Anyone who who grew up watching Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes, surely remembers the unusual name “Friz Freleng” in the opening credits. He was the most prolific cartoon director for Warner Bros. and is credited with developing and creating iconic characters such as Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat, Yosemite Sam, and Speedy Gonzales. He left seven months before the studio shut down its cartoon department and once it had, he formed DePatie-Freleng Enterprises with his former boss, producer David H. DePatie. Their first great success was the Pink Panther.
Intended solely as a character for the title sequence to Blake Edwards’ The Pink Panther, the feline was such a sensation it was spun off into his own series of over 100 cartoons. Right out of the gate, the first short, “The Pink Phink” won an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. Kino Lorber has released Volume 1 of The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection on Blu-ray which contains 20 shorts, 12 with commentaries from the likes of filmmaker Greg Ford (3), historian Jerry Beck (3), cartoon writer Wiliam Hohauser (1), author Mark Arnold (3), DePating-Freleng storyman Bob Kurtz with Beck (4). Freleng can be heard from archival interviews.
After Henry Mancini’s familiar “Pink Panther Theme,” “The Pink Phink” finds the Panther tormenting the Little Man, a white mustachioed character who would become a frequent nemesis, reappearing in “We Give Pink Stamps,” the third cartoon, and then again in the 18th cartoon, “The Pink Blueprint,” a sequel to “The Pink Phink.” Here, the Little Man wants to paint things in his home blue while the Panther wants them pink. The visual style is minimal, offering few items in the background, just what’s needed, like a door to suggest an entire house. The universe has little logic beyond what contributes to a gag. The Panther can stand against a pink wall and completely disappear.
For the first few cartoons, the Panther is cool and always smarter than the other characters, like Bugs Bunny. But then, his personality changes and he is frequently outsmarted and antagonized, like Donald Duck. In “Shocking Pink, he is bothered by an off-screen narrator (voiced by Larry Storch). He also battles and loses to a scale (“An Ounce of Pink”), an insect, (“The Pink Tail Fly”), and worms (“Reel Pink”).
“Sink Pink” and “Pink Ice” have the Pink Panther speaking with Rich Little imitating David Niven, who starred in The Pink Panther movie. I didn’t care for it as the Panther is much more interesting when he has to express himself like a silent-movie character. The instances of other characters speaking didn’t bother me as much as they allowed for different types of stories, but my favorites kept the dialogue to minimum, if used at all.
The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Colors appear in bright hues and blacks are inky. Grain is apparent and there are minor blemishes to the image in terms of marks and specks. The audio is available in DTS-HD MA 2.0. The jazz scores come through with good clarity and are balanced well with the effects and dialogue. With near-constant music throughout, the tracks never get too loud or soft, so the dynamic range is limited.
The Pink Panther was one of the biggest cartoon characters to spring from the swinging ’60s, and this set of 20 cartoons shows why. The Blu-ray presents a pleasing high-def presentation and the commentaries provide insight into the series’ history.