gets back on track with its own plot and once again Felix is following the magic princess tear. Once again the tear tries to kill Felix (that sure is one sadistic fluid) because Felix almost falls down a sinkhole that looks to be at least three stories deep. Why aren't there any warnings about a really deep abandoned mine shaft just sitting unattended in a forest somewhere? I wonder if any hikers just turned up missing in this area.

Fortunately for Felix the Cat, he has a magic bag, and he demonstrates just what it can do to the people watching this and wondering why he chooses to lug around that bag. He apparently can activate its powers by turning his pupils into pluses and shooting magic eye lasers at it so that it turns into whatever Felix desires in that point in time. In this situation's case, it turns into parachuting gear, and I realize this entire paragraph makes no sense. Just bear with me here.
Looking back at this scene, it's probably not a good thing to show, as a first demonstration of the bag's abilities, Felix falling to his doom while shouting desperately for his magic parachute to open. He survives since he's Felix the Cat and therefore doesn't get hurt in comedic slapstick situations such as this, but it's still a little bit worrying to picture The Professor getting his hands on this bag and dying a horrible death because his magic parachute won't obey him.

Felix follows the teardrop through the mines and demonstrates the inability to shut up. He stops the action just to say really inane pieces of dialogue. He even points and laughs at some remains of some poor soul who had tumbled down this mineshaft and crawled through the darkness broken and bleeding until part of the mineshaft caved in on his body and he died alone and afraid. Felix is a bit of a callous asshole when you stop to think about it.
"Hah hah, you died and that's funny!"
In response to Felix making fun of his death, the skull moves on its own (great job invoking angry spirits there, Felix) and changes Felix's parachute equipment back into magic bag form. Uh, okay. This physical manifestation of the undead doesn't phase the cat one bit, as he treks his way towards the Great Anairo Gold Mine. I remember feeling like such a winner when I was a little kid when I figured out that Anairo was Oriana backwards.
So was the mine named after Oriana, was the name just a coincidence, or...?
So apparently the Dimensporter is stored in some random pyrite mine (despite the fact those gold spires look way too convincing to be fake) in the middle of nowhere. Odd place to establish interdimensional relations. There's a sign that even says "Warning: Dimensporter", meaning that at one point people on Earth actually knew that there was a Dimensporter. Come on, movie. Give humanity a little more credit. We freak out whenever we find bacteria on some random moon orbiting Neptune; you'd think discovering a whole 'nother dimension full of sentient life and strange new species would cause the entire scientific community to collectively fill their pants in sheer glee.

DANGER: Parallel dimension filled with untold majesty and wonder!
Also, there's one line Felix the Cat says that I actually find amusing instead of soul-crushing like most of his lines. When he reads a warning off a different sign (How many signs do you need for this Dimensporter? Does it shoot cancer rays after each use?) which ends with "I wouldn't if I were you!", he responds with a quick "Hah, you're not me!". Not gut-roaring hilarious, but I give it props for not being annoying.

"I'm warning you, there's a parallel dimension with advanced civilizations
full of technology a lot more fantastic than ours! Better stay clear!"
After reading this sign, Felix sort of accidentally walks into the ancient alien technology and gets blasted off into another dimension just like that. Yeah, not sure how he accidentally gets himself trapped in the Dimensporter even though he was warned ahead of time. Also, tantalizingly, the Dimensporter asks for a destination, which could mean there were other dimensions besides Oriana. Forget just having a movie, this probably would've fared better as a TV series. Felix traveling to different dimensions using alien techn-no wait, I think I'm accidentally mixing up Felix the Cat with Stargate SG-1.

Yeah, this won't make the movie look horribly dated at all!
Now that Felix is now in Oriana, the tear disappears and says this is as far as it will take him and now its up to Felix. Hate to say it, magic floating Oriana tear, but Felix has never been to your dimension before. Expecting him to just find the princess without any direction is a bit much to be asking from him. 

I kind of wish Navi said "Yeah, you're on your own" and then disappeared midway through Ocarina of Time...
Since the Duke was kind enough to seal the entrance instead of using the Dimensporter to conquer entire dimensions and expand his evil empire (the Duke is kind of an idiot, I noticed), Felix decides to turn his magic bag into a jackhammer and bust his way through the solid bricks. Instead, he drills through the wrong wall and causes a bunch of water and strange creatures to fill the room. Not sure how that underground railroad can sustain itself if its just a couple feet away from some giant body of water, but okay.

Luckily, the Dimensporter can magically raise itself on a purple platforms in some shots and be perfectly fine submerged in other shots so it never gets damaged. It would kind of suck to end the movie with "Sorry Felix, you're stuck in our world forever because you flooded the room and caused water damage to sensitive equipment", after all.
The Dimensporter drinking game: Take a shot whenever it changes height
or magically appears from on the ground to on a platform.
Here is when we learn what the floating CGI Felix head meant when some of the creatures here are really strange, because this underwater scene wastes a couple minutes of our time just to show off a bunch of offbeat underwater creatures. Such creatures include creatures with too many eyeballs and some big-breasted seahorses that really push the G-rating by twirling their breasts in a complete circle. Also, even though a lot of the fish have lines, none of them move their mouths in the animation. Because that's what we need more of in this movie; more random dialogue!

