From Blake Edwards mascot to near-silent cartoon star
Many of these shorts follow a similar story, in which the Pink Panther acts as an aggravating nemesis to The Little Man, a stout fireplug of a guy who is driven slowly insane by the Pink Panther's antics. Sight gags are the order of the day, as reality is warped and abused by The Pink Panther, and The Little Man can only get angrier. These shorts--including the Oscar-winning The Pink Phink, The Pink Blueprint and Pink Plunk Plink--are easily amongst the best of the set, as the rivalry adds to the comedy, much as it did in Freleng's Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd cartoons.
That said, the dynamic could and was changed in shorts like Reel Pink, which pitted the Pink Panther against some worms, and the great Pink Punch, where, in a bit of surreal lunacy, the Pink Panther does battle with a mischievous green asterisk, in a reversal of the color war seen in The Pink Phink. Casting the Pink Panther as the protagonist rather than the antagonist he started as could show his depth as a character, or it could be seen as another example of the way the early cartoons would try anything to figure out what works for the concept. Either way, it made for one of the best entries here.
The "spaghetti against the wall" technique also results in a few shorts where the Pink Panther actually speaks (given voice by famous impersonator Rich Little, who is doing something akin to a James Mason voice.) Though it's not the only voice heard in these cartoons (there is at times a somewhat obnoxious narrator, and Mel Blanc can be heard as the voices of a miserable Lockhorns-style couple) it is extremely off-putting to hear the smooth cat speak, as he is best as a silent comic character in the vein of The Kid, M. Hulot and Mr. Bean. Thankfully, he is far more often seen than heard.
There are more hits than misses in this collection by a far margin, with just a few worthy of an outright skip--namely Pink Pistons and Vitamin Pink. But even with a high ratio of success, some shorts stand above the others, including the wonderfully surreal and visually inventive Pink Pajamas, in which the Pink Panther attempts to find a place to bed down for the night, and the previously mentioned Pink Punch, The Pink Blueprint and The Pink Phink. All are representative of how the show could combine minimalist and abstract backgrounds with smooth character animation to create great slapstick comedy and sight gags. There wasn't much the creators wouldn't try, including integrating live action footage, resulting in a cameo from Henry Mancini.
After watching all 20 shorts through, one continues to leap to mind, and it's surprisingly not one of the franchise's trademark Little Man battles. Instead it's Bully for Pink, a fun adventure that sees the Pink Panther channel his inner wascally wabbit in an attempt to become a matador (as Bugs did in the 1953 Chuck Jones short Bully for Bugs.) It's not a rip-off of the early cartoon in a very important way, as the Pink Panther inadvertently took a magician's cape to be his matador prop. The magical effects are put to great use as he faces off with the bull in the ring, and the Pink Panther displays all the qualities that made him an animated hero worth cheering for.
The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 tracks are exactly what you'd expect for these kind of cartoons, as they ensure the music--including Henry Mancini's famed theme song--is strong and clear, along with the sound effects that punch home any number of gags. The occasional voices are appropriately prioritized in the mix, which, for the most part, is clean, though a few exhibit some unfortunate and obvious defects--including, unfortunately, the music-driven Pink Plunk Plink.
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