November 22, 2021

WILL RYAN DEAD AT 72

 


You can read the full story here.


He voiced Wishing Well in an episode of The Wuzzles; Slime, Selwyn Quarrel, Cousin McDougall, Wizard Anton, and additional voices in The Smurfs (1981); Chubs in Teen Wolf: The Animated Series; Ogres, Gad and Zook in Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears; McKraven, Webster the Rabbit and additional voices in Garfield and Friends; Mr. Cross Ghost, a Medic Guardian and Voices in The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat; Willie the Giant in Disney’s House of Mouse; and played various characters in various episodes of ABC Weekend Specials, for which also wrote, produced and provided music for an episode











November 20, 2021

THE TWISTED TALES OF FELIX THE CAT

 

THE TWISTED TALES OF FELIX THE CAT
(CBS, September 16, 1995-April 12, 1997)
 
Felix the Cat Productions, Film Roman


 
 
MAIN CAST:
Thom Adcox-Hernandez – Felix the Cat (season 1)
Charlie Adler – Felix the Cat (season 2), various


 
 
            Australian cartoonist Pat Sullivan came to the United States to find his career and ended up working as an assistant to newspaper cartoonist William Marriner. After Marriner’s death, he joined the animation studio set up by Raoul Barré until he was fired for “general incompetence”. Taking what he learned there, Sullivan opened up his own studio and made a series of shorts based on Marriner’s strip called Sammy Johnsin, followed by a series starring Charlie Chaplin’s The Tramp character. His biggest hit came in 1919 when he and animator Otto Messmer debuted Felix the Cat.

The original Felix and his expressive tail.


            A prototype version named Master Tom debuted in the short Feline Follies from Paramount Pictures; becoming the first animated character not based on an existing property. Proving successful, the Sullivan studio was quick to produce a follow-up, Musical Mews, which was fared just as well. The third film, The Adventures of Felix, saw the character receive his familiar name inspired said to be inspired by Australia Felix from Australian history and literature (or for the Latin term for “happy” or “lucky”). It has been claimed that Felix’s personality and movements were both inspired by The Tramp character and Messmer himself. Felix’s tail was both expressive and useful; taking the shape of an exclamation point or question mark one minute and becoming a tool he could use the next. Critics would call Felix the embodiment of a child’s sense of wonder, creating the fantastic wherever he went and taking it head on when it was encountered. His most recognizable trademark was his tendency to walk with his hands behind his back, slumped over and deep in thought.

Pat Sullivan working on the Felix comic strip.


            There are two variations on the tale of Felix’s creation. Sullivan credited himself as the sole creator, saying in a 1925 article for Australian newspaper The Argus that he was inspired by either his wife’s love of cats or Rudyard Kipling’s “The Cat that Walked by Himself”. Members of the Australian Cartoonist Association have backed up this claim, citing Sullivan’s handwriting being seen on screen in Feline Follies and the use of Australian slang. After Sullivan’s death, however, Messmer, along with Sullivan’s lawyer and several staffers, came out and said that Messmer was the true creator of Felix. Paramount, falling behind on their schedule, needed an extra short quickly. Sullivan passed the job on to Messmer, and Messmer decided that a cat would provide plenty of gag opportunities, was cute, and could be drawn quickly with an all-black body. Animation historians such as Michael Barrier, Jerry Beck and Leonard Maltin would back up Messmer’s claims.

Otto Messmer drawing Felix.


            Despite Sullivan’s name being on every short, he had very little to do with Felix’s continued success. A poor animator and an alcoholic, Sullivan had all but abandoned his studio and the day-to-day operations; leaving Messmer in charge. Messmer would animate roughly 70-percent of each cartoon before handing them off to assistants, beginning from a list of titles he plotted out for the entire year’s output and running off minor notes of his. Staffers would note that there was never a traditional script in play. Sullivan’s primary involvement was taking the studio independent by signing with Margaret Winkler when the 1921 economic slump ended Paramount’s cartoons, and then going for a more lucrative deal with Educational Film Exchange in 1925. In 1924, animator Bill Nolan redesigned Felix to make him rounder and cuter, as well as easier to animate. That only helped to increase the character’s popularity.

A new look for Felix.


