Upon closer inspection, this once beloved cartoon doesn't quite jive with Chief Justice Michael Stailey's recollections.
"Don't say Si, say Oui."
I'm firmly convinced certain fond memories shouldn't be revisited. They just don't hold up. Case in point, The Inspector.
When Warner Bros. boarded up Termite Terrace in 1963, animators such as Friz Freleng struck out on their own. Hooking up with fellow WB alum, producer Dave DePatie, the two went into business together. Their first assignment: The opening title sequence for Blake Edwards' comedy The Pink Panther. The new character was such a hit, United Artists financed the pair to create a series of theatrical animated shorts, and then a Saturday morning television series starring not only on the Pink Panther, but other characters as well—The Ant and the Aardvark, Roland and Rattfink, Tijuana Toads, and The Inspector, inspired by Peter Sellers magnificent creation, Inspector Jacques Clouseau.
While not a literal translation, this Inspector—voiced by Pat Harrington Jr., best known for his work as Schneider on One Day at a Time—shares many characteristics of his live action counterpart: naive arrogance, obliviousness, and a complete inability to deduce anything. Where they differ can be found in his animated sidekick Deux-Deux (also voiced by Harrington). This Spanish-born police officer working in the service of the French Sûreté takes on the comic relief role, leaving The Inspector to play the straight man, just the opposite of Sellers' role in the films. As a kid, it didn't matter, as here was one of my favorite movie characters on Saturday mornings alongside Scooby-Doo, Goober and the Ghost Chasers, Clue Club, and Charlie Chan and the Chan Clan. Can't tell I'm a fan of the mystery genre, can you?
Unfortunately, more than 30 years later, the jokes aren't as original or as funny. Part of the reason for this is these 17 shorts were never intended to be viewed back-to-back. Seeing them in this form brings out the multitude of redundancies in plot, characterization, dialogue, and production design. Played in anthology rotation, you would tend to forget much of what you saw the last time these characters appeared. Here, it hits you over the head continuously in seven-minute bursts for two solid hours.
The biggest disappointment for me is in the performance of one of my heroes—the incomparable Paul Frees. Widely considered to be one of the finest voice actors of all time, there's unfortunately very little use if his incredible range on display here. Many of the series' nefarious villains sound very much like the long-lost siblings of Rocky & Bullwinkle's Boris Badenov; and the Commissioner's voice (complete with German accent?) will become that of Burgermeister Meisterburger in the 1970 classic Santa Claus is Coming to Town.
Visually, The Inspector draws upon the abstract pencil over watercolor style made popular by Ken Anderson in Disney's 101 Dalmatians, as well as many of the later Warner Bros. shorts. This combined with a healthy utilization of Hanna-Barbera's background reuse methodology, give the series a minimalist feel. I wouldn't go so far as to call it cheap, but it's definitely not on par Freleng's best work at Warner Bros., some of which he borrows from quite liberally.
Presented in 1.33:1 full frame, MGM has juiced the colors giving it a fresh look. But a lack of cleanup on the print itself makes the dirt, grain, and defects all that much more apparent on larger television screens. What's worse, the Dolby 1.0 mono audio mix varies wildly from short to short, with some showcasing strong dialogue while on others it is almost swallowed up completely. You'll also notice the appearance and disappearance of a laugh track, depending on the short, which leads me to wonder if it was layered on only for television. If, in fact, this is a mixed bag of source negatives (theatrical and TV), that would account for the audio degradation as well. And, as you might expect, this is a bare bones release with no bonus features included and photostatic menus.
While I can't in good conscience give Pink Panther and Friends: The Inspector a glowing recommendation, much credit is owed to Pat Harrington for carrying the success of these shorts squarely on his shoulders. Without his performance as both The Inspector and Deux-Deux, these characters would have been long forgotten.
If you are a fan of the series intent on purchasing this collection, I urge you to digest these episodes in small doses. Watching them in marathon fashion will only sour your experience.
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