MGM DVD and 20th Century-Fox has released The Pink Panther and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection: Vol. 6 - The Inspector, a compilation of the first 17 theatrical shorts from the famed DePatie-Freleng Enterprises animation studio, based on the popular Peter Sellers' creation, Inspector Clouseau. Fans who grew up on these cartoons when they were sandwiched in-between those marvelous Pink Panther shorts on the various NBC incarnations of The Pink Panther Show, will no doubt want to pick up this fun collection.
It's not surprising that DePatie-Freleng's second successful theatrical franchise would incorporate the world-famous French detective Clouseau (even though the shorts were very careful never to specifically reference Sellers' creation), particularly since they had such tremendous success with their first animated go-around, The Pink Panther. When Warner Bros. initially closed their theatrical animation studio in 1963, long-time WB animator Friz Freleng and studio executive David DePatie joined forces to fill the gap - and it was a rapidly closing gap - for theatrically released cartoons. Their first assignment was animating the titles for Blake Edward's sophisticated Raffles-like spoof, The Pink Panther. Audiences were so taken with this charming opening sequence that further cartoons were ordered by the Mirisch Company (which produced The Pink Panther and had partial copyright to the character), which proved equally successful with theatregoers (the company's The Pink Phink won the Academy Award in 1964). Considering the popularity of the original live-action film and its sequel, A Shot in the Dark, which featured not the Pink Panther but an animated Inspector Clouseau in its opening credits, it made good business sense to go with Mirisch again and produce a series based on the bumbling French detective.
34 The Inspector theatrical cartoons were produced between 1965 and 1969. The series got off to a spectacular start when the first short, The Great DeGaulle Stone Operation, was chosen to play before the James Bond epic, Thunderball, the number one worldwide box office champ of 1966 - a heady exposure for a new franchise. If you didn't happen to catch them during their theatrical runs, chances are you saw these popular shorts when they were incorporated into NBC's variously titled The Pink Panther Shows. Usually sandwiched in-between two Pink Panther cartoons, The Inspector cartoons were seen exclusively during the first two seasons of The Pink Panther Show, and then on and off throughout the years in the various incarnations of the show, until 1979.
The basic premise of the cartoons is pretty standard (at least for these first 17 shorts, which, with the exception of the first title, The Great DeGaulle Stone Operation are appearing on DVD for the first time). The Inspector (his name is never given, but he looks and sounds enough like Sellers' Clouseau for us to assume that) opens the short with a voice-over, explaining how "the whole affair started...." Usually arriving at the Paris Surete, The Inspector is informed by his boss, the Commissioner (or the Chief, as he is sometimes referred to), of a nefarious plot to commit wrongdoing, to which he is then dispatched to apprehend the criminal. Aiding The Inspector in his bumbling efforts is his partner, Sergeant Duex-Deux (pronounced "Doo Doo"), an extremely laid-back, reticent Spanish officer in the French National Police. Together, the pair encounter various villains, many of them obviously non-human in origin (Spider Pierre, Captain Clamity, The Blotch, who is literally a blotch of color), with typically violent, slapstick results, before the criminal is brought to justice (usually by accident or by his own hand).
I always enjoyed The Inspector cartoons when I was a kid, because they provided a nice contrast to their accompanying Pink Panther shorts. While both still delivered their fair share of sometimes violent, slapstick humor, The Inspector cartoons relied much more on verbal humor (largely supplied by Sgt. Deux-Deux) than the Pink Panther, while also giving a more detailed, colorful accounting of the distinctive DePatie-Freleng animation house style. While Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau was noted as much for his ridiculous French-accented malapropisms and mispronunciations as for his later violent pain gags, The Inspector character downplays the Sellers' word-play in favor of Sgt. Deux-Deux's frequent Popeye-like mumblings, where he frequently wishes he was safe at home, in bed, rather than with the accident-prone Inspector (the series' main joke has The Inspector imploring Deux-Deux to "Say, 'Oui,' not, 'Si,'" to which Deux-Deux responds, "Si, I mean, 'Oui.'"). Pat Harrington (perhaps best known as Schneider on One Day at a Time), provided the voice for both The Inspector and Sgt. Deux-Deux (with Larry Storch, Paul Frees, Marvin Miller, and June Foray providing the other voices) and he's quite good at providing a humorous contrast between the two characters. It must have been difficult to provide a significantly differing personality from the proud, outwardly calm Inspector (who rarely yells and depends on ironic understatement for much of the comic moments), but his "I don't really care," bewildered Spanish/French cop Deux-Deux is beautifully modulated next to the Inspector, creating much of the humor in these shorts.