            Felix became the first mass-marketed character, being put on merchandise including ceramics, toys, clocks, Christmas ornaments and postcards. In 1923, he got his own newspaper comic strip drawn by Sullivan, Messmer (with ghost-writer Jack Mendelsohn) and Joe Oriolo. Messmer would go on to produce the comic books for Dell Comics. 1923 also saw the release of Paul Whiteman and his orchestra’s popular song “Felix Kept on Walking”. Buster Keaton would parody Felix’s famous walk (in full costume) in his 1925 film Go West. In 1927, he was the first ever giant character balloon to be featured in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Felix became the mascot for many notable individuals and organizations, including Felix Chevrolet in Los Angeles; the 1922 New York Yankees; pilot Ruth Elder, who took a Felix doll with her as she attempted to duplicate Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight (when it was lost when she crashed, Sullivan sent her another one); the United States Navy across several air squadron units; and the Logansport, Indiana Berries after one of the players brought his plush to a game and they won. Felix became the first television star when RCA selected his doll as part of their experimentation with television broadcasting in 1928 that ran over the course of a decade; utilizing his tonal contrast to help adjust the picture’s definition. A number of imitators also popped up from other studios, including Julius from Disney’s Alice Comedies (and some would say Mickey Mouse himself), Waffles from Paul Terry’s Aesop’s Film Fables, and Nolan’s adaptation of Krazy Kat for Winkler.

Felix with his influence: The Tramp.


            Sullivan ended up being the cause of Felix’s eventual downfall. While his contemporaries were adapting to the changing times, Sullivan saw no reason to interfere with a formula that was working. As a result, he was slow in adopting sound production. This and other factors led to Educational severing ties with the studio. After the likes of Disney hit it big with Steamboat Willie, Sullivan finally relented and began introducing sound to the shorts in 1929. However, where Disney found success was in planning for the addition of every sound and musical cue, while Sullivan found failure in adding them as a post-production afterthought in both classic reissues and in new productions. It was also thought that sound ultimately took something away from Felix’s character that could only be present in his silent pictures.

Felix goes full color! Well, as much as a black and white cat can...


         The studio was once again dropped by their latest distributor, Copley Pictures, as Felix’s popularity continued to fall. Upon his wife’s death in 1932, Sullivan fell into an alcoholic depression that would eventually claim his life the following year. Due to Sullivan’s poor record keeping, the studio was forced to shut down and Messmer couldn’t continue working on Felix as he lacked any legal ownership. The series ended with 170 shorts produced within a 14-year period. In 1935, Van Beuren Studios expressed interest in returning Felix to the screen with full sound and color. They acquired permission from Sullivan’s brother and approached Messmer to head up a full staff, but Messmer declined and instead recommended former Sullivan staffer Burt Gillett, who was already part of Van Beuren. Under Gillett and utilizing his past experience working for Disney, Felix became a stock talking animal character and failed to achieve a fraction of the success he experienced in his heyday. Van Beuren only produced three shorts before cancelling the series.



            In 1953, Felix made the leap to television when Official Films purchased the shorts library and added soundtracks to them for broadcast. Oriolo struck a deal with Felix’s new owner, Sullivan’s nephew, to begin a new Felix television series. Felix went home to Paramount where Paramount Cartoon Studio produced the Felix the Cat television series. Oriolo gave Felix a more domesticated personality and a “Magic Bag of Tricks” from which Felix could pull out anything he needed or that could change shape; taking the place of his shapeshifting tail. New supporting characters were introduced, including Felix’s archenemy The Professor, an eccentric scientist with a speech impediment who was always trying to get Felix’s bag; Poindexter, the Professor’s scientist nephew who was Felix’s best friend and sidekick; Rock Bottom, the Professor’s bumbling bulldog sidekick; Master Cylinder, an evil robot who wanted to kidnap Poindexter to force him to build things for him; Martin the Martian, Felix’s space-faring friend; General Clang, an evil space general who wanted to destroy the Earth; and Vavoom, a small Inuit who only spoke his name in an Earth-shattering shout. Every character was voiced by Jack Mercer. 260 cartoons were produced, with the series running in syndication for 2 years and making use of cliffhanger endings leading into commercial breaks. While not a technical marvel by any means due to an extremely tight budget, it managed to find a significant audience to keep it on the air in reruns throughout the decade. It even entered “Poindexter” into the American lexicon.



