Some familiar whiskers and tail feathers are back to wreak havoc on Saturday mornings.
While these incarnations of Felix the Cat and Sylvester & Tweety are new, they’re based on the old models. You could say they’re old an d improved.
“We’re interested primarily in bringing Felix back the way he was originally, in the ‘20s and ‘30s,” not the Felix of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, emphasizes Timothy Berglund, producer and creative director of the new CBS/Film Roman The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat. “Those early days of Felix represent the golden age of animation.”
Felix made his debut in 1919’s short “Feline Follies.” In the ‘60s, Felix was changed to accommodate limited budgets and the animation of the time. He was “made taller, lost his whiskers and made to look more like a little boy than a cat,” Berglund says.
Most important to Berglund and his crew is that the new toons re-create original creator Otto Messmer’s Felix. Although Messmer was the original artist and animator and later drew the comic strip, he wasn’t credited with creation of the crazy cat until 1976. “Someone else took credit away. We’re here to toot Otto’s horn and celebrate how wonderful his Felix was.”
“Felix’s” only contemporary nod will be in the props. “For example,” Berglund says, “He might get caught in a VCR.” But the stories will remain similar in tone--34 new episodes, contained in 13 half-hour shows.
In the ‘60s Felix’s major prop was a magic bag to pull out tricks. “In the ‘20s,” Berglund explains, “he was the magic and that’s what he’s like in our version.”
Felix, Berglund asserts, “is the smartest cartoon character. The most famous image of him is with his hands clasped behind his back, thinking. What’s Bugs Bunny’s? Munching on a carrot.”
“Felix is known to actively think things out. If he needs to impress a date, he builds an airplane out of a couple of question marks and uses a garbage can to fly his date to Saturn, where he’ll mine some diamonds from the planet. We’re based on imagination. We’re trying to do the most entertaining and inventive cartoon we can and honor the original Felix by doing so.”
Berglund’s philosophy is shared at Warner Bros., where they’re bringing back the Sylvester & Tweety of the ‘40s and ‘50s--not the ‘60s, when the studio began to use fewer drawings, making the characters flatter.
“It just looked cheap,” explains Tom Minton, producer and story editor of The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries. “We’re bringing back their original images.”
This richer look will be applied to the first Sylvester & Tweety ‘toons to be made in 30 years. In 1947, “Tweety Pie” took Warner’s first Oscar for animation.
“We’ve resurrected not only the old manner of animation, but the original look,” including that of Granny, the duo’s owner. “There’s a big difference in her when she began to what she evolved to in the ‘60s,” Minton explains.
The shows take the sleuthing trio around the world to solve crimes. “Granny and everyone around her think that she’s solving the crimes, when it’s actually Tweety,” he adds.
Tweety accounts for the show’s success, Minton says. “There’s something about the underdog, this little bird who survives only through his wit.”
Warners, Minton says, is the only studio scoring cartoons as they did in the old days, with a 28-piece orchestra. The sense of history is maintained, he says, “since we’re recording on the same studio as the original cartoons, with the very same grand piano they used.” Music to our ears.
Beginning Sept. 16, “The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat” airs Saturdays at 10 a.m. on KCBS. “The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries” will air at 8:30 a.m. (also on Saturdays) on KTLA, beginning Sept. 9. For ages 2 and up.