'Forty Winks' is one of the very last Felix the Cat cartoons from his original (Otto Messmer) period, but it's so crude that I mistook it for one of his very early efforts. The toon is technically a talkie; it was released with a soundtrack, but the audio consists entirely of unsynchronised noises and 'rhubarb' voice-work. Also, there's no real plot here: just a string of gags on the theme of sleep, or trying to get to sleep. First, Felix and a quartet of feline Felix clones are yowling while a man is trying to sleep; then Felix encounters various obstacles in his own attempts to tryst with Morpheus.
One thing which impresses me about the Felix toons (credit for this likely goes to Pat Sullivan, their producer) is the extensive re-use of character cels from one cartoon to the next ... so that, for instance, when Felix paces back and forth, or when he belly-laughs, cels from earlier Felix toons are re-used so as to save time, labour and expense. This actually impresses me positively, not negatively, because it's done very well and is only discernible if one has seen several Felixes and has a good memory.
In 'Forty Winks', I was also impressed by two different examples of 'cycle' animation, in which the same background art keeps passing the camera repeatedly -- in one case the usual horizontal cycle, in the other case a much less typical vertical cycle, as Felix plummets off a wall and keeps passing the same group of bricks while he falls. The worst (and most overdone) examples of cycle animation were done by Hanna-Barbera, who notoriously had Fred Flintstone passing the same tree over and over and over and bloody over. Messmer is using the same labour-saving device here, but using it with far more subtlety so that it's less noticeable (and much less annoying). In this same cartoon, I was impressed with an animation sequence of some toy soldiers marching: presumably inspired by the 1903 stage operetta 'Babes in Toyland'.
All of the Felix toons from the Messmer period feature bizarre gags involving Felix's detachable tail, which conveniently morphs into any object he needs. I laughed at one gag here, when Felix's tail interlocks with two exclamation marks emanating from his head to form a helicopter rotor, rendering Felix airborne. Alas, that's the only time I laughed in this below-average Felix cartoon, which I'll rate a mere 4 out of 10. Sleep tight, Felix!
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