            In 1970 Oriolo gained full control of the Felix franchise, which was assumed by his son, Don Oriolo, following his death in 1985. The younger Oriolo’s first order of business was to get a feature-length television special produced to serve as a potential pilot for a new series, which eventually upgraded to a theatrical release. Written by Pete Brown, directed by Tibor Hernadi and made on a budget of $9 million in Hungary, the film saw Felix (David Kolin), The Professor (Chris Phillips) and Poindexter (Alice Playten) sent to an alternate dimension to save a kingdom from the evil Duke of Zill (Peter Newman). The most notable aspect of the film was the use of a CGI Felix to open and close the movie using then-new motion capture technology. New World Pictures picked up the rights to distribute the film in 1987 and premiered it at the Wadsworth Theater in Los Angeles in 1989. Ultimately, it only went direct-to-video in 1991 and was widely panned.



            Oriolo tried again, this time partnering with Film Roman for another attempt at an animated series. They produced a pilot to shop around to networks, with CBS picking it up. The series was intended to debut for the 1994 season, but production delays would plague the entire show for the duration of its existence. To build up hype and generate audience interest, Film Roman produced 55 commercial bumpers for CBS to use that year; replacing the popular Fido Dido bumpers they had been using since 1990.

Pan-handling Felix.


            The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat finally debuted on CBS on September 16, 1995. The series was both a return to Felix’s (Thom Adcox-Hernandez) roots--utilizing a 1920s-esque design for the other characters and backgrounds, sentient inanimate objects galore, and returning Felix’s ability to utilize his tail (among other objects) as anything--while also serving as a continuation of the Oriolo version with the use of his magic bag. The series’ theme was composed by Oriolo, who performed it with Peter Bliss. Timothy Berglund (aka Bjӧrklund) designed the intro, which featured some 3D animation of Felix rendered by Free Range Digital/Jason Bickerstaff. The show’s jazz score and closing theme were composed and performed by the Club Foot Orchestra.

Felix, Rosco and their car on the run.


            Felix was given an all-new supporting cast for this outing. His two best friends were Rosco (Phil Hayes), a dim-witted and rotund cat, and Sheba (Cree Summer), a yellow version of Felix who was “with it” and often spoke in outdated cool lingo. Candy Kitty (Jennifer Hale) was Rosco’s sister and a more humanized attractive cat that served as Felix’s primary love interest. His other love interest (resembling Candy with different colored hair) was Natasshia Slinky (Jane Singer), typically portrayed as an actress that had absolutely no interest in Felix. Shamus T. Golcrow (Tony Pope) was a noir-style private eye that often called on Felix’s help in cases. Skiddoo the Mouse (Susan Silo) was Shamus’ partner and often just showed up during Felix’s adventures to cause some trouble. Felix also had his share of new antagonists, such as Peking Duck (Tony Jay), who wanted Felix’s magic bag, and Bet a Billion Bill, a playboy gambler whose incredible luck came to an end when Felix, a black cat, crossed his path. Character designs were handled by Berglund, Michael Diederich, Craig Kellman, John Stevenson, Jay Falconer, Adam M. Burton, Jim Schumann and Phil Stapleton.

Pekng Duck will stop at nothing to get the magic bag.


            Each episode was broken up into three segments; with one story sometimes playing over two segments and initially receiving two title cards. The first season was written by Berglund, Schumann, Stevenson, Martin Olson, Dominic Polcino, Christopher Moeller, Lynne Naylor, Stephan DeStefano, Jeremy Kramer, Robin Steele, Christian Roman, Milton Knight, Phil Robinson, Bob Koch, Blair Peters, Doug Lawrence, Craig Handley, Brian Sheesley, Eric Keyes, Michael Ouweleen and Paul Vester. Most of them doubled as storyboard artists and directors as the series opted to take a “cartoonist-driven” approach. Rather than work from full scripts, each episode begun from a basic outline and was fleshed out in the storyboarding process. As a result, the series was very visually busy and surreal utilizing plenty of sight gags in keeping with the early theatrical shorts. Occasionally, repurposed live-action footage would be integrated into an episode for some gags; such as when Felix was traversing through various movies after being eaten by a VCR.

