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Best of 'Panther' still found on vintage DVDs
By M.V. Moorhead

February 18, 2006

Few would be likely to argue that, in the pantheon of great cartoon characters, the Pink Panther occupies as high a seat as, say, Bugs Bunny or Wile E. Coyote, or even Bullwinkle. The Panther is not a complex or detailed personality, and his adventures are short on texture.

There’s no deep pain under the zaniness.

Yet for all that, the Panther, sauntering along to the relentless beat of Henry Mancini’s slinky theme, has his own charm, and so do many of the cartoons in which he starred.

It’s a superficial charm. The hip, unflappable, clean-slate blamelessness of our hero, the graphic simplicity of the two-dimensional pop-art world in which his adventures unfold, the unhurried pacing and the nonchalant surrealism of the gags combine to cast a frothy spell.

The PP, developed by veteran animators David DePatie, Isadore “Friz” Freling and Hawley Pratt, made his debut in the title sequence of the 1963 Blake Edwards comedy The Pink Panther

The sequence was such a hit that a couple of the reviews proclaimed it better than the movie which followed. The first cartoon short proper, called “The Pink Phink,” pitting the pink-loving feline against a hapless housepainter who prefers blue, won the 1964 Oscar for animated short, and thereafter DePatie-Freling Enterprises cranked out well over a hundred PP shorts throughout the rest of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

He became a fixture on Saturday morning TV, and was hugely popular overseas, where the usually wordless cartoons easily leapt over the language barrier.

Released this month in connection with the current live-action Pink Panther remake, The Pink Panther Classic Cartoon Collection offers 124 cartoons.

I was tickled, well, y’know, pink to see my own childhood favorites, “Little Beaux Pink,” in which the Panther, as a shepherd, watches over a weepy, aggrieved little sheep, and “Extinct Pink,” in which the Panther and other famished prehistoric creatures all compete for  the same bone (the latter cartoon, however, like several others in the set, is still unfortunately polluted by its TV laugh track).

It was likewise fascinating to see the two 1965 cartoons (“Sink Pink” and “Pink Ice”) in which the Panther spoke, in a cultured English accent provided by Rich Little—an experiment that the filmmakers quickly abandoned in favor of pure pantomime.

The five-disc collection also includes a generous helping of special features. Among these are about a half-dozen delightful short documentaries tracing the development of the character, along with the complete title sequences from The Pink Panther, A Shot in the Dark, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, The Revenge of the Pink Panther and The Trail of the Pink Panther.

Fun as these extras genuinely are, I would recommend against buying the 5-disc Classic Cartoon Collection unless you happen to be a particularly passionate PP fan. Even at their best, these shorts are—by design—somewhat repetitive, and many of the later ‘70s entries are quite stale. If you want a taste of PP nostalgia, the inexpensive single-disc collections, especially the first or second volumes, offer a fine representative sample of the Panther in his best vintage.

As for the new Pink Panther feature now in theaters, starring Steve Martin as Inspector Closeau—I’ve seen it, and can only say that I’m proud to carry on the critical tradition: The animated opening titles are far better than the movie which follows.

M.V. Moorhead is a former longtime movie columnist for Phoenix New Times. He writes regularly for Wrangler News.



































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