Saturday, August 14, 2010
Cats have been a part of our culture for ages. Long before felines were persecuted alongside witches in the Middle Ages, they were worshipped as Gods in ancient Egypt. Today, more than 93 million domestic cats are kept as pets in the United States alone, according to a recent survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. Cats have been featured in countless movies, books and ad campaigns, and depicted on postage stamps and famous paintings. Here are some of my favorite fictional felines.
Puss in Boots
Thanks to the Shrek movies, most children today are quite familiar with this smartly dressed cat with an attitude to match. But eons before Shrek, 300+ years ago, French author Charles Perrault brought this crafty cat to life in his collection of classic folk tales. Puss in Boots tells of a poor miller who dies and leaves his son with only a cat. But what a cat! Wearing tall boots and a hat, this dapper cat helps his young master attain wealth and in the end, endears himself to readers of all ages.
The Cheshire Cat
This classic fictional cat is a mischievous character in Lewis Carroll's Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The cat wears a permanent grin and can disappear and reappear whenever it likes, which Alice finds quite disconcerting. When Alice asks the cat to stop doing that, it vanishes slowly, with its grin remaining some time after the rest of it has gone. This prompts Alice to remark, “Well! I've often seen a cat without a grin, but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever saw!”
The Cat in the Hat
This plucky feline was the creation of Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka, “Dr. Seuss.” The Cat in the Hat book was published in 1957 and is a must for every child’s library, even today. The Cat in the Hat is not only fun and entertaining, it was written to help kids learn to read. The 1,629-word tale uses only 236 different words in all – 221 have one syllable, 14 have two and just one word (another) has three syllables! The Cat in the Hat is about a mischief-making cat who transforms a dull afternoon into a magical and amusing adventure for two children. The gaily dressed cat also appears in four subsequent books, and his popularity was boosted further by the 2003 movie starring Mike Meyers as the cat.
The Three Little Kittens
When I was a child, this was paws-down my favorite Little Golden Book. The Mother Goose nursery rhyme features three naughty kittens that get into trouble when they lose their mittens. (Why kittens needed mittens wasn’t something I questioned, but I suppose I should have.) The kittens begin to cry, fearing their mother won’t let them have pie. But the kittens find their mittens which prompts mom to say, “Put on your mittens you silly kittens, and you shall have some pie.” “Meow, meow, meow…” they get to have some pie.
This adorable tuxedo cat was created by The Walt Disney Company and made his debut in the 1940 animated film Pinocchio as Geppetto's pet. Figaro the Cat is the only character from a Disney feature to be spun off into his own series of theatrical shorts. He first appeared in All Together, a film promoting war bonds, and then in the 1943 cartoon Figaro & Cleo (Gepetto’s goldfish). Figaro the Cat was later tapped to be Minnie Mouse’s pet as well as an adversary for Mickey’s dog Pluto. Figaro was supposedly the inspiration behind a short-lived brand of cat food produced by Bumblebee Tuna, aptly named Figaro Cat.
Felix the Cat
Conceived by New Jersey cartoonist Otto Messmer, Felix the Cat made his debut in the 1919 film Feline Follies. The mischievous cat (I’m sensing a recurring theme here) rocketed to fame and was the most popular cartoon character until Mickey Mouse came along. It’s been said that in 1920, Felix the Cat was even more popular than Charlie Chaplin. Felix “starred” in 80 films, and soon after made his transition to print, specifically comic books and strips. Felix was syndicated in over 250 newspapers in many different languages, making him a household name. Felix’s fame led to him being chosen as Charles Lindbergh’s lucky mascot on his historic transatlantic flight. Felix’s appeal is still going strong today, and he’s loved by all ages.
Cats in Advertising
Cats have been featured in countless advertising campaigns for both print and broadcast media. Cats are often used to elicit feelings of warmth, softness, tenderness and happiness. Morris the Cat is, of course, the most famous advertising cat. I wrote about Morris in Famous Felines Worth Remembering, so I won’t repeat myself here.
There’s a trio of cute ad cats that made the news recently though – the Quiznos “Singimals.” In television commercials that began airing in July, two white kittens and an orange kitten sing the features of Quiznos new $5, $4 and $3 menu offerings. The commercial was created by marketing agency WONGWOODY, reportedly inspired by popular internet videos featuring pets. You can watch the commercial here. I found the Quiznos Singimals commercial to be quite funny, but some people think it’s irritating (and worse), so consider yourself forewarned.
Who are YOUR favorite fictional felines?
Read more articles by Julia Williams