Felines and Ladies in Cartoons
by: Tristan Risk "Little Miss Risk"
It's no big secret that while I have always readily identified my Spirit Animal as Raccoon, I have had some more decidedly feline leanings. At a young, impressionable age when I'd settle down to watch cartoons on the Squawk Box and consume Oreos, I'd find myself drawn to a repetitive pattern in storytelling devices that I saw in different shows. These shows ranged in years between them, but it wasn't until I watch 1982's hyper sexual remake of Cat People that I had my 'ah-ha!' moment. For me, even at that young age, the feline and the feminine were ever intertwined. I don't know if it's my family background that distantly hearkened back to cat worship, or my early fertile and fledgling mind took these tales of transformation deeply to heart. Even when I was very young and saw Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' music video in the early part of the shape shifting sequence where he goes from nice boy on a date walking his new swain home after the car (legitimately) ran out of gas to raging beast under the curse of the full moon. A departure from your typical werewolf, it symbolized the beast within us all. For me, it symbolized trying to turn into a cat creature, which confused my mother who thought I was either trying to vomit or having a seizure, only to be bitten by me in the ankle when I had thought that the desired transformation had been achieved. Impressionable mind mixed with Rick Baker special effects aside, it sparked something that I wasn't quite able to put my finger on until much later in life.
I've compiled three cartoons that stand out in my mind as examples of these. Clearly, these writers also felt that similar pull for their characters and it is a theme we have indeed repeated over the years to suggest something irresistible about this particular theme in horror.
SCOOBY DOO - "Make A Beeline Away From That Feline" 1978
While visiting Daphne's aunt in New York city, the gang interrupt a robbery in progress, and Scooby finds himself in a sewer where he sees the culprit - a humanoid cat creature with it's arms full of jewels. They carry on to Aunt Olivia's where she greets her niece and her friends, but tells them about the terrible nightmares she's been having. I'd like to point out, for the record, that Shaggy could have stepped in with a very green and natural solution for this, but I digress. The root of these nightmares is due to a mysterious cat medallion she received in the mail and the headaches started after. The gang decides to investigate it's origins They track it to a cemetery where the crypt of the cat creature is (which, if there was a cat creature crypt in my local boneyard, I'd be having picnics there on the regular, let alone one that left a return address). They discover a tunnel from the crypt to the jewellery store, and return to Aunt Olivia who has had another nightmare and the presence of wet paw and claw marks on the windowsill convince her that she is transforming into the cat creature and perpetuating these robberies. They catch the cat as they are wont to do in these shows, and reveal that it is her doctor who has hypnotized her into believing it was her, while he did the crimes. He used the cat medallion to hypnotize her and convince her that she was actually becoming this animal when he was supposed to be healing her.
Wow. First of all, early trigger warning for young viewers, but then again we saw that kind of thing all the time in shows as children and thought nothing of it. We were more on the "Yay! Scooby and the gang got the bad guys!" train of thought, but as an adult reflecting on this, HOLY SHIT. Talk about breach of trust, emotional damage and so on. These episodes rarely ever dwelled on the after effects of the victims, but I'm sure there is more than one women who saw this and was reminded of bad things that happened to her. What I find interesting though, and what sparked my attention, rapey undertones aside, was the subtle similarities to the original 1942 black and white version of Cat People. Very film noir, and it has been used in university studies in psychology about the power of suggestion. Both heroines are under the impression that they are turning into cats (or cat creatures) and doing things out of character for them in these moments. Both believe themselves to be these feline creatures, thus tapping into something deeper and primal. In the case of Olivia, she resisted it (likely because she was committing robbery, which we can all agree is bad news) but in that form she found that freedom. The same can be said in Cat People where Irena stalks the woman she believes to be having an affair with her husband, and to the point that the other woman believes that Irena is doing this also, though it is never revealed if she truly is changing shape or not.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles "The Catwoman From Channel Six" 1987
Shredder is playing with a matter transporter and accidentally beams his goons into the turtle's subterranean lair. A fight breaks out, and Shredder transports them back to his hideout. The turtles contact April to bring them a new tv because,hey, she works in media and makes good money, right?. When she brings it to them, she finds a carton for Woo's Oriental Palace that one of the mutant henchmen had been eating out of at the time of teleportation. Her investigative skills kicks in, and she goes off to find out more, leaving the turtles to their tv, and after confirming the evil mutant's order at the restaurant, tracks them to the secret hideout (secret to everyone but the take out guy, evidently) and discovers the matter transporter. She begins to take photos and is joined by a stray cat, and when the machine is activated, she and the cat share some DNA which results in both of them sharing traits. She begins to take on more and more feline traits until she returns to the matter transporter in an attempt to reverse the effects. She is captured by Shredder and he places a mind control collar on her to help her flush out the turtles. She picks up a tiger at the zoo because, why not? I figure I've suspended disbelief to this point to believe that a disgruntled ninja master has a matter transporter, a mind control collar kicking around, and a investigative reporter is part cat, so why NOT pick up a tiger to go turtle hunting? I figure it's better to just not question some things in life. Things reach an apex where April corners Splinter, the mutant rat sensei of the turtles, and she is freed from the collar. The henchmen accidentally destroy the matter transporter and April reverts back to a human as the gene splice was only a temporary thing.
