Felix is having trouble making ends meet in the modern world (trash has entirely few bones for a start) and so he asked Father Time to send him to another era. However, a stint in prehistoric days soon has our bold tuxedo cat ready to return to the Jazz Age.
Cat About Time
I love Felix. One of the first cartoon superstars, he has been superseded by the bland Mickey Mouse but the wonderfully strange animated films from Felix’s heyday continue to delight audiences. The first Felix short was Feline Follies (1919), which featured a romance for Felix (called Master Tom in the cartoon) and ends with him committing suicide by inhaling gas. You know, for the kids.
Look, I promised strange stuff, didn’t I? I keep my word.
I watched just about every version of Felix as a kid: the attempted 1930s revival, the oddball television show, even the truly bizarre late-80s/early-90s movie. (Yes, I know. Give me a break on that last one, I was a kid and the local video rental store didn’t exactly have a huge selection.) In hindsight, I even remember seeing the classic silent Felix, even though those cartoons did not register as “silent cinema” to me at the time. (I was addicted to those discounted public domain cartoon collections: 100 cartoons for 99¢ or something like that. They often contained rescored and even redrawn silent cartoons, which is how I saw silent Felix and Mutt & Jeff for the first time.)
Silent era cartoons are bizarre, that’s part of their appeal, but Felix shorts are definitely on the more wack-a-doodle end of the spectrum and Felix Trifles with Time is no exception. There’s no feline suicide but I think that’s probably for the best.
Felix is having a hard day. The trash can is full of old shoes with nary a bone to be seen and his attempts to steal a chicken end with him being pushed off a skyscraper. After a bit of the patented Felix pace, our kitty protagonist spots Father Time walking along, as one does, as offers him a coin in exchange for sending him back in time when food was more plentiful.
The time machine of this short is primitive but effective: a blackjack to the noggin. Felix collapses and wakes up in the Stone Age. Naturally, the olden days are not the paradise that he imagined and poor Felix is chased by a giant dogasaurus and has his fur stolen by a caveman tailor. His lesson learned, Felix appreciates the 20th century and all its delicious garbage. Garbage. Garb-Age. Get it? Get it?
Stone Age sequences were popular in silent film. They were usually played for laughs (Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton both donned fur togas, as did other, less famous comedians) but there were a few films that played the setting straight. D.W. Griffith made Man’s Genesis and Brute Force, while Cecil B. DeMille featured an elaborate Stone Age flashback/fantasy sequence in Adam’s Rib. (If you ever wanted to see Milton Sills and Anna Q. Nilsson in both Neanderthal teeth and fashionable 1920s garb and using a kewpie doll as a proxy for their troubled romance, this is the film for you.)
For its prehistoric sequence, Felix Trifles with Time uses the type of humor that most of us today associate with the Flintstones: slap some Stone Age window dressing on modern culture and vernacular and let ‘er rip. (Chaplin and Keaton both made use of these gags in their comedies and it wasn’t just used in caveman comedies. The Roman slapstick short Friends, Romans and Leo from 1917 is downright slangy.) The dogasaurus lives in a giant doghouse, the tailor works out of a cave but has a neat sign at its entrance.
(I suppose this is as good a place as any to state that, no, charming as this cartoon is, it is not the first animated film set in the Stone Age. The Original Movie certainly beats it and that’s just off the top of my head. Repeat after me: The most famous and/or the most available does NOT automatically equal first.)
What really wins me over, though, is that patented Felix weirdness. For example, Felix is on the run from the dogasaurus but is chased to the edge of a cliff. Trapped! Felix pushes a boulder into the lake below and water splashes up. Felix grabs the end of the splash and uses it as an umbrella to float to safety. Like I said, wonderfully strange.
The time travel method leaves me to wonder if Felix just ran into a random weirdo who brained him on the bean and sent him to slumberland rather than the Stone Age. Of course, the short does show Father Time waking up and remembering to bring the cat back to the modern world, so I guess we can accept that this was legit time travel and not a very strange practical joke. To be honest, I rather like the ambiguity whether or not it was intentional as I am not an enormous fan of It Was All a Dream.
I would have liked to have seen more Felix time travel in other eras but the series continued to be as strange as ever, featuring Felix in Wonderland, at the end of the rainbow and traveling to Hollywood (where he meets one of hs inspirations, Chaplin). Oh, and that infamous 1988 Felix the Cat: The Movie (unseen in America until 1991) did feature interdimensional travel. So, um, yay?
Felix Trifles with Time is a cute entry in the Felix series with some clever gags thrown in. The Stone Age setting isn’t unique for comedy or even animation but it’s fun to see what the Felix character does with the old hat. I had a good time with my friend Felix and I can’t really ask for anything more.
Where can I see it?
Felix Trifles with Time has been released on DVD by Reelclassicdvd. There are other public domain releases available but I have not seen them and cannot comment on their quality.
Like what you’re reading? Please consider sponsoring me on Patreon. All patrons will get early previews of upcoming features, exclusive polls and other goodies.