No cartoons looked DePatie-Freleng shorts, and that distinctive, gorgeous, spidery, abstract visual design is in full flower here in The Inspector cartoons. Where as The Pink Panther cartoons frequently employed an almost astral, surreal spatial design, The Inspector shorts are far more dense, frequently utilizing detailed backgrounds (still rendered in that almost Impressionistic DFE style) saturated in deep, dark purples, blues, reds, and greens (as opposed to the more pastel-flavored Pink Panthers). All of these The Inspector cartoons were intended for theatrical release, and even though they're not of the full, rich, classic style of theatrical animation from the glory years of Disney or Warners or MGM, they still have a fluidity and completeness that's in marked contrast to later TV efforts from DFE. Series directors for The Inspector included Friz Freleng (who only directed the first effort), Robert McKimson, Gerry Chinquy, and George Singer, with Chinquy taking over most of the series' directing chores from 1967 on. Gags are plentiful and nicely violent (there's lots of gunplay), and well-thought out for the most part. I enjoyed watching The Inspector again, but as a safeguard, I included some of my younger kids to see if they'd respond in kind to these 40-plus-years-old cartoons. And for a good half-hour or so, they did, laughing at all the appropriate moments of slapstick.
Here are the 17 cartoons included in The Pink Panther and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection: Vol. 6 - The Inspector disc. I've included run times, along with the original date of theatrical release. A word about the prints used for these transfers. While each short contains the full theatrical credit cards, that doesn't necessarily mean these aren't prints used from the network or syndicated TV versions of The Pink Panther Show. Although the first season of The Pink Panther Show eliminated everything but "The Inspector" logo card and a title card, the second season of the show restored the full theatrical credits, so their presence here isn't a guarantee that all of these transfers were taken from theatrical prints. The aspect ratios are correct - 1.33:1 (not cropped for widescreen) - however, a couple of the cartoons do have the added laugh track that NBC slapped on the Pink Panther cartoons, so obviously, those transfers do come from TV versions. I've indicated below the cartoons that have the laugh tracks:
The Great DeGaulle Stone Operation (12/21/65) (7:14)
Reaux, Reaux, Reaux Your Boat (2/1/66) (6:21)
Napoleon Blown-Apart (2/2/66) (6:05, laugh track included)
Cirrhosis of the Louvre (3/9/66) (6:11)
Plastered in Paris (4/5/66) (6:12)
Cock-a-Doodle Deux-Deux (6/15/66) (6:09)
Ape Suzette (6/24/66) (6:17, laugh track included)
The Pique Poquette of Paris (8/25/66) (6:23)
Sicque! Sicque! Sicque! (9/23/66) (6:14, laugh track included)
That's No Lady - That's Notre Dame! (10/26/66) (6:14)
Unsafe and Seine (1/9/66) (6:12)
Toulouse La Trick (12/30/66) (6:10)
Sacre Bleu Cross (2/1/67) (6:09)
Le Quiet Squad (5/17/67) (6:08)
Bomb Voyage (5/22/67) (6:08, laugh track included)
Le Pig-Al Patrol (5/24/67) (6:06)
Le Bowser Bagger (5/30/67) (6:07)
The full screen, 1.33:1 video transfers for The Pink Panther and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection: Vol. 6 - The Inspector look particularly good, with deep, saturated colors, a minimum of grain, and no compression issues to speak of. Much better than expected.
The Dolby Digital English mono audio tracks accurately represents the original theatrical presentations. Subtitles in English, French and Spanish are available, as well as close-captions.
Unfortunately, there are no extras for The Pink Panther and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection: Vol. 6 - The Inspector.
The minute composer Henry Mancini's brilliant, suspensful/comical A Shot in the Dark theme comes up, you'll be instantly transported back to early 1970s Saturday morning heaven. While not as self-consciously surreal and hip as DePatie-Freleng's brilliant early Pink Panther cartoons, The Inspector shorts still have that beautifully impressionistic DFE house style, and some well worked-out gags - with excellent voice work by Pat Harrington. Good, solid family fun. I highly recommend The Pink Panther and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection: Vol. 6 - The Inspector.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.