Felix getting a rude awakening about his show.


            As mentioned earlier, the show’s production was a troubled one. Reportedly, there was a disagreement on what direction the show would take from the outset. Oriolo wanted his father’s work, which the staff openly hated, reflected in it (the magic bag was a bone they threw him in that regard). Studio head Phil Roman was looking to make it a standard plot-and-dialogue-driven show like his successful Garfield and Friends, also airing on CBS. Producer and showrunner Berglund wanted to incorporate elements reminiscent of the 1930s Fleischer Studios or 1970s R. Crumb. The animators who worked on the show wanted to invoke the old Messmer shorts, the surrealism of Max Fleischer, or Ren and Stimpy where many of them had worked prior. Production was incredibly rushed with about a month to storyboard, design and do layouts for each story, and an inability to do any corrections or reshoots as there simply wasn’t any time once animation came in from Rough Draft Studios, Inc. and Plus One Animation. There was also trouble with casting Felix. At one point, they auditioned members of the crew when the hundreds of actors they already saw didn’t meet their expectations. Ultimately, it was decided to produce the episodes utilizing a temporary voice and Adcox-Hernandez was brought in to redub the episodes weeks before airing.

The city is angry at Felix.


            The series ended up being an unfocused mess of styles and tonality that Felix wound up lost in; overshadowed by the other characters and the visual chaos of his world. Further, attempts to pay homage to Felix’s silent roots were undermined by the addition of unnecessary dialogue done as internal monologues. Not only did it fail to hit with audiences (which wasn’t helped by CBS’ poor scheduling of the show against stronger competition like X-Men), but Oriolo was displeased that the series deviated so far from his father’s work. Remarkably, the series was renewed for a second season, but at a significantly reduced budget (about a third of the original that made it the most expensive show Film Roman ever produced). It was decided to retool the series and make it a more script-driven program.

Lead Fanny and Mad Doctor.

            
            Mark Evanier, who helmed Garfield and Friends, was brought on as a writer and story editor to produce more linear plots and scripts which relied on wordplay, one-liners and fourth-wall breaks like Garfield. Additional writers included Kellman, Russell Crispin, Brett Varon, Pete Michels, Pat Ventura, and Pat Shinagawa with Lawrence, Roman, Moeller and Schumann remaining. Evanier also took on the role of voice director for the first 3 episodes of the season until he was replaced by Kellman for an episode and then Susan Blu, who voice directed in the first season. Nathan Wang was brought on as the composer for the season, replacing the Club Foot Orchestra, and SAERom Productions joined Plus One as the overseas animation house. At Oriolo’s behest, the new characters created for the show were given a significantly reduced focus and the ones his father created were reintroduced. Poindexter (Cam Clarke) returned as Felix’s friend (although he had cameoed previously); parodies of The Professor (Pat Fraley) and Rock Bottom (Billy West)--renamed Mad Doctor and Lead Fanny--resumed their 30-year ambition of stealing the magic bag (which now had a bit of snarky sentience of its own); and even Master Cylinder (John Stocker) came looking for world conquest through Poindexter’s inventions. Additionally, Charlie Adler, who had provided voices already on the show, replaced Adcox-Hernandez as the voice of Felix.

Oscar looks to replace Felix on his show.


            The crew wasn’t too happy about the new direction. Berglund abandoned the show early on, and those that remained put their frustrations front and center on the screen. “Phony Felix” dealt with a Felix imposter named Oscar (Jeffrey Tambor) stealing Felix’s show and imitating traits found in Oriolo’s Felix from the 60s. “Background Details” poked fun at the hectic production behind the scenes. “The Fuzzy Bunny Show” had a parody of Oriolo being responsible for Felix’s show getting cancelled and replaced. “Attack of the Robot Rat” not only had The Professor and Rock Bottom parodies (which Oriolo found incredibly mean-spirited), but also featured a faux episode of the 60s Felix done in a similar limited animation style. “Wizards and Lizards” was a direct reaction to all the network notes given to the production to make the show more kid-friendly. Kellman, now in charge of the show, fought for the artists to have more creative and story control and ultimately won them even more creative freedom than they experienced in the prior season. Some stories were tightly-scripted while others returned to the cartoonist-driven approach.

Felix looking to play doctor with Slinky.


