Feline Flatfoot By Sylys Sable
There are a lot of stories about feline detectives, short stories, novels, even continuing series, which can be found in the ‘mystery’ section of bookstores and libraries all over the world. Why is it that we imagine cats as investigators? You only need to live with felines for a time, to observe them going about their daily or nightly activities, to understand why. Cats seem aloof, preoccupied, even introspective. They often prowl about as if they are trying to discretely obtain information. It is not much of a stretch to believe your cat companion is really some kind of undercover investigator or secret agent. Typically the cat detective in these stories is the companion of a human who is an investigator, either professional or amateur, or just the kind of person who ends up becoming involved in all the intrigue. I know of this rather popular genre, but I have not read any of these works myself. The sort of feline detective I have come to know and love is one that, though he may live in a world populated by humans, he is strictly a cat detective who works for the benefit of his own species first. I expect that there may be more then one such feline PI, but since I am familiar with one in particular, I will limit my reporting to the exploits of that one very clever, crime-solving tom.
I got to meet Francis, the feline detective I am writing about, in a rather serendipitous if not backwards way. I happened to be attending the International Animation Exposition in Pasadena, CA in 1998, with my mates and friends. One of the international films being screened for the competition was a German animated film called “Felidae”. The information in the event brochure explained that the 1994 film was a major hit in Europe, based on an international best-selling book by Akif Pirincci. It also warned that although animated, it was not “family fare”, but a serious, edgy adult murder mystery, complete with dark themes, gristly violence and graphic sex. We were all very intrigued and decided to check it out.
“Felidae”, the animated feature, was everything the literature claimed, and much more. The animation was good quality cell style, like traditional Disney features, with some limited use of computer generated elements in a few scenes. The character design was very good, with most of the animal characters being quite attractive; though the ‘heavies’ were more drawn more extreme and cartoon like. The film was presented in English, with good voices and mouth animation. The dialog was reminiscent of a traditional noir-detective story, with the main character narrating the story, along with his personal feelings and philosophical musings. Many of the other characters spoke with rough, inner-city slang, though it had obviously been ‘filtered’ through the German creator’s understanding of American dialects. The art direction and photography excellent, turning the rather sleepy human residential community into a dark, foreboding maze of rooftops, fences and forgotten gardens.
The mystery itself was well crafted, starting with the discovery of the corpse of a recently murdered local cat. From there, things get more complicated, and dangerous for Francis, the new tom in the neighborhood, who is just a bit more clever and methodical then most felis domesticus. He is not alone in his relentless pursuit of the truth, however, for Bluebeard, the local tough-guy and ladies-cat is fed up with the goings-on and helps Francis with useful information as well as some strong-paw support. The tough cat’s small, plump body, crippled from many hard fought battles, give him the look of a cat with more then one paw in the grave. Bluebeard’s attitude, however, stands as tall and strong and mean as he ever was, and so the local thugs keep a respectable distance.
In a typical detective mystery, Bluebeard would be the hardened police detective, reluctantly helping the young know-it-all private dick solve the unsolvable; because the old cop knows this smart kid probably can figure it out, and maybe he likes the punk, too, though he’d never admit it. The relationship between Francis and Bluebeard is, in my opinion, the best part of the film. As in any good buddy-cop picture, they become a lot more then working acquaintances, depending on each other for mutual survival. At one point, Kong, the local wanna-be bad-ass cat, even suggests that they are more then just ‘friends’. Bulebeard takes this obvious attempt to escalate the confrontation in stride, and Francis is merely surprised. This is exactly the kind of dialog you would not expect in an animated cartoon, but this is no cartoon, it’s a mystery adventure with the attitude of ‘Pulp Fiction’ and the weirdness of ‘X Files’.
The story of “Felidae” begins with Francis’ human companion, a freelance writer with frequent bouts of writer’s block, moving to an old, run-down house in a new neighborhood. The house is more then a fixer-upper, it’s down right creepy. Though the humans are oblivious, Francis is aware that if these walls could talk, you could dictate a Steven King thriller! His chance meeting with Bluebeard, when Francis is staking out his territory around the old house, is interrupted jarringly by the discovery of ‘the body’. It won’t be the last. Francis has vivid nightmares, brought on by his uneasy surroundings and his growing obsession with solving the mystery. Could all of the strange revelations somehow be connected? What kind of disgusting creature could perpetrate such a series of cruel killings? Bluebeard is sure it has to be a ‘can-opener’, the derogatory term that cats sometimes use to refer to human’s only redeeming value. As the scattered pieces of the puzzle slowly revel themselves, the mounting body-count tends to suggest that perhaps Francis and his reluctant sidekick (who is appears has been kicked in the side on many occasions) may be getting closer to the truth. Will they be able to complete the puzzle and sole the mystery, or will they end up victims too? That, I’m afraid, you’ll have to find out for yourself, though typically, no matter how hard a fall Francis may take in the course of his adventures, he usually manages to end up landing on all four ‘flat’ feet.
