I don’t know whether you might have noticed, but there’s a generalised reflex which consists in blaming Walt Disney for almost anything: the infiltration of reprehensible gender archetypes, global sentimentalism, the triumph of republican America, anti-Semitism… and even the anti-bullfighting movement! This last example I heard from a well-know gentleman with an irreverent and seducing body of creative work: a guy who started (I think, or at least that’s what it seemed) as libertarian and Catalan but whom, at a given moment, decided to become neo-liberal and Spanish. In this final state of his evolution, probably conquered by the pure and obsessive drive to become the perfect negative of a Catalan (who’s supposed to be always in favour of Catalan independence), he has taken, in the last years –what am I saying years; decades!!–, to appoint himself as the main defendant of the country’s national essences, among them bullfighting. His argument was as follows: Walt Disney –obviously– was to blame for the fact there’s an anti-bullfighting conscience, since we owe to him the reprehensible anthropomorphic representation of the animal kingdom that makes us to irrationally give emotional properties to those entities that are no more than beasts (and, hence, cannon or banderilla fodder). You know the story: all those demonstrating against the Torneo del Toro de la Vega do so because they’ve watched Bambi.
The truth is that this accusation –Disney gets it from all angles: right and left; his in theory frozen head has an amazing magnetic power attracting symbolic slaps on the back of the neck– is relatively easy to contest. Walt Disney wasn’t the first to give animals human qualities. We’re not even limiting ourselves to the animation field, in which there were illustrious names that worked in that direction long before the creator of Mickey Mouse: the sequence leading to Steamboat Willie has several (minor) transit stages, but are part of a really splendorous station of origin –Winsor McCay’s Gertie, the Dinosaur, the first animated character with a personality: the first glimpse on behalf of a creator of the necessity of the animated figure to have a soul to aspire to immortality– and has also to do with an inescapable icon: Otto Messmer and Pat Sullivan’s Felix the Cat, the first animation superstar, a condition that saw its image multiplied in a wide range of merchandising objects, gave it the distinction of being the first cartoon character (in inflatable form) to join Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, and lead it to live a double (and fruitful, and even triple) life in the parallel spheres of comic books and TV.
It is said that black cats bring bad luck, and the truth is that Felix, black as coal but with eyes and nose as white as a mime’s, was born surrounded by the turbulences of the uneven creative relationship between Pat Sullivan, who attributed himself authorship and ownership of the character, and its real creator in the shadow, Otto Messmer, whose fundamental role in the creation of the cat was defended and finally restored before public opinion thanks to the help of animation experts such as John Canemaker –author of influential essay Felix: The Twisted Tale of the World’s Famous Cat– and of artists such as Joe Oriolo, Messmer’s colleague both in the TV and cartoon spheres.
This Stolen Cartoon belongs to Felix in Vegeteria, one of the stories drawn by Joe Oriolo in 1950 for Dell Comics and compiled in the volume Félix el gato. Un cómic que traerá cola, edited and designed by the exquisite Craig Yoe and translated and published in Spain by Ediciones Kraken: on it, the cat travels on his magic carpet to a planet only inhabited by anthropomorphic vegetables that keep on reprimand and punish him for being too careless when stepping on that profusely cultivated field, and also for the nutritious habits of our planet, where, as an angry tomato reminds him, “you’ve been slicing us for years.” The cat is chased, yelled at and hit by a family of tomatoes, an adult potato, a pod that machine-guns him with the peas it has inside, pumpkins in protest for Halloween traditions (the Toro de la Vega of the cucurbitaceae), a bean with an asphyxiating hug, and militarised corns-in-a-cob, before Her Majesty Queen Carrot (one would think it’s a reference to Gonzalo Suárez) decides to send him to trial before a court made up of other fourteen carrots that, as you can see, pronounce a unanimous and unappealable verdict. Here you have, thus, an image to reflect upon: an anthropomorphic cat judged by anthropomorphic vegetables, a strange convergence that invites us to imagine up to what point the sense of blame of the carnivore majority would have shifted should the dominant aesthetics of animation had privileged the anthropomorphic nature of vegetables and not animals.
Let’s travel for a moment to that Parallel Universe: anti-vegetarian activism, articulated around the cruelty of human beings towards vegetables, demonstrating against the imminent celebration of Buñol’s Tomatina. Intereconomía channel, for example, invites the famous commentator to a debate on the matter. Would Joe Oriolo be to blame, then? No, leave it, I’m sure that in that Alternative World, Disney would have also devoted his efforts to cultivating souls in tomatoes, aubergines and other vegetables… and so he’d still be to blame!