Movie, what the hell am I looking at here? Seriously.
But not all of the weird fish are friendly, for lurking in the waters is a weird manta ray/shark hybrid that...presents no real challenge and is easily ignored by the main hero. I guess he's just there to look cool and temporarily change the soundtrack to a Jaws-esque type of music. All Felix has to do is open a panel off the wall and the shark is quickly ignored and probably ate all of the other fish off-screen.

They bite, they fight,
They stand for everything right,
Street Sharks!
Somehow, Felix ends up in an evil-looking swamp, leaving the audience to wonder what the hell happened to all of those fish when there's a big huge drain that's gushing out all the water. You even see some floating in the water when Felix is poured out into the swamp, where they were left to suffocate and be fried to a delicious golden brown under an unforgiving sun.

And all those fish are quickly forgotten, making that previous sequence entirely pointless.
But the movie realizes that Felix the Cat is dangerously agitating when he's by himself, it quickly throws another character at him. In the swamp's case, it's some old redneck named Pim who sounds a lot like a miner (did he once work in the Anairo Gold Mine? Wild Mass Guessing time!) and looks like someone taller than him took a large dump on his hat. Sadly, he's pretty much the only human in this movie that has convincing animation, probably because he's not heavily rotoscoped like the Princess is.

"I don't care who you are, but that's funny right there!"
Pim is actually smarter than he looks, because when he hears Felix saying that he was following a drop of water with a beautiful girl, he believes that the cat is totally flipping insane. This scene becomes even funnier when you see what stuff that Pim actually is used to. He decides to lead Felix to civilization, but not before he winks to the audience and says that the magic bag will come in mighty handy indeed. Okay, Pim, no need to give away your sudden and inevitable betrayal to the audience. Let it be a surprise.

"Yeah, smart guy, don't think I can't hear you, and don't think I won't
turn this bag into something that can kill you."
The farther we get into the actual landscapes of Oriana, the more I really, really wish this wasn't a Felix the Cat cartoon. It's kind of a sad thing when Felix the Cat is the one thing that looks out of place in his own movie. As I watch these pretty cool landscapes meander behind somewhat mediocre animation, I wonder how well this movie would've fared if it was an original movie about some Oriana resident that went to save the princess instead and they left out that whole mess with the Dimensporter on the cutting room floor.

And then Pim is ganked by a troll rogue on his way to Theramore Isle.
So far, the swamp isn't quite so threatening despite Pim insisting that this swamp will kill you 50 ways before you realize you're dead, so we encounter our first deadly threat. Tribbles Turbles. What are turbles? Basically carnivorous plant/animal bubbles that look like rotten cherry cordial truffles left out in the sun after Valentine's Day. What makes this scene sort of unintentionally badass is that Pim describes the turbles while they're floating in a pool where a decaying dragon's head is just sitting there, never really called attention to by either of them.
So something split a dragon's head in half and they're concentrating on the bubble things?
Then we encounter the turble plant, and it turns out before they adapt to aquatic life, they are released as spores into the air and they're even deadlier as juveniles. This little segway into Oriana wildlife just proves that the writers of this movie focused on Oriana first and Felix second and then just plunked the Felix the Cat characters into their fantasy world. It's not so much "Felix the Cat: the Movie" as it is "Oriana Starring Felix the Cat".

Turble sperm.
As they travel through this dragon-eating, turble-spawning hellhole of a swamp, Felix once again asks Pim if he's seen the girl in the tear. All this talk does is reinforce Pim's idea that Felix is insane and should be separated from the magic shapeshifting instrument of destruction ASAP.

To be fair, can you really blame Pim for thinking Felix is out of his mind?
Finally, we get to what Pim calls civilization. Ladies and gentlemen, here's our first glimpse of the Land of Zill's capital city known simply as Progress City. It's the only habitable place in a dangerous swampland, and even from far away it looks derelict and utterly run-down. Be prepared to see more of this wasteland of steel and industry in the future because, without giving too much away, the majority of the movie is in Progress City. Felix makes a joke about New Jersey that really isn't that funny, probably because Progress City looks way too nice to be New Jersey.
For starters, that's one clear blue sky. New Jersey has nothing on that.
Oh, and Pim unceremoniously shoves Felix into a turble plant, trapping him in an organic prison. That sure didn't take long, Pim. Our only clue as to what Pim is up to are some of the Duke's cylinders telling him to "Bring him to Wack". I love how no one in Oriana has a normal name save for Pearl at the beginning. Or maybe "Wack" is just a nickname and his real name is something distinguished like Reginald or Thaddius. Since Pim just captured Felix and we haven't met Wack yet, we have no way of knowing just yet.

It'd be kind of funny if Felix was dissolved by the turble's digestive juices before
Pim and the Duke could use his magic bag.
And with that, I figure now is a good time to stop since what comes next is arguably the best part of the movie, or at the very least the part the animators and the concept artists took the most care in making.

Why? Because the movie introduces its real villain, of course. Yes, the Duke of Zill may blow a lot of smoke with his army of floating cans, but Part 2 has the actual villain that has direct contact with the heroes, has way more dialogue and character, and has a more satisfying conclusion to his story arc than the Duke. Who is he? We'll find out next time.

Follow a magic glowing princess tear to Part 2!