THE CHESHIRE CAT
Otherwise Known As: Puss (The Duchess)
Film Premiere: Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Voiced By: Sterling Holloway
Having already spoken of Alice, my favorite character in the film Alice in Wonderland as well as the book from which it is based, I shall instead speak of my second favorite character in both film and book known simply and oh so eloquently as the Cheshire Cat.
Before I go onto the character let me speak briefly as to the origin of the Cheshire Cat as far as name and the convention of his iconic disappearing trick via grinning. In the county of Cheshire, located in England, there are numerous dairy farms and it is popularly believed that the phrase “grinning like a Cheshire cat” originates from this as milk and cream are in heavy abundance and thus cats in the county have plenty reason to grin.
Another theory, though sadly one that cannot be fully confirmed, is that a type of cheese was also sold in Cheshire that was molded specifically in the shape of a smiling cat and that it was eaten from the tail to the grin, hence the disappearing trick to the grinning Cheshire Cat.
That bit of trivia out of the way, let’s move on to the character of the Cheshire Cat shall we?
Make no mistake, like most denizens of Wonderland, the Cheshire Cat is as mad as they come though it is arguable as to whether or not he is truly the most insane out of them all. He has on more than one occasion in film and separately connected works shown a remarkable ingenuity in achieving what he wants no matter, or perhaps even for, the consequences that result. In the film and book, the Cheshire Cat is often considered as something of a… guide… for Alice, though admittedly more so in the book.
Though highly cryptic and more than a little creepy on deliver of his words, it cannot be denied that it was the Cheshire Cat who purposefully pointed poor Alice to the house of the March Hare and told her that he, the Hare, the Hatter, and perhaps even Alice herself are all quite mad. Of course, all this was said and done after he spent a moment trolling Alice for a bit by telling her he saw the White Rabbit go by and then answer her questions with questions of his own that hinted to the fact that he had no idea what she was talking about and was more interested in finding out if she could stand on her head.
The Cheshire Cat is also responsible for leading Alice straight to the Queen of Hearts and, in a fashion, brought an end to her despair of realizing she had no idea as to how to get out of Wonderland and back home. Of course, he is also the one responsible for putting Alice under the Queen of Hearts’ ire with a delightfully well delivered prank but here’s where things get a wee bit interesting.
Though painted as strictly a neutral character in the film proper, the Cheshire Cat is oftentimes group with the Villains simply for the afore-mentioned facts save for two particular incidents that occur outside the movie itself. The first incident, or rather series of incidents, occurs in the game Kingdom Hearts.
Despite having been offered a place amongst the Disney Villains controlling the Heartless and even summoning a boss Heartless to do battle with Sora, Donald, and Goofy, the Cheshire Cat refused them and even tries, in his own mad way, to ensure Alice’s safety by way of inspiring Sora to pursue after her kidnappers and restore the worlds to normal. Heck, in the manga adaptation to the game it is the Cheshire Cat who unlocks Sora’s ability to wield magic through the Keyblade!
If you need further proof then know that when Maleficent, freaking Queen of Evil herself, curses your name, you know you’re on the right side and such is the case for the Cheshire Cat.
Yet there is no denying that the Cheshire Cat is a selfish creature, looking out for himself first and others second as was demonstrated in the sequel comic book miniseries Wonderland that featured the adventures of the maid Mary Ann. An interesting read with an equally interesting art style to it, it is here where we get to see the Cheshire Cat’s true motivations lie as we see him try time and time again to try and dethrone the Queen of Hearts in any way he could, even going so far as to lure Jabberwock right into her garden.
Upon the… huh… end I suppose is the right word for what occurs to the Queen of Hearts and her fellow Royal Cards, the throne to Wonderland is made vacant and though Mary Ann is presented with the prime opportunity to ascend to a higher station, she declines it for favor of the life she loves to live and in so doing allows for the Cheshire Cat to seize both the throne and the newly realized scepter of Wonderland.
He, quite literally, goes power mad and starts making decrees up, down, and slightly over to the right including such gems as “Up will be down and down will be up!” or “the seas will rise with tidal waves of cream!” or my personal favorite just for how utterly nonsensical it is, “a fish feast on Fridays for all felines!”
To this day, I can’t help but wonder just why he chose Friday of all days. Was it for the alliteration or… and I’m overthinking things again and for a character who became a self-entitled mad king of nonsense.
Anyway, the Cheshire Cat’s reign comes to as an abrupt and end as it was a thoroughly mad beginning in that the Duchess arrives and promptly informs him that he’s been a naughty, naughty cat and that she’s told him a thousand times to stay off the furniture. The Cheshire Cat tries to argue with her by stating that it’s his throne and his claimed it all right and proper before she interrupts him with a slap to the face. A catfight ensues for a moment before it ends with the Duchess holding up the Cheshire Cat by the scruff of his neck and promising that she’ll reveal all of his secrets if he doesn’t behave.
The Cheshire Cat relents and both the throne and the castle of the Royal Cards are vanished away into a fishbowl that the Duchess allows him to keep as a souvenir for, after all, a cat may look at a kingdom though he may not rule it as his own.