In the world of cartoons, cats usually get fucked over. When you think of cartoon cats, who is the first one that comes to your mind? Chances are pretty good that it's either Sylvester or Tom, neither of whom are particularly positive portrayals of cats. As a cat owner, this always offended me. During those 8 hours of the day when they're not sleeping, cats show themselves to be cunning, quick, and stealthy. These were not qualities that ever presented themselves in Tom or Sylvester. These two were constantly abused by animals that real cats routinely capture, torture, and kill for fun. I believe that perhaps there was a secret anti-cat conspiracy at work within the animation industry. For evidence of its existence, one needs to look no further than Disney. Disney's flagship character is a gay little mouse named Mickey. His earliest enemy? A brutish cat named Pete who he outsmarted whenever they met. As years went on, Pete eventually fell to the wayside thus leaving Disney with no cat at all in their core group of characters. Meanwhile, the confounding success of Mickey paved the way for other rodent protagonists such as Jerry, Speedy Gonzales, and to a lesser extent Pixie, Dixie, and Mighty Mouse. Let me fucking tell ya something: mice aren't cute, they're fucking vermin. And while there were some more positive feline portrayals out there such as Top Cat, Klondike Kat, and Felix the Cat, they are not remembered quite as well. It would not be until the 1980s that the cartoon smear campaign against cats would finally subside. It was then that cat lovers finally got some cartoons they could enjoy such as Thundercats, Voltron, and Garfield and Friends. But most of all, there was Heathcliff, the most badass cat ever to grace our TV screens.
Heathcliff And The Catillac Cats was a syndicated cartoon produced between 1984-1987. In America, Heathcliff enjoyed a stay on Nickelodeon that long outlasted its production run. It was through Nickelodeon that I first met Heathcliff, Riff Raff, and the rest of the gang. Each episode was split into two cartoons: one featuring Heathcliff and one featuring the Catillac Cats, better known as Riff Raff, Mungo, Hector, and Wordsworth. Riff Raff never really interacted with Heathcliff, but his friends showed up in Heathcliff episodes fairly frequently. Now, I haven't talked about a cartoon in quite some time. In fact, the last cartoon I reviewed was MASK and that was almost a year ago. For that show, I used the pilot episode as a basis for a synopsis. Unfortunately, that won't work with Heathcliff. The first episode, "The Great Pussini/Kitty Kat Kennels", doesn't do a very good job at establishing the series. That is to say, it doesn't totally establish Heathcliff's personality and some of the more interesting recurring characters don't appear in it. So as much I'd like to make an obvious double entendre involving "The Great Pussini" over and over again over the course of a 3000-word analysis, I'm just going to do a straight synopsis of the show and its characters.
Most people that I know remember Heathcliff from his mid-80s cartoon, but the ferocious orange tabby existed long before that. Heathcliff was created by cartoonist George Gately in 1973, at which point he starred in an eponymous comic strip. The strip was actually pretty popular at one point and was syndicated in over 1,000 newspapers worldwide. This eventually led to a cartoon deal. Beginning in 1980, Ruby-Spears produced two seasons worth of Heathcliff cartoons, initially pairing his cartoons up with some jabroni named Dingbat and later with Marmaduke, the worst cartoon dog ever. I don't know how this cartoon fared, but I've never fucking seen it, so it couldn't be that good. Another good indication that it probably sucked is that it was produced by Ruby-Spears. If you've never seen any Ruby-Spears cartoons, I'll try and describe them to you. First, envision the sloppy animation and shoddy backgrounds found in a typical Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Next, imagine an even cheaper rip-off. That's a Ruby-Spears cartoon. When Ruby-Spears' version of Heathcliff ended in 1982, Japanimation pioneer DIC acquired the rights to the cartoon and re-signed most of the original voice talent. The DIC version of Heathcliff teamed him up with an original cartoon called Cats And Co. which featured the Catillac Cats. The DIC cartoon aired on Nickelodeon for a long, long time. After a good run, Heathcliff reruns got cut to make room for original Nick programming like Doug and shit. Although Heathcliff's cartoons have both long since ended, the comic strip endures. Creator George Gately retired in 1998 and died in 2001, but the strip continues under the direction of his nephew, Peter Gallagher. No, not the Hollywood actor with the scary eyebrows. It's a different guy entirely.
