When Warner Brothers shut down its animation department in 1963, Friz Freleng was the only remaining director from the golden age of Looney Tunes still with the studio. At that time, Warners executive David DePatie, asked Friz if he would be interested in going into business together on a new animation studio. Having no other prospects, Friz jumped at the offer. The new studio, DePatie-Freleng, initially focused on freelance advertising and industrial work, but they also landed the plumb job of designing the character of the Pink Panther for the opening titles of Blake Edwards’ film of the same name. The film became a smash hit, and the opening credits sequence in particular garnered much of the praise. As a result, United Artists hired DePatie-Freleng to create a series of cartoons starring the Panther to accompany their theatrical releases (and for eventual television syndication).
The resulting series had three things going for it—experienced gag writers that turned the Pink Panther into a pantomime Bugs Bunny who confounded little blobby mustached men and caused havoc through impossible silent gags, an animation team that created a new semi-abstract visual style, and the memorable musical theme by Henry Mancini. Kino Lorber is releasing the first twenty Pink Panther cartoons in a Blu-ray collection, meant to be the first in a multi-volume series. Below is a brief summary of the included shorts.
The Pink Phink (6:47)
The series began with an all-time classic, which won the 1964 Academy Award for “Best Animated Short Subject.” A house painter (known as “The Little Man” by the animators) attempts to paint a house, using his favorite shade of blue. Unfortunately, the Pink Panther doesn’t like how the paint tastes, so the cat begins to cover the walls in pink paint instead. A tit-for-tat battle of the colors ensues.
Pink Pajamas (6:19)
In one of the stranger cartoons, the Panther is tired but has nowhere to sleep. The homeless cat eventually breaks into the house of a drunk and makes himself at home. When the intoxicated owner arrives home, he is too blotto to realize that his bed is already occupied.
We Give Pink Stamps (7:01)
Once again, the Panther wants to get some sleep where he’s not wanted. This time, he tries to get some shuteye in a department store, but he runs afoul of the overnight janitor, “The Little Man.”
Dial ‘P’ For Pink (6:31)
A burglar breaks into a private residence to try to crack open a safe, unaware that The Pink Panther is living inside it (for some unexplained reason). This short is notable for the use of Henry Mancini’s theme to Blake Edwards’ A Shot in the Dark (1964). The same theme was later reused for another series of DePatie-Freleng shorts, The Inspector.
Sink Pink (6:21)
Big game hunter Tex B’wana (Paul Frees) builds a replica of Noah’s Ark to lure the jungle animals to their doom. However, when he rounds up the animals, he finds one missing… a Pink Panther. He’ll go to whatever means are necessary to collect that pink pelt. This short is notable for giving the panther a line of dialogue, spoken by Rich Little in a poor imitation of David Niven.
Pickled Pink (6:22)
A drunk (Mel Blanc) invites the Pink Panther to his home, but then must hide the big cat from his shrewish wife (also Mel Blanc). Although Blanc worked with Friz Freleng hundreds of times at Warner Brothers, this is the only time he took part in a Pink Panther cartoon.
An intrusive narractor (Paul Frees) convinces the Pink Panther to become a secret agent, which mostly results in getting blown up.
Shocking Pink (6:43)
Another intrusive narrator (Larry Storch) interrupts the Panther’s nap and talks him into engaging in various disasterous home improvement projects.
Pink Ice (6:17)
In this one, the Panther has a diamond mine and a voice (courtesy of Rich Little). Two thieves (also Rich Little), with a rival diamond mine, attempt to steal the Pink Panther’s jewels, but he is too wiley for them.
The Pink Tail Fly (6:17)
A persistent mosquito is determined to keep the Pink Panther from going to sleep, after a long night of TV viewing.
Pink Panzer (5:50)
The Pink Panther and his neighbor, Harry (Paul Frees), engage in a war over borrowed gardening equipment and their property lines.
An Ounce of Pink (6:02)
The Pink Panther purchases a talking scale (Larry Storch), who constanstly pesters the cat, whom he calls “140 pounds.”
Reel Pink (6:17)
The Panther plans to enjoy a relaxing afternoon fishing, but his worms are intent on staying away from the fish.
Bully for Pink (6:02)
The Pink Panther makes his debut as a matador, using a cape stolen from a magician, leading to some magical bullfighting.
Pink Punch (6:27)
The Pink Panther has trouble with a green asterisk on a sign, while trying to introduce his new beverage, Pink Punch.
Pink Pistons (6:02)
The Pink Panther visits a car lot and purchases a little blue convertible, which he repaints pink. When he gets the car on the road, he finds that the vehicle wants to race every other car on the road.
Vitamin Pink (6:25)
By mistake, The Pink Panther sells “Vitamin Pink,” a pep drug, to a bank robber, and then he has to apprehend the criminal.
The Pink Blueprint (6:25)
The Little Man is building a simple domicile, but the Panther wants to put up a futuristic building instead, leading to construction clashes.
Pink, Plunk, Pink (6:24)
The Little Man attempts to conduct Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, but a new violinist, The Pink Panther, wants to play the Pink Panther Theme instead.
Smile Pretty, Say Pink (6:09)
The Little Man refuses to pay the camera fee at Pinkstone National Park, so the Panther decides to teach him a lesson.
USA/C-128m./Dir: Friz Freleng, Hawley Pratt /Wr: John W. Dunn, Bob Kurtz, David Detiege, Michael O’Connor /Cast: Paul Frees, Mel Blanc, Rich Little, Dave Barry, Larry Storch, Laura Olsher, Henry Mancini
If You Like: Fans of Warner Brothers cartoons will likely be interested in DePatie-Freleng’s work, as the studio was really an outgrowth of Warners.
Video: Kino Lorber’s
The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection - Vol. 1 [Blu-ray] is a treasure for animation lovers. Not only does it contain the first 20 Pink Panther cartoons in their original, uncut form (without the laugh track that was later added for television). Many of the shorts contain one or more audio commentaries, featuring filmmaker Greg Ford, historian Jerry Beck, cartoon writer William Hohauser, author Mark Arnold, and storyman Bob Kurtz. Historic recordings of Friz Freleng are sprinkled through the commentaries to add an occasional first-hand comment.
Streaming: The original Pink Panther cartoons are unavailable to stream in their original theatrical form without the television laugh track.
More to Explore: Kino Lorber has also released several cartoon collections of other DePatie-Freleng characters. My favorite of these is
The Depatie/Freleng Collection: The Inspector [Blu-ray], which contains 34 cartoons loosely based on the character of Inspector Clouseau.
Trivia: The Academy Award-winning first Pink Panther short, Pink Phink, was originally released with the Billy Wilder flop Kiss Me, Stupid (1964).
For More Info: Mark Arnold, who provides commentary tracks for three of the cartoons in the set, wrote the definitive book on the animation studio,
Think Pink: The Story of DePatie-Freleng.