The first cartoons were flipbooks that were designed to give the illusion of movement in the early 1900s and for a time, progress had been excruciatingly slow. But with the advent of the silent era of motion pictures, it would seem as though cartoons were plunged in a constant state of evolution.
The first animated cartoon was created in France by caricature artist Emile Cohl in 1908 with his black-and-white short film, Fantasmagorie. This process of cartooning mostly involved drawings illuminated on a glass plate and for a few years, the early animators would experiment with various techniques to produce better quality animation.
But in the 1920s, the game would forever be changed with the rise of Walt Disney Studio in Los Angeles and the introduction of sound animation through its short film Steamboat Willie which also happened to be where the ever iconic Mickey Mouse was introduced.
In 1937, Walt Disney would release the first feature-length animated film in the form of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and from then on, things will only get better. Different kinds of creatures would be heavily incorporated into the world of cartooning to provide a new breed of entertainment and among those creatures are cats.
Here are 10 of the most popular cartoon cats to grace the big and small screens.
1. Team Rocket’s Meowth (Pokémon)
A member of the infamous villain group Team Rocket, Meowth is definitely one of the most popular and beloved characters of the Pokémon franchise, appearing at almost every episode since the show first aired back in 1997.
Conniving, greedy, and can’t seem to keep his mouth shut, this cat-type Pokémon certainly fits the bill of an animated villain. Despite these qualities, Meowth has proven that there’s more to him than meets the eye and their group’s love-hate relationship with the protagonists Ash, Pikachu, and the rest of their group; as well as his uncanny ability to fall in love with every female cat-type Pokémon in the series, had definitely contributed in the success of the show.
Out of all the Pokémons in the show, what makes Meowth so special is that he seems to be the only one who isn’t of legendary status who is able to speak and stand on his two legs. What’s even more amazing is that he is self-taught and is considered an untamed Pokémon despite his affiliations.
2. Puss in Boots (Shrek)
First introduced in Shrek 2, this adorable Zorroesque smooth-talking cat quickly went to become one of the franchise’s most popular characters and earned himself his own stand-alone film, the 2011 Puss In Boots, as well as his own spin-off animated TV show, The Adventures of Puss In Boots.
Don’t let his small size fool you because this cat could take on a number of enemies at once with his incredible swordsmanship. And when all else fails, he can always shift into his “adorable kitten mode” which no one can resist.
Equipped with his trusty rapier, cavalier’s hat, Corinthian boots, and charisma the size of an ocean, it’s not surprising the popularity of this animated character has soared. And if this orange tabby cat’s appearance doesn’t win you over to his side, his sexy Spanish accent will.
3. Tigger (The Adventures of Winnie The Pooh)
Making his debut in the 1968 Disney short film Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, a lot of children had certainly grown up with Tigger and his friends from the Hundred Acre Woods. There are only a few other cartoon cats that are as famous and as renowned as Tigger. In fact, if you try to name a bouncing cat, only Tigger’s name would come up.
Happy-go-lucky, boisterous, and exuberant, Tigger is definitely the life of the Hundred Acre Woods, spreading his joy and energy wherever he goes. While he may be a notorious troublemaker and at times egotistic, this beloved bouncing anthropomorphic cat is full of love, life, and would do anything for his friends.
4. Sylvester (Looney Tunes)
Known as Sylvester James Pussycat, Sr. or Sylvester the Cat, this Tuxedo is the subject of Tweety The Bird’s signature line: “I tawt I taw a puddy tat!” and can always be seen trying to eat her only to be foiled by Granny or some other character.
Aside from his relationship with Tweety, Sylvester is also known for his characteristic lisp, just like fellow Looney Tunes character Daffy Duck. In fact, both characters’ lisps were inspired by one of the show’s producer’s own speech defect.
In the world of Looney Tunes, Sylvester can be considered as one of the biggest losers along with Wile E. Coyote. So much so that he is also the character that had experienced the most deaths on the show. Thankfully, people love his pairing with Tweety so much that they always seem to bring him back to life.
Sylvester made his official debut in the 1947 short Tweetie Pie and just like how it’s always been, tries to eat Tweety the Bird. His original name had been Thomas, possibly in reference to another famous cartoon cat, Tom from Tom and Jerry. However, it was soon replaced by Sylvester.
Ever since his first appearance, Sylvester had made 103 appearances on Warner Bros. shorts, thus, making him the fourth-most frequent character just after Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, and Daffy Duck.
5. Cheshire Cat (Alice in Wonderland)
Out of all the odd creatures in the world of Wonderland, the Cheshire Cat is definitely one of the weirdest and most mysterious. First appearing in the 1951 Disney feature film Alice in Wonderland, this pink and purple-striped cat has made many appearances in both TV and film over the decades with the most recent being the 2016 Alice Through The Looking Glass film.
The Cheshire Cat, particularly its trademark smile, has arguably become the mascot of the entire franchise. However, the way the character in the original 1951 film was portrayed is different from that of the 2010 and 2016 live-action adaptations.
In the original film, the Cheshire Cat seems to be the only character in Wonderland that is aware and proud of his insanity. He is remarkably feared in the original film, even by the villainous Queen of Hearts, due to his powerful shape-shifting and vanishing abilities as well as his mischievous nature and cruel sense of humor.