First and foremost, you have Heathcliff, the show's title character. Heathcliff was a chubby orange tabby with more attitude than sixteen gangsta rappers. Heathcliff was always ready for a fight and he almost always won. He beat up everyone: dogs, cats, bigger cats, the milkman, and even Iggy Nutmeg, his human friend/owner. His reasons for picking fights varied, but many times it was because Heathcliff was trying to impress Sonya, his on-again off-again girlfriend. Another very important thing about Heathcliff is that he sounded an awful lot like Bugs Bunny. This is no coincidence; Heathcliff was the last original character to be voiced by the late great Mel Blanc, the greatest voice actor to ever walk the planet. Although best known as the voice of Bugs Bunny, Blanc also voiced many other famous cartoon characters such as Barney Rubble, Daffy Duck, and of course, Heathcliff. To see a more complete list of characters voiced by Mel Blanc, CLICK HERE. Heathcliff was a troublemaker, but he was a lovable one. And deep down, he was a good guy. When the situation called for it, Heathcliff was willing to break semi-retarded dogs out of the pound and reunite lost kittens with their mothers.
Sonya was a white persian kitty and Heathcliff's love interest. She was apparently supposed to be hot shit, because every other cat in a ten-block radius wanted her too. I don't really understand why. First of all, she wasn't exactly svelte. Yeah, I'm fucking shallow, sue me. Secondly, she wore pink bows. Don't get me wrong, bows are fine for girls when they're five but Sonya was a full-grown cat. So I think there was something wrong with her. And there's DEFINITELY something wrong with guys who are attracted to a girl who dresses like a toddler. Thirdly, Sonya was a snooty bitch. She was always dumping Heathcliff and flirting with other guys because he wasn't classy enough or mature enough for her to continually associate with. But damn, he musta been a dynamo in the sack. Sonya sucked, but Heathcliff's constant attempts to win her back were always entertaining.
Heathcliff loved playing pranks and Spike was his favorite target. Spike was a big tough bulldog, not unlike certain dogs who bullied Tom and Sylvester. But unlike those dogs, Spike very rarely got the upperhand. Heathcliff would blow him up, beat him up, and quite literally ride him like a government mule. As a young cat owner, this was quite possibly the greatest thing I had ever seen. Hell, it's probably still in my Top 50. Along with Garfield and Odie, Heathcliff and Spike helped reinforce a basic truth of nature: cats are smart and dogs are not.
[NOTE TO SELF: Insert a disingenuous apology to appease dog enthusiasts here.]
Heathcliff wasn't really a cat that could be owned per se, but Iggy Nutmeg was technically his owner. When Heathcliff wasn't busy causing trouble around his local neighborhood, he was causing trouble at whatever wacky locale Iggy dragged him to. DIC completely overhauled Iggy's look when they did this cartoon. In the comic strip, Iggy was a rather plain looking kid with a baseball cap and blond hair. In the '84 cartoon, he was kind of a tool. Look at him there, with his bow tie and his sweater vest. Don't you just want to hit that little bastard? Well, don't. I tried and I almost broke my fucking monitor as a result. This isn't the only time that DIC has totally changed the appearance of a trademarked character; the version of King Koopa in their Super Mario Brothers cartoons isn't even ALMOST based on Nintendo's design.