            Unfortunately, the damage was already done. The changes did little to help the already poor ratings. Judy Price, the vice president of children’s programming who picked up the show, was let go, leaving them with no ally in management. Oriolo was further angered over the resulting season and the disrespect for his father’s work, resulting in his refusing to renew Film Roman’s license to the character. The series was cancelled with only 8 episodes produced for the second season; two of which remained unaired for five months, and just before the network switched to an all live-action schedule. Plans to have Adler go back and re-dub the first season episodes for consistency were abandoned.

Felix hoped Candy would fall for him, but this is ridiculous.


            1996 saw RCA release a couple of VHS compilations containing several story segments. Other countries got their own releases with significantly more offerings. In 2000, BMG Special Products released a DVD compilation. Unicorn Entertainment released two DVD collections in Hong Kong under the title The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat II. The entire series was released to DVD exclusively in Germany in 2013, and was made available to stream on NBCUniversal’s Peacock service in 2020.

Felix trying to impress Sheba with his accordion playing.


            Oriolo allowed one more go at an animated series with the Japanese-made Baby Felix, which only ran for a single season. In 2014, DreamWorks acquired the rights to Felix after having acquired Classic Media’s library that included the 1950s television series. Not much came of that acquisition until it was announced in 2021 that a comic series was set to be published by Source Point Press in 2022. While it’s been a long time since Felix’s heyday, he continues to be one of the most widely-recognizable cartoon character that transcends generations, and still manages to find his way onto merchandise from time to time. This is one cat that hasn’t used up his nine lives just yet.
 

 
EPISODE GUIDE:
Season 1:
“Guardian Idiot / Space Time Twister / Don’t String Me Along” (9/16/95) – Felix ends up saddled with a guardian angel that just puts him in even worse situations. / Travelling on the wrong train leads Felix to come across a box that allows him to muck with time. / Cleaning his house leads Felix to finding a string that makes the whole cartoon unravel.
 
“The Sludge King / Mars Needs Felix (9/23/95) – Pursuing Candy into her workplace leads Felix into having to rescue her brother from the clutches of the sewer-dwelling Sludge King. / Hunger leads Felix into a trap that sees him abducted to Mars.
 
“Step Right Up / Now Playing – Felix / Jailhouse Shock” (9/30/95) – Peking Duck targets Felix’s magic bag as he enjoys a day at the carnival. / Felix ends up trapped inside the movie he goes to see. / Felix and Rosco end up caught in a speed trap and receive life imprisonment.
 
“The Manhattan Triangle / The Petrified Cheese” (10/7/95) – Just as Felix finally manages to land a date with Candy, the Bermuda Triangle decides to relocate to the city and causes havoc all over. / With his partner missing, P.I. Goldcrow enlists Felix’s aid in finding a stolen cheese artifact.
 
“Felix in Psychedelicland / Middle Aged Felix/” (10/14/95) – Felix and Sheba visit a rock and roll museum after it was taken over by a horde of ghosts. / While helping to clean Sheba’s grandma’s garage Felix and Sheba find a spell book that transports them back to the Middle Ages.
 
“Order of the Black Cats / Now Boarding / Felix Breaks the Bank” (10/28/95) – Returning a video on Halloween night gets Felix dragged into a secret society of cat wannabes. / After Sheba insults Felix’s board game, they get pulled into and have to make it to the end. / Felix finds himself wrestling with his finances when he needs to buy Candy a birthday present.
 
“Noah’s Nightclub / Felix’s Gold Score / Forever Rafter” (11/4/95) – Felix gets kicked out of Noah’s nightclub for not having a date, but ends up having to save it from a massive flood. / Felix’s prospecting seems to result in his getting full of holes—either from a lovesick cactus or a desperado. / Felix’s plans to take Sheba to the Giants game ends up being interrupted by a massive flash flood.
 
“The Earth Heist / Attack of the Tacky” (11/11/95) – Shark-like aliens make off with the planet when someone uses it to pay off their gambling debt to their king. / Goldcrow and Felix are after a disgraced fashion designer getting his revenge on society by adorning everyone in his fish-based fashions.
 
