Combustible Celluloid
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With: Dave Barry, Mel Blanc, June Foray, Rich Little, Paul Frees, Larry Storch, Laura Olsher (voices)
Written by: John W. Dunn, Bob Kurtz
Directed by: Friz Freleng, Hawley Pratt, Gerry Chiniquy, Arthur Davis
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 128
Date: 12/18/1964

The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection Volume 1: 1964-1966 (1964)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Think Pink

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

How cool is Pink? It's amazing how cool this cat still is after so long. He begins nearly every cartoon with a kind of skip-strut, sometimes even smoking a cigarette in a holder. He never speaks, always gets into trouble, but is never totally perturbed. He mostly has a perplexed look as if to say, "How did I get myself into this again?" He faces a variety of opponents, from a talking scale to an uncooperative horse, and sometimes even an offscreen narrator (as in the classic Pinkfinger).

Mostly, he annoys the little white man (does he have a name?) without intending any malice. And each short ends almost arbitrarily. Sometimes Pink wins; sometimes he loses. It's a refreshing change from many of today's hyperkinetic, desperate-to-please cartoons.

In the famous first cartoon, The Pink Phink (1964), developed after the title sequence on the 1964 film became such a hit, Pink is morally offended when the little man begins painting a house blue. So he secretly begins painting over the blue with pink paint while the little man isn't looking, leading to a collection of clever little visual gags. The film won an Oscar for Best Animated Short. (Only other Pink Panther cartoon, The Pink Blueprint, received a nomination in that category.)

Pink's trajectory stayed virtually the same over the years. In most cases, he's simply looking for something to eat or someplace warm to stay, or sometimes he's just bored and is looking for something to do. Once, Pink's creators attempted to give him a voice for one dismal short, Pink Ice, and it failed miserably. Later, they gave him a laugh track when the shorts began running on television.

One of the major talents behind The Pink Panther was famous animator Friz Freleng of Tweety and Sylvester fame at Warner Brothers. Freleng directed nine or so of the earliest shorts, and this work rivals the best of his more famous Warner Brothers work. What sets these shorts apart is their beautifully minimalist backgrounds, often with pencil smudges still showing.

Some of the shorts are better than others, but the majority of them are surprisingly still very funny. Their deadpan cool makes them relevant for today's hipster generation.

Now The Pink Phink, Pinkfinger and 18 other cartoons, the first twenty in a series of 124, are available on a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber, which inherited the cartoons from MGM. (MGM released the entire series on DVD back in 2006, and all of those discs still seem to be in print.) The new single, high-def disc, with more apparently on the way, comes with selected commentary tracks by author Mark Arnold, historian Jerry Beck, filmmaker Greg Ford, cartoon writer William Hohauser and veteran DePatie-Freleng storyman Bob Kurtz.

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