Iggy Nutmeg is a pretty lucky kid; his parents never tell him what to do. Unfortunately, it's because they're presumably dead. Iggy lives with his grandparents, which I would imagine is pretty cool. Isn't that every kid's fantasy? I mean, come on, on those infrequent occasions when your grandparents came by they'd have candy, toys or some other sort of present for you, even when it wasn't your birthday. So if you lived with them, it would stand to reason that every day would be Christmas. Or not. Iggy's grandparents aren't particularly interesting. They're boring old people with too much leisure time. When old women have nothing to do, they find some stupid hobby to take up like baking or knitting. When old men have too much time on their hands, they become cantankerous. That's where Grandpa comes in. Grandpa was a grumpy old man and as a result, he didn't take too kindly to Heathcliff's constant hijinx. As a result, the two would often have highly entertaining mini-feuds which, of course, Heathcliff would win. And if it's a crime to laugh when an old man gets his ass kicked, then gas me up, bitches!
Aside from perhaps Nancy Reagan and June Lockhart, I can't think of a single old lady who has ever contributed anything to society. So let it be with Grandma. In fact, she's so boring that I actually fell asleep while trying to think of something positive to write about her. Here what I came up with: nothing. So fuck her, let's move on.
Marcy was a random girl who lived in Heathcliff's neighborhood. Marcy was one of the few people who were able to see past Heathcliff's tough guy exterior and she absolutely adored him. She would often push around an empty baby carriage in the hopes that Heathcliff would let her push him around. Interestingly enough, he usually did. That tells us something about Heathcliff's priorities; he wasn't afraid to do something kinda gay if it would save him the trouble of walking. Some descriptions of the show that I've seen say that Marcy is Iggy's sister. That is incorrect. I don't know if Marcy was billed as Iggy's sister in the comic strip or the shitty Ruby-Spears cartoon, but it certainly was not true in the DIC show. It was never stated or implied in any way on the show that Marcy was somehow related to the Nutmegs. Ever.
Muggsy is another kid who lives in Heathcliff's neighborhood. He is Spike's owner, and he's also a total goon. Also, I hate his fucking hat. Heathcliff would occasionally beat up Muggsy and I used to fucking love it when that happened. If you wear a stupid hat, you DESERVE whatever misfortune befalls you. Someone ought to pass a law against retarded hats, especially ones that hold liquor.
Having recently watched 24 episodes of Heathcliff, I'm still not sure what the hell this guy's name is. However voice actor Derek McGrath, who did the voices of Spike and Muggsy, is credited with voicing a third character, Knuckles. Since it sounds like McGrath doing the voice and since Knuckles would be an apropos name for this big oaf, I'm gonna assume that this is Knuckles until I hear otherwise. In any case, this cat was a big tough alley cat who always tried to act like he was the boss of the neighborhood when Heathcliff wasn't around. Of course, Heathcliff would always show up and put him back in his place.
Riff Raff was the leader of the Catillac Cats and the de facto star of the Cats And Co. segments. He was abnormally short and his trademark attire included a long blue scarf, big poofy hat, and a cane. And you know, there's only one type of person who generally wears those sort of outfits. To put it bluntly:
OMFGZ!!!!!!!!!!!!11111!!!!! RIFF RAFF IS A PIMP, DAWG.
Or something like that. Being of such short stature, Riff Raff wasn't quite as tough as Heathcliff. But Riff Raff didn't need to be tough; he was streetwise, quick, and crafty. Besides, whenever things got really rough, his three best bros were always there to back him up.
Cleo was Riff Raff's girlfriend and unlike Sonya, she wasn't a total bitch. Cleo loved Riff Raff's capering and she often took part in it. She was also fairly sarcastic and would usually mock him when he fucked up. For some reason, Cleo was slightly more anthropomorphic than the other cats on the show. And with her big poofy hair and pink legwarmers, she was also slightly more dated. But for an animated female cat from the 1980s, she was pretty damn hot. I'd definitely take Cleo over Jem, She-Ra, Cheetara, or Smurfette because she seemed a little dirty. Plus, I'm pretty sure she was sporting camel toe a few times. And on top of that, she lived in a music store. So I could theoretically bang her and swipe a free glockenspiel on the way out, how fucking cool would that be?
