Appellate Judge James A. Stewart says the Pink Panther's a real gem, since he was inspired—sort of—by a diamond.
Sometimes a title sequence can be as famous as the movie that follows. Take, for example, the opening featuring a cartoon cat in the 1960s farce The Pink Panther. The character went on to be featured in the short cartoon, "The Pink Phink," and later a short subject with Dean Martin's Kiss Me, Stupid. He kept the concept of cinematic cartoon shorts alive until 1980 while simultaneously starring in a Saturday morning cartoon show. Since then, the Pink Panther has pitched sweeteners and fiberglass insulation. Now, the cartoons that started it all are reappearing on the scene in DVD, starting with Pranks in the Pink: The Pink Panther Classic Cartoon Collection, Volume 1.
With a mostly wordless character, surreal settings, and a jazzy Henry Mancini score, Pink Panther cartoons made silent comedy cool again. The title cat wasn't a hapless Little Tramp, instead striving to take control of his situation and come out the winner. Fans of Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean will notice touches of Pink Panther's animated cool in their live-action hero; most notably, a spray-painting technique from "The Pink Phink" turns up in Mr. Bean's redecorating schemes.
"The Pink Phink" won the 1964 Oscar for short cartoon subjects. "Phink" set a simple, surreal scene of a little man painting his house blue while the Pink Panther, following behind, paints it over in pink. A similar setup, with the feline replacing blueprints for a simple house with grandiose "pinkprints," netted a 1966 Oscar nomination for "The Pink Blueprint."
Both cartoons are included on Pranks in the Pink: The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection, Volume 1. This volume takes the Pink Panther from his 1964 start to 1967 with the following 27 cartoons:
• "The Pink Phink"
This collection covers the first four years or so of the Pink Panther's existence, so after the first four cartoons, there's a sort of flailing-about period as the DePatie-Freleng animation team tries to find a formula for the long term. In two of the cartoons, "Sink Pink" and "Pink Ice," their Panther speaks with a British accent. Other characters talk, and a few of these shorts introduce an omnipresent narrator who prompts Pink Panther to ill-considered action. "Pink Panzer" brings these talky pantomimes to their ultimate conclusion with a satirical narrative in which the narrator urges Pink Panther and a neighbor into a war—ultimately including tanks, guns, and a Berlin Wall-like barrier—in riffs on the arms race and Cold War tensions. By the time 1965's "Reel Pink" rolled around, the Pink Panther seemed to have settled into a groove that would carry him into the 1980s.
In these cartoon shorts, the Pink Panther seems to have two personalities: the Cool Cat and the Everycat. As the Cool Cat, he sports a cigarette in holder, eyes a sporty convertible in the used car lot, tries his hand at becoming a secret agent, and creates havoc as he tries to make the world his kind of place, as when he sabotages a classical concert to replace the music with his cool jazz theme in "Pink, Plunk, Plink" or replaces yellow flowers with pink ones in "Pink Posies." As the Everycat, he struggles with home repairs, dreams of becoming a spy or a bullfighter, rescues his fellow animals from a sneaky hunter, and does battle with a mouse in his house. The Pink Panther can be an old West medicine man, a jungle cat, or a city dweller, as the writers riff on various themes.
Still, the cartoons boil down to some simple battle. While the mustached little man often is his antagonist, Pink Panther squares off with a crab and a worm who wants to avoid a lunch date with a fish in "Reel Pink," an anthropomorphic car in "Pink Pistons," and a talking scale in "An Ounce of Pink." "Pinknic" mimics Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush as a snowbound Pink Panther shares a cabin with a starving mouse who dreams of dining on cat.
These cartoons are at their funniest when they go completely surreal, as in "The Pink Phink." Others that reach strange, silly heights include "We Give Pink Stamps," in which Pink Panther takes refuge in a department store and finds a janitor interfering with his rest; "The Pink Tail Fly," which starts with Pink Panther dealing with insomnia, until a fly buzzes into the picture; "Bully for Pink," which finds Pink Panther battling a magic cape even as he faces a bull in the ring, and "Pink Punch," in which his advertising pitch for the title product is subverted when the dot on the "I" develops a mind of its own.
You'll also enjoy the animated look back at the Swinging Sixties, as evidenced by the "modern" clocks, Miracle Automatic Chair, and tiger-skin rug that Pink Panther deals with in "We Give Pink Stamps," riffs on Goldfinger, gadgets, and advertising, and the general atmosphere created by the gags and hip art style. It's no wonder that retro-1960s artist Shag took on the Panther during recent 40th anniversary celebrations.
Although the Pink Panther wound up on Saturday morning TV, these movie cartoons seem to have been aimed at an adult audience, with the occasional satiric point, frequent gunplay, and the drinking yarn tone seen in "Pink Pajamas."
The cartoons had a rough-sketch look to begin with, so it's hard to tell how the "all-new digital transfers" advertised on the package improved things. The sound does a decent job with the Henry Mancini score.
Since there's not much continuity, you could probably introduce yourself to the Pink Panther anywhere in the series, but if you're already a fan, you'll want to go back to the beginning with Volume 1.
I acquit the Pink Panther of first-degree mischief. Now I've got to get going. Those yellow posies I planted the other day are suddenly coming up…Pink!
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