Though I refuse to be a spoiler, as far as the story of “Felidae” goes, I don’t mind telling you more about the book and the film. The book was written by Turkish-born cat-lover Akif Pirincci, in 1989. He resides now in Bonn, Germany, and has published a non-fiction book on cats called, “Cat Sence: Inside the Feline Mind”. There are two sequels to “Felidae”, the first one, called “Francis” in Germany, and “Felidae on the Road” in the US, follows Francis’ travels in the wilds of Germany after running away from home when he finds out his owner plans to… have him ‘repaired’. It has a similar theme to the first book, but the plot is very different. The third book concerning Francis is called “Beware of The Dog” (in German), and yet to be translated. From reading the footnotes in his books, and talking to some prominent Furry folk in the EU, Akif LOVES cats, and HATES humans. Because of this, it is doubtful that he will be a guest of honor at EuroFurence any time soon, though his sentiments seem to run along the lines of a lot of the Furry community.
The film ‘Felidae’, was released in 1994 by Senator Films in Frankfurt, DE, which is the largest and most successful animation studio in Germany. They have had several box office blockbusters since ‘94, including “Felidae”, which is their only dramatic feature to date. I saw the film first, and then, thanks to Jammet, one of my TLK Mucks character’s adopted sons, I found out about the book and obtained a translated copy. Jammet also sent me the second book, as well as the soundtrack of the film, the German VHS release, and the Hong Kong produced “dark-gray market” VCD of the highly-edited for TV, British dub of “Felidae”. We have shown the German language version of the film at past CFs, and the severely edited British version at some Furry parties. Unfortunately, the edited version is pretty much as incomplete as our hero Francis would be if he had been ‘fixed’.
In general, the film version of “Felidae” is one of the best adaptations of a novel to an animated film I have seen since “Watership Down”. The original story was edited for the screenplay, but care was taken to avoid cutting anything out that was important to the complex plot. The vivid descriptions of the settings in the story were accurately translated to visuals by the studio artists and effects animators. An important scene, where Francis reads a diary he discovers was replaced by viewing a video taped journal found in the basement of the house. It provided the necessary information and perhaps even improved on book with the addition of some chilling visuals. Since the original screening of the film at the Animation Expo, I have been trying to track down the excellent English dubbed version to show at Furry cons. I found out, much to my surprise, that the film was originally recorded with American English dialog by multi-lingual actors, and later dubbed into other languages, including German! It seems that Akif loved the style of traditional American pulp detective stories so much that he wanted the film to be produced with American dialog first.
This year, at ConFurence 2002, with the appropriate theme: Furry Noir, we hope to screen the original, un-cut, American English version of “Felidae”. Unless you are particularly squeamish about such films, I highly recommend seeing “Felidae”. As an animation fan for over 40 years, I have seen many so-called ‘adult’ animated films. Many were just excuses for cheap, bathroom humor and had little other redeeming value. “Felidae” is one of the first films that accepted the challenge of a genre typically reserved for live-action, and made it work in animation. The DVD of “Felidae”, which we will be showing was obtained through the gracious assistance of Cheetah, the director of EuroFurence, the largest and most enjoyable Furry con outside North America. If you can get to EuroFurence, please, do so. It’s well worth the trip!
That’s my tale of one feline flatfoot who had an international best-selling novel and then successfully made the difficult transition to the big screen. Of course, even if he wasn’t as clever as he is, Francis could have made it on looks alone. He’s one handsome tom, a regular Tom Shanks, as I believe many Furry folk would agree. I will end this article with a quote from the epilog of “Felidae”, because Francis, and Akif, are much better with words then I.
“And so farewell from your humble and devoted Francis, and cordial greetings to all the clever bastards of the world. Go on solving riddles, even if the solutions aren’t worth the trouble. And don’t give up believing in a world in which animals and humans beings live together in harmony, all kinds, even more sublime and intelligent species then the latter – for example, Felidae.”