[NOTE TO SELF: Call therapist about cartoon sex fantasy relapse.]
Hector was either one of Riff Raff's closest friends or his lead henchman, depending on how you look at it. Hector's fashion choices were even more questionable than Cleo's; he wore a gray headband, gray collar, and purple tie. Apparently no one told him that New Wave was two years dead by 1984. Hector didn't really have a defining gimmick the way that Wordsworth or Mungo did. He was kinda sarcastic sometimes, but he usually just went along with whatever Riff Raff said. Hector was definitely my least favorite member of the Catillac Cats.
Wordsworth was a scrawny white cat who always wore rollerskates and a headset of some sort. He also had a pair of sunglasses which, though always on his head, were never employed to supplement his vision. As you may or may not know, Wordsworth shares his name with a crappy 19th century poet. As a result, he spoke entirely in rhyme. I probably thought that was cool when I was nine, but now it just seems... GAY.
Mungo was the group's muscle. Whenever Riff Raff needed an old refrigerator or a crate of cat food moved, Mungo was the cat for the job. Maybe that's why he dressed like a dock worker. In addition to being strong, Mungo had two other traits. Let's see if you can figure out what they are.
Mungo is strong, _____, and ______.
A) sexy, smart
B) sexy, stupid
C) horny, angry
D) slow, dumb
E) stinky, cheeky
The correct answer is, of course, D. As you probably guessed, "slow" refers not only to Mungo's gait but his speech as well. Even though Mungo was a total goon, he was also totally lovable. Mungo would never say anything mean about anyone, so I don't think anyone should say anything mean about him. So I won't.
The Catillac Cats were so named because they owned and occasionally operated a "Catillac" car, which was a brilliant parody of Cadillac. Get it? GET IT? The car generally sat in the junkyard, atop a giant pile of various crap, where it served as a bed to Hector, Wordsworth, and Mungo. But every so often, the gang would use it to get somewhere. Even though the Catillac didn't have tires, it could drive, fly, and navigate dangerous fjords with the greatest of ease. This car was seriously tricked out. So the next time you hear some urban youths prattling on about how great the last episode of "Pimp My Ride" was, you better kick one of those little thugs right in the scrotum and let him know that Xzibit is a total hack. If you want to meet the innovator of ride-pimping, you gotta track down Riff Raff.
Leroy was a DOG who lived in the junkyard with the Catillac CATS. Did they get along? Hell no. And just like Spike, Leroy was seldom able to outsmart our purrfect protagonists. I'm sorry, that was fucking awful. I guess you shouldn't always attempt alliteration; sometimes the price is journalistic integrity. Leroy gets some major props for wearing a faux pirate hat, mainly because was the only thing that discerned him from other, more generic dogs that Riff Raff squared off against.
Bush was a dog who lived in the music store with Cleo. He was so named because of his bushy, Beatlesque hairdo. Bush presumably got along with Cleo, but he didn't take too kindly to Riff Raff sneaking into the store to get all up inside her. Bush tried his best to stop Riff Raff, but he couldn't see very well and Riff Raff was quick and clever. Not that it mattered. When cats are in heat, there's nothing you can do to stop them. If you try, they're gonna fuck your sofa and trust me, you'll NEVER Febreeze that smell away.
