1986 in Film – Heathcliff The Movie

Release Date: January 17th
Box Office: $2,091,504

Everyone must remember that orange cat that ruled the 80s, you know the one; he started in a comic strip then got a TV show then a movie and all that? You must remember Heathcliff, right?

Gar-who? Nope. Never heard of him.

Heathcliff was there first, staring in 1973 as a comic strip. His first show aired in 1980 before coming back in 1984, then this film was released by our old friends at Clubhouse Pictures. Obviously the previous year’s He-Man and The Secret of The Sword (1985) was a successful template as, like with that film, Heathcliff The Movie (1985) is essentially a complication of 7 episodes of the TV series repackaged for theatrical and home video release.

Of course, the very big Ginger Cat shaped elephant in the room is Garfield.

This orange cat first showed up in 1978, however by 1981 he was in 850 newspapers worldwide and generating an income of $15m in merchandise sales. To say Garfield was a marketing triumph would be an understatement of the highest order. Whilst his TV show, Garfield and Friends, wouldn’t air until 1988 there were TV specials that aired starting in 1982 including Garfield: His Nine Lives in 1988 which is one of the most bizarre things you’ll see.

At the same time, Heathcliff had a show that aired in 1980 for two seasons produced by US company Ruby-Spears before another show launched this time produced by DiC with animation outsourced overseas, both series voiced by iconic animation legend Mel Blanc. At the same time the newspaper strip is licensed worldwide but doesn’t compare to the behemoth that is Garfield.

Which makes the theatrical release of the film a bit perplexing.

The 1984 Heathcliff show was, like most shows at the time, done as cheap as possible. In fact, people in industry would refer to DiC as standing for “Do It Cheap”. This feeds into why the movie was a compilation of TV episodes rather than an original production; Heathcliff is at home with his nephews on a rainy day and recounts them some of his old tales. Now, a compilation of cartoons isn’t necessarily a bad thing as was proved by the Warner Bros series of Bugs Bunny movies in the late 70s and early 80s. However, those films had a selection of works of genius to chose from whereas Heathcliff does not.

It’s real home, where it quickly ended up, was in the home rental market in the Kids section. The show stumbled on for a couple more years before finishing up.

There was clearly only room for one orange cat in popular culture and Heathcliff wasn’t the one. The cartoon Heathcliff was maybe a bit too on the cool side, compared to the lazy Garfield. His persona is like someone from a ‘Cool Guys Sticking it To The Man’ movies which can grate. Garfield wasn’t that far off but something about him clicked with the wider culture and that was that.

A film like this isn’t going to change anyone’s opinion. Cheap, lazy and ripe for the bottom shelf of the kid’s section in the local video library. The only real punchline is that the live action Garfield The Movie (2004) wasn’t exactly much better.

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