When it comes to cartoons, cats are king. Sure, a mouse might hold the top spot, but compare the number of cartoon mice you can name to the number of animated felines and there is a clear winner in the species war. Dogs are also pretty prevalent, probably due to the human-pet relationship thing, but we’ll talk about them later.
From the time that Felix the Cat dominated the silent era until the latest Garfield catastrophe, the animator’s vision has gone from wacky (Stimpy) to wild (Fritz) to groovy (the jazz band in The Aristocats). They have been house cats (Garfield), anthropomorphic cats (Pink Panther) and a combination of the two (Heathcliff). Here is my list of the top five cartoon cats. It is our misfortune that Calvin and Hobbes was never animated.
5. Snagglepuss (Hanna-Barbera)
Snagglepuss is an anthropomorphic pink lion that ran around with with Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw and the rest of the Hanna-Barbera crew from the late 70s and 80s. He was often chased by a diminutive hunter named Major Minor. Although he didn’t get as much screen time as many of the others, he was memorable every time he was onscreen.
Snagglepuss makes the list because his catch-phrases are burnt into the collective American psyche. Whether it was “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” (originally spoken in Meet the People) or “Exit, stage left,” his cowardly lion imitation was instantly recognizable. I still construct sentences in verb-comma-description form and follow it with “even” sometimes, because my efforts to be funny are often trite, annoying even.
Here’s a clip of him being introduced, before he discovered Lucille Ball films:
4. Riff-Raff (Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats)
The Catillac Cats was a cartoon segment that featured a group of junkyard cats that consistently got into the kind of trouble that slapstick 80s cartoon characters attracted like vinegar to flies. The gang was led by Riff-Raff, which set it apart from the various other collections of goofball followers.
Riff-Raff was a hustler. He knew he lived in a junkyard, so he was always looking for a quick buck. He carried a cane, wore a sweet tam, sported a scarf, and had the hottest cat girlfriend in town until Cheetara appeared on the block. He had an entourage that Heathcliff got to borrow when his show required a larger cast, and Wordsworth was so cool he nearly made it on this list himself. To top it off, his red and white Cadillac was a thing of dreams, more pimp than the Gadgetmobile because it turned into a camper, a boat and a submarine.
The only time Riff-Raff met the show’s title cat was in the closing credits, but the segment he led was always the more memorable one.
3. Scat Cat (Disney’s The Aristocats
The star of the show may be Abraham de Lacy Giuseppe Casey Thomas O’Malley the Alley Cat, but when Duchess and her brood meet the band it is Scat Cat that steals the show every time.
Voiced by the great Scatman Crothers, Scat Cat is the leader of a jazz band that lives in a condemned attic and hangs out with Thomas O’Malley when he’s around. Scat Cat turned me onto jazz, Disney and cool all at the same time.
The Aristocats is one of those overlooked gems hidden in the Disney library that more people should take time with. After 30 years, it still doesn’t feel horribly dated. Even Snoop Dogg supports the film, and admits he can’t stop humming this song:
2. Felix the Cat (Pat Sullivan and Otto Messmer)
He might be second on the list, be he is the historical first. Felix the Cat was created in 1919 and was the pop-culture icon of the early twenties, one of my favorite periods in history because flappers are my Venus.
Felix dominated the silent era, but disappeared quickly after talkies became the norm. He reappeared in the 50s, this time with a magical hat that had all kinds of goodies inside. Hilarity again ensued. He’s had two movies and still adorns lunch boxes and plastic wallets the world over.
Here’s one of the earliest cartoons, complete with a clown that may have helped inspire Emmett Kelly. Once you’ve watched it, you will feel cultured.
1. Pink Panther (Blake Edwards)
The Pink Panther started innocently enough as a title sequence animation for a live-action film franchise. It spawned the greatest animated series of the 70s, as well as some decent work later.
Pink Panther never talked in the original series, but Henry Mancini’s titles and Doug Goodwin’s score was soundtrack enough to keep the energy rolling throughout. He was occasionally talked to by a narrator, and when it hit reruns the laugh-track was mercifully silenced.
He would occasionally interact with the Inspector, errant building contractors and an aardvark named Aardvark that was trying to eat an ant trying to be Dean Martin. He lasted more than a decade on television, and his legacy will last forever.
Here’s some Pink glory for you to go out on: