The Pink Panther) is the movie industry's hippest cartoon
star. Film audiences of all ages, sophisticated cinemaohiles and drive-in denizens
alike love the high style, clever humor and colorful adventures of this pink-inked
Initially created by Friz Freleng for the opening
title sequence of Blake Edward's, 1964 comedy