When Warner Brothers closed down their animation division in 1963, director
Friz Freleng joined with producer David DePatie and formed their own animation
company, DePatie-Freleng. One of the first jobs they landed was to
animate the credits of a United Artists picture staring David Niven:
The Pink Panther. The credits, involving a pink panther and
being chased by a bumbling detective was so funny, and popular, that it
was rumored that Niven was considering suing UA because his name was upstaged
by a cartoon credit. (One can only guess what Mr. Niven thought of
the fact that this movie started a series of films that stared, not himself,
but supporting actor Peter Sellers.)
Given the critical acclaim that the credits of the film received, a
series of shorts was sure to follow. UA contracted with DePatie-Freleng
to produce a series of six minute shorts staring the Panther. The
first short they turned in, Think Phink, was a huge success that
was advertised on theater marquees along with the feature and went on to
win an Academy Award. The cartoon series was off to a strong start.
There would eventually be well over 100 Pink Panther shorts released to
theaters, and when the market for theatrical cartoons started to wane in
the late 60's, the panther easily made the jump to the small screen and
was found on Saturday morning TV his shorts continued to run for over a
Now MGM has released a five-disc boxed set
of Pink Panther cartoons that is sure to please the silent feline's fans.
Including all 124 theatrically released shorts and several nice bonus features,
this is a wonderful, if uneven, set.
The Pink Panther has a minimalist style that accents the humor of the
cartoons. These shows have very sparse backgrounds, often only one
of two straight lines and a patch of color will serve as the entire setting,
and frequently only one or two characters besides Pink himself. Another
thing that really made the show was the cool Panther theme written by Henry
Mancini. This plays in the back of the cartoons over and over but
it never gets repetitive, just adds a hip atmosphere to the mayhem.
This is a very funny set of cartoons, at the beginning at least.
The series starts of strong and the first couple of discs worth of shows
are wonderfully entertaining and uproariously funny. Along with the
award winning Think Phink, other stand-outs include Pink Panic,
where the panther spends the night in a ghost town complete with ghosts,
Pink, Plunk. Plink where Pink tries to hijack an orchestra and make
them play his theme, Rock-a-bye Pinky and one of my favorites In
the Pink of the Night.
By the end of the sixties though, the series had started to run out
of steam. There's only so much that you can do with a silent but
moral character who loves the color pink, and it's easy to see that the
creators had run out of ideas. The writers tried to mine some ideas
that were successful for Looney Tunes cartoons, but it just didn't work.
As where Bugs Bunny went to ancient Persia in Ali Baba Bunny and
was very funny ("Hassan Chop!"), when Pink did it in 1978's The Pink
of Bagdad the gags are lame and a bit cliched. 1979's Toro
Pink was obviously a rip off of the classic Bully for Bugs even
to the point of stealing some of the gags, but the panther writers failed
to realize how to construct a joke for comic effect and Pink spends much
of the cartoon running in fear. These later shows are pretty pathetic.
Not only did the plots go down hill, but the seventies cartoons have
cheaper animation too. With fewer and fewer theaters showing cartoons
costs had to be cut, so limited animation was used in the later installments
of the series and this hampers the comedy to some extent. These later
cartoons also suffer from the fact that they dropped the Mancini theme.
What were they thinking. That music gave Pink a lot of his characteristics.
When it's playing and he's on screen he seems dignified and very cool.
In the later cartoons without the Mancini music Pink comes across as more
of a bumbling fool.
Note: There is possibly one scene missing from the short The Pink
of Bagdad. In one instance the panther is fighting with a rope
and the rope jumps up and smacks Pink in the face. There is a jump
cut here, and you don't see the actual hit, just the rope starting to smack
the feline and then him laying on the ground. I'm sure this was cut
for the TV release, do to violence on TV ruining America's youth and all
that rot, but I couldn't determine if that scene was ever shown theatrically.
This set comes in some neat packaging. The five disc are housed
in a fold out book. Unfortunately discs 2 & 3 and 4 & 5 share
the same pages with one partially overlapping the other. This book
comes in a hard plastic slipcase that has a puffy exterior that is nicely
illustrated with images of the Pink Panther. There is also a booklet
with a short history and episode list included.
The two channel audio sounds very good for cartoons that are up to
40 years old. There Henry Mancini theme song is clear though not
as crisp as a modern recording would be. Oddly enough for silent cartoons where no one talks, there are subtitles
in French, Spanish, and Portugese. These translate the few signs
that appear in the show.
The full frame video looks very good for cartoons this old. The
colors are generally solid and the lines are tight. There is a fair
amount of grain to several of these shows, which is regrettable, but digital
defects are at a minimum.
This set has some nice bonus features, all included on the last disc.
The set starts out with a 10 minute documentary, Behind the Feline:
The Cartoon Phenomenon, that gives the history of Pink and features
interviews with Blake Edwards and David DePatie. I just wish that
they had included more of the DePatie interview where he talks about the
end of Termite Terrace and the old Warner Brothers cartoon unit.
Pink Patter: The Story Behind the Animation is a fifteen minute
featurette where animation director Art Leonardi talks about the style
and composition of the Pink Panther cartoons, which is quite interesting.
One of the best features is Remembering Friz. This featurette
is a tribute to Friz Freleng, where his daughters where they talk
about how their father started in animation working in the same studio
as Walt Disney and how he came to be the popular animator that he soon
Art Leonardi give a short drawing lesson in Think Pink: How to Draw
the Pink Panther, and From Page to Screen compares the storyboards
to the finished cartoons for two shorts, In the Pink and Pink
Blueprint. Another bonus item I really enjoyed was the opening
credits to five Pink Panther live action movies including the first one
that gave the character his start.
The extras conclude with Life in a Pink Panther Factory, a text
interview with Friz Freleng from American Cinematographer magazine.
Completists will love this collection. It includes all 124 theatrically
released Pink Panther cartoons and they all look good. They are presented
without a laugh track, as they were originally shown (the laugh track was
added later for television broadcasts) which is as it should be.
These shows start of uproariously funny, and are solid throughout the first
few discs. By 1970 though, these cartoons have run their course and
aren't nearly as good as they once were. I highly recommend
the earliest shows (the first three discs in this set, the best ones, are
available separately) but this set is recommended for completists
and those who enjoy the later shows.