Okay, as I mentioned previously, there is some suspension of disbelief required to go along with this. Chances are, that if you were watching this show, you weren't trying to do a deconstruction on the science behind it. If you did, I will tell you now to let it go, as ultimately, you will be happier in the long run. However, the parallels between this and The Fly are both amazing and ridiculous. Again, it wasn't until I watched the Jeff Goldblum film with a similar plot line but different resolution that I had the moment where I realized I had seen this story before. However, it is interesting to note that Shredder had the mind control over the feline and feral version of April. As a child I found this to be part of the good guy/bad guy dynamic, however as an adult there was some serious BDSM vibes happening when this went on. I didn't even know the term for 'primal' till I dated my first serious boyfriend who was a furry, and then upon reflection I had the epiphany of what I was seeing. Whether intentional or not, it gave a message that the undomesitcated side that lived within us had to be tamed by a male hand and I won't lie - it unsettled me. Regardless, it was when April reverted to her previous human nature that all was well, but there was that moment where unencumbered by human sensibilities she had no qualms about bringing in tiger reinforcements, and drinking milk off of the floor with her stray cat homies because who the fuck was going to tell her otherwise? Hence the reason Shredder felt he needed to control and contain this raging female reporter.
Batman: The Animated Series "Tyger, Tyger" 1992
This show was already DARK for what was supposed to be a kid's cartoon. The film noir tone of this was already well established, but when Catwoman is kidnapped by a mad scientist and brought to a jungle island where she is turned into another cat creature to be the mate of a male one it echoes some Robert Louis Stevenson. Batman follows and tangles with her supposed suitor while she tells the cat man, Tygrus, that her love cannot be won by killing her rescuer. However, she worries that she will stay in this altered condition, and he gives her the antidote to her mutation, though he offers her a place with him on the island where they can live in freedom. She declines, and leave him to rule, returning to Gotham City with Batman. Presumably they got pizza on the way, because the whole episode started because Catwoman was late for a date with with Bruce and they were going to dinner. I don't know about you, but I'd be full on hangary between being kidnapped, mutated, imposed upon, and ESPECIALLY if there was a reservation at Dorsia in the balance. If anyone can get a table at Dorsia, it'd be Bruce Wayne. The episode ends with Batman reflecting on Keats' 'Tiger, Tiger'.
This was the major one for me, because it wasn't a hallucination, it was a physical transformation, but it was the humanity holding Catwoman back from fully embracing it. Had it not been for the abduction, the entrapment, and the captivity, she may have been receptive to the idea. But then again, mad scientists rarely have much foundation in reason, so why would consent enter into the equation, right? But this came at a pivotal time in my formative years when I was on the cusp of puberty, so the idea of being a true, feral cat woman to be free in the wilderness appealed greatly to me. However, the playing God and sever Island Of Doctor Moreau overtones suggested that to embrace that was to allow the imposition of a male perspective on what was best for us. So I took the view that to embrace that was to give up my rights and freedoms, and that my feral side was something to be repressed, held back and kept away.
Years pass, and we grow. We put away childish things, but they leave their stain on us. I have always felt a kinship with the feline, more comfort in the company of cats than people and I understand now the primal person that resides in my body. She is no longer a stranger, but a friend, and I have found balance between her and the urban sophisticate who orders my coffee, makes appointments for dental visits and can recommend a good Pinot Noir. but under my skin, she sleeps, maybe always there, perhaps awoken but these cartoons. But I doubt she is alone. I can only image the other women who had their inner cat-creature who keeps them in touch with that feminine side, the mystical pull, and that when we open our third eye, the pupil allows in light in an elliptical manner. Our sisterhood is our greater cat clan. And I am grateful for these early windows to that ferocious feline within.