In the live-action adaptations, his character seems to have been toned to the point of being portrayed as a coward. Regardless, the Cheshire Cat plays a significant role in helping and guiding one of the most famous literary characters, Alice.
6. Simba, Mufasa, and Scar (The Lion King)
For a time, Disney’s The Lion King was the second highest-grossing film of all time and the highest-grossing animated film. When it was first released, the film became quite the phenomenon and it was even reported that Disney had earned more than $1 billion from the Lion King merchandise alone. So it isn’t at all surprising that the characters in the film would be highly beloved, especially the lions.
There is no question about the love Simba had received from the public, but in this list, he would have to share with his fellow lions because they are as deserving as he. Scar, for example, may be the worst lion to walk the Pride Lands but he certainly clawed his way into the hearts of the public. As for Mufasa, let’s just say that up till now, his death is still one of the saddest and most heartbreaking scenes in Disney film history.
7. Felix The Cat
While not the first cartoon to be made, Felix the Cat is the OG cartoon cat. Definitely the foundation and stepping stone that paved the way for other cartoons not just of the cat variety, Felix first took the screen during the era of the silent film way back in 1919.
When the character was first introduced to the public, an unprecedented popularity quickly followed. Soon enough, Felix the Cat became the face of several entities like the New York Yankees, The U.S. Navy’s Bombing Squadron Two, aviator Charles Lindbergh, and even the Prince of Wales among many others. In fact, his popularity during the 20s rivaled even that of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. The first television transmission even featured Felix the Cat.
The character’s popularity, however, did not give clarity as to who was responsible for its creation. The Australian Pat Sullivan and the New Jersey cartoonist Otto Messner claimed to be the creator of the character. While Felix the Cat was indeed produced by Sullivan’s studio, many believe that Messner was the person behind the character.
In the late 20s, Felix the Cat would face great competition in Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse in the sound animation Steamboat Willie short and by the 30s, he would be completely replaced by the latter’s Silly Symphonies.
Television would then prove to be a saving grace for Felix the Cat’s character with a sound animated revival in 1953. Regardless, Felix the Cat would go down as a pioneer in the history of cartooning.
There is no arguing that Garfield is the biggest cartoon cat in the world of comics. Having debuted in 1978 in 41 newspapers, Garfield soon found its way to television and went on to become a major success. Now, the character appears on 2,600 newspapers with about 260 million readers all over the world.
Created by Jim Davis during the time the dog, Snoopy dominated the market, he felt like there should be a comic strip about a cat as well and thus Garfield was born. The name was inspired by James A. Garfield, not the U.S. president but Davis’ grandfather.
Now, Garfield brings in an estimated $750 million to $1 billion each year making it one of the most successful cartoon characters to exist.
Part of the character’s success was most definitely the fact that Garfield is easy to relate to. While not everyone loves lasagna like Garfield does, this fat orange cat is notoriously lazy, sarcastic, and has a deep hatred towards Mondays like most people do.
9. Hello Kitty
Hello Kitty is a phenomenon and is definitely the most recognizable cartoon cat character in the world. From simple collectibles like hairclips and pens to world traveling airplanes, Hello Kitty’s face is everywhere.
Despite her fame, there are probably a number of things about the character you still don’t know about including her full name. In fact, her name isn’t Hello Kitty at all and she isn’t actually Japanese despite being conceived by Sanrio, a company based in Japan.
Hello Kitty’s actual name is Kitty White and she was born just outside of London to parents George and Mary and also has a twin sister named Mimmy White. This means that Hello Kitty is actually British!
She also doesn’t have a mouth because according to Sanrio, the character speaks through her heart and that she isn’t bound to any language making her the most suitable ambassador to the world.
In over the four decades she has been in existence, Hello Kitty has developed into a multi-billion dollar entity and is, in fact, the sixth biggest licensor just after Disney for Mickey Mouse and Mattel’s Barbie.
Talk about the most successful cartoon cat ever.
10. Tom (Tom and Jerry)
Tom, or Tom Cat, may not be the most financially successful cartoon cat in the history of animation but his imprint is deeply embedded into pop culture together with his partner and eternal rival, Jerry Mouse.
Created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera in 1940 for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Tom and Jerry would go on to win 7 Oscars, a number that is matched only by Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies, as well as 8 Emmy Awards.
The secret to Tom and Jerry’s success would have to be its longevity and consistency. At a time when the world is preparing for the biggest war in history, Tom and Jerry’s slapstick comedy riddled with graphic violence seemed to be rather timely and relevant; providing viewers with more entertainment compared to Disney’s clean cartoons.
The success that the Hanna-Barbera experienced with their first project together also ushered in a new era for cartoons as the partnership would also produce the likes of The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Scooby Doo, and Smurfs among many other shows.
Now as for Tom, what makes him at the top of this list is the fact that so many children from different generations have grown up with him and Jerry. With almost 78 years in the industry and counting, Tom has cemented himself a permanent position at the top of all cartoon cats in the past, present, and future. He is the face of every naughty house cat, the Goliath to Jerry’s David, and at times, the face of forgiveness and love.