Kitties leap to Internet stardom and beyond

  • Posted: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 12:01 a.m.
Roly poly Maru, a megastar in Japan with millions of views for nearly 300 videos since 2007, has three books and a calendar, among other items for sale.

NEW YORK — They frolic in empty boxes and stick their heads under faucet streams of water. They dance on tippy toes and fly through the air with Pop-Tarts. They play piano wearing little frocks and get tickled to distraction to the delight of millions on YouTube.

I speak, of course, of the cat stars of the Internet, a place filled with felines and their wacky uploading humans since the dawn of bandwidth. Now, after years of viral viewing, they're coming into their own in lucrative and altruistic ways.

The first Internet Cat Video Film Festival drew a Woodstock-esque crowd of more than 10,000 — people, that is — to a Minneapolis art museum in August. Police closed a span of highway clogged with cars trying to get to the Walker Art Center for the free outdoor slate of 80 videos culled from 10,000 submissions that covered the simple, funny moment to polished animations and works made by trained filmmakers.

“People were spilling out into the streets. It kind of took our breath away. You hit the people that are the cat lovers but you also get people who just like sharing something on the Internet, and it kind of reaches across age groups,” said the museum's Scott Stulen.

Corporate kittydom is happy with the higher profile for the cat meme. That, by the way, means all the crazy, viral themes that spread online faster than you can say nom, nom, nom (cat-vid speak for the sound of a cat eating.)

In addition to the Walker's free night in cat video heaven, Fresh Step litter sponsored Catdance, an evening of felines on screen that coincided with January's Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. A fan-voted winner among five scripted finalists will earn $10,000.

In November, Friskies gave a lifetime achievement statue to angsty existentialist Henri, le Chat Noir, at the brand's own awards ceremony and donated 250,000 cans of cat food to shelters around the country. Henri, the troubled Tuxedo, won another statue in Minneapolis and soon will begin a collaboration of food-focused videos with Friskies.

Oh, and Henri's putting out his first book in April.

Roly poly Maru, the megastar in Japan with millions of views for nearly 300 videos since 2007, has three books and a calendar, among other swag for sale. The squishy-faced, often blissed-out Scottish fold who loves boxes and bags was used by Uniqlo when the Japanese brand launched its San Francisco store in October. Maru chose boxes, called “Lucky Cubes,” stuffed with giveaways for human contest winners.

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