Heathcliff's show was divided into two eleven minute cartoons, one featuring Heathcliff and one featuring Riff Raff. Since Heathcliff had top billing, his cartoon was shown first. Actually, if you want to be precise about it, Heathcliff had the ONLY billing on the show. Although the Shout Factory DVDs refer to the show as Heathcliff & The Catillac Cats, the show was really just called Heathcliff. This is evidenced by the fact that neither the show's title screen nor its extremely catchy song reference the Catillac Cats. Although the writers didn't incorporate Riff Raff into the theme song, they did throw several words into it that were beyond my kindergarten-level vocabulary. Over the course of the series, Heathcliff found himself in a wide variety of different situations and locales, but he always solved his problems the same way: with violence. The use of violence was perhaps the biggest difference between Mel Blanc's Heathcliff and Mel Blanc's Bugs Bunny. Rarely, if ever, did Bugs Bunny directly hurt someone; he would outwit his agitators and trick them into hurting themselves. Heathcliff was capable of outsmarting others, but he much preferred to drag them into bouncing star-filled dust clouds. And whenever those dust clouds settled, it was good old HC who stood victorious. The cartoon was still somewhat formulaic, but it was a vast improvement over the cartoons of the 1970s. Not only was the writing better, the animation itself was quite good. This was one of the first cartoons to air in the West to use a graphic style that was then known as Japanimation and is now known as anime. While Heathcliff lacked many of the qualities that we associate with anime today, the Japanese-produced cartoon did occasionally make use of several classic anime facial expressions, such as the stress drop. Coincidentally, the show's music was done by Haim Saban and Shuki Levy, a pair of Satan's minions who took stock footage from a Japanese show called Kyôryû sentai Juurenjâ and used it to unleash the eighth biblical plague on America. Its name? Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.
Cats And Co.
The second half of Heathcliff was dedicated to Riff Raff and his friends. Riff Raff's life was a lot more interesting than Heathcliff's. You'd probably think that living in a junkyard would be depressing as hell, but Riff Raff made it seem cool. The guy had a kickass car, a hot girlfriend, and he lived in airplane wreckage. Riff Raff's exploits were slightly less interesting than Heathcliff's. The episodes that centered around Riff Raff and Cleo were usually pretty good, but there were other episodes that were just kinda boring. For instance, there was a really boring episode where Mungo finds an enchanted milk bottle with a genie inside and then loses it. There was one where some clowns steal the Catillac and the gang had to go to the circus to steal it back. What the hell? Who writes shit like that? If Cleo didn't show up in the first minute or two of the cartoon, you could bet your balls that it was going to be subpar. Hector, Wordsworth and Mungo were tolerable characters when they were helping Riff Raff impress Cleo, but when they had their own problems, they got annoying. Especially Wordsworth. However, there was one classic Mungo-heavy episode where he opens a successful cat restaurant in the junkyard... until it's discovered that dog food is the secret ingredient in his most popular dish. That was easily one of my favorite episodes.
After the Cats And Co. cartoon ended, the show went to commercial break and then came back with the end credits and a PSA. Yes, Heathcliff was one of the many cartoons from 80s that felt the need to tack on some sort of educational crap at the end. Since the show was about animals, Heathcliff opted to give us pet care advice. The whole thing was pretty much a waste of time. The tips were generally common sense stuff, like don't leave a pet in a locked car in the summer and don't put carnivorous fish in the same tank as your goldfish. These weren't things that kids would necessarily know, but their parents definitely should have. And since parents generally ended up taking care of the more boring aspects of pet ownership, the point was moot. So unless your legal guardians were lazy or retarded, the PSAs didn't really help you out. Roadblock taught me not to jump my bike over downed powerlines and Optimus Prime showed us proper condom use, but I didn't need Heathcliff to figure out that leaving my pet outside in bad weather was cruel.
Heathcliff was a popular show in its day, but then Garfield and Friends came along and blew it away. American kids can only stomach one fat orange cat at a time and society was changing. The cartoons of the mid-80s were punctuated with violence, but by 1988 things were changing. President-elect George Bush had promised us a kinder, gentler society and American's children dutifully complied. With his penchant for lethargy and general indifference to life, Garfield easily took the cat crown from that unsavory Heathcliff fellow. But perhaps the time is right for Heathcliff to remerge. While Heathcliff limps along unnoticed, Garfield has become so patronizing and predictable that it's outright offensive. America needs a talking cartoon cat, and with Lorenzo Music dead, that cat will not be Garfield. Advantage: Heathcliff. Wait, Mel Blanc's even deader. Fuck.
Posted by: Syd Lexia