“Felix in Nightdrop Land / Shocking Story” (11/18/95) – Dozing off in a video store’s night drop leads Felix to be eaten by a VCR and propelled into various movies. / Felix takes in a lightning bolt that strikes his house until he recharges, but he ends up devouring Felix’s appliances.
 
“Love at First Slice / Space Case / Peg Leg Felix” (12/2/95) – Felix takes advantage of Rosco’s illness to try and get close to an attractive doctor. / Getting kicked out of a pie restaurant sees Felix ending up taking a confiscated UFO for a joyride. / Finding a message in a bottle leads Felix and Rosco on a hunt for some pirate treasure.
 
“Shell Shock / The Big Hunt” (12/9/95) – Felix tries to help a snail magician relax after he’s been performing too many shows. / Peking Duck gets his hands on Felix’s bag and while he isn’t able to figure out how to use it, he takes the opportunity to do some evil deeds unabated.
 
“Felix’s Big Splash / Gross Ghost / The Underwater Kingdom” (12/16/95) – A run in with an escaped mental patient has Felix fleeing from the men in white coats at a water park. / Felix and Rosco help a ghost get into shape so he can fly up to Spookopolis. / A fishing trip leads Felix to being sunken to an underwater kingdom by some gangsters.
 
“Wet Paint / News Blues / Copycat” (1/6/96) – Felix and Skiddoo battle each other with a mad scientist’s abandoned 3D paint. / Felix gets into some misadventures when he’s mistaken for a reporter. / Forcibly recruited to remove mice from a building, Felix creates an army of himself to help with the office copy machine.
 
Season 2:
“Surreal Estate / Phony Phelix / Five Minute Meatball” (9/14/96) – Needing a new toaster leads Felix to touring a bizarre house to get one for free. / Felix is kidnapped so that another cat can live out his fantasy of being a cartoon character. / Felix volunteers to replace all the sick delivery drivers for a meatball delivery service.
 
“Bet a Billion Bill / Background Details / Viva Lost Wages” (9/21/96) – Felix’s arrival in Vegas puts the whammy on Bet a Billion Bill’s life-long lucky streak. / With the background artists having their annual party, Felix and Rosco have to supply the backgrounds for their cartoon themselves. / A destitute Bet a Billion Bill steals Felix’s magic bag to use as a lucky charm to recover his wealth.
 
“The Punderground / Nightmare on Oak Street / Star Trash” (9/28/96) – Felix finds himself stranded on an island where puns are outlawed. / Felix must help Rosco exercise a movie fiend from his dreams. / Felix and Poindexter head off into space to stop aliens from using the planet as a trash dump.
 
“The Fuzzy Bunny Show / The Milky Way” (10/12/96) – Felix learns his show has been cancelled and replaced. / In light of a dairy strike, Felix’s dairy godmother grants his wish to send him to a land where milk it plentiful…maybe a bit too plentiful.
 
“Black Magic Bag / The Maltese Milkshake / Attack of the Robot Rat” (10/19/96) – A junk manufacturer makes defective knockoffs of Felix’s magic bag. / Felix’s missing milkshake inspires his dream sequence of being a private eye searching for Candy’s stolen milkshake. / The Professor sicks a giant robot on Felix to attempt to finally get his magic bag.
 
“Heart of Tin / Battle of the Brains / TV or Not TV” (11/2/96) – Master Cylinder abducts Poindexter to build his machine to conquer the Earth. / Darwina Doubledome beats out Poindexter for “Most Brilliant Kid Genius in the World”, crushing his confidence and allowing her to conquer the world. / Rosco and Felix are sucked into the TV Rosco wins and find themselves bouncing between the channels.
 
“Wizards and Lizards / The Evil Donut / An Auto Biography” (4/5/97) – Poindexter zaps Felix into his video game to help him win it. / Jaggo Doughnut unites the kingpins of New Jersey dinner theater to help him steal Felix’s magic bag so that he can use it to become the king of New Jersey. / When his car starts being too forgetful too often, Felix decides it’s probably time for a new one.
 
“Comic Calamities / Super Felix / Dueling Whiskers” (4/12/97) – A comic book criminal makes off with Felix’s ultra-rare Felix comic. / A crime spree makes Felix decide to become a superhero to deal with it. / Felix gets a visit from the clone fairy rather than the tooth fairy, resulting in a clone that wreaks havoc on the town.