Blake Edwards’ Legendary Cartoon Kitty Struts Onto High Definition
DIRECTED BY FRIZ FRELENG, HAWLEY PRATT/1964-1966
STREET DATE: JANUARY 30, 2018/KINO LORBER ANIMATION
As slick and cool as The Pink Panther ever was, how could he have known that he was strolling into a kind of extinction? Unbeknownst to him or his otherwise intrepid creators, the good people at DePatie-Freleng Animation Studios, the era of the theatrically released animated short was about to come to an end. Fortunately for the Panther, he’s one slick kitty.
Despite soaring recognition and popularity having originated in the beloved opening titles sequence of 1963’s live-action crime farce The Pink Panther, spinning off into many, many animated shorts from the production company DePatie-Freleng, the direction of animation itself was shifting. Before long, as animation historian Jerry Beck points out on one of his numerous audio commentary tracks on the new Blu-Ray edition, the quicker, dirtier Hanna-Barbera style would soon become the approach de jour.
Before The Pink Panther would cozy up to the cathode ray for his greatest popularity, the character would ride out an acclaimed and beloved series of big screen short animations.
But The Pink Panther isn’t one to simply roll over into the blue of night. Before he would cozy up to the cathode ray for his greatest popularity, the character would ride out an acclaimed and beloved series of big screen short animations. Throughout this initial wave of Pink Panther cartoons, ten of which were directed by former Looney Tunes legend Friz Freleng himself, the skilled talent pool behind the scenes would engage in a healthy bit of trial and error, solving just who their new and biggest cartoon star is.
The twenty cartoons put forth on the new Blu-Ray release, The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection Volume 1, tweak the Panther’s behavior and demeanor, all the while serving up a steady helping of comedy gold. He churns through professions and purposes, sometimes an aggressive mischief maker, sometimes the aggravated straight man. The silent shorts, utilizing ad nauseum the famous “Pink Panther Theme” by Henry Mancini, even had a brief flirtation with spoken dialogue and narration. Through it all, The pink phink slinks through the minimalist environments of DePatie-Freleng, interacting with and irritating the little mustached man, iconic as ever.
Though Kino Lorber Animation has previously released several volumes of lesser known DePatie-Freleng titles, The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection Volume 1 is the landing of the holy grail. It’s numeric branding denotes that this is but the first of several volumes. For KL, it’s an honor well deserved, having made good with the likes of The Blue Racer and Crazylegs Crane. Although rights-holder MGM has put out very nice, comprehensive DVD collections of this material in the past, this marks the animated Pink Panther’s high definition debut, and happily, it’s conducted properly.
Everyone from film buffs to animation geeks to parents looking educate their children on some solid pop culture history won’t want to pass up this shelf-worthy release. The disc is packed with A-level optional commentary tracks by animation historian Jerry Beck, author Mark Arnold, and filmmaker Greg Ford, cartoon writer William Hohauser and veteran DePatie-Freleng storyman Bob Kurtz – all of whom understand, to varying degrees, how to be both informative and entertaining. We’re even treated occasional archival sound-bites from Friz Freleng himself. These commentary tracks are the only bonus features, but with this level of information on hand, any additional video documentaries or other material is not missed.
Yes, the sun was setting on the age of the theatrical animated short. But, cats always land on their feet – and considering the sheer popularity of this particular cat, it should be no surprise that plenty of further feline adventures of the colorful variety lie ahead, in one form or another. Here’s hoping Kino Lorber Animation continues to reach this benchmark of quality with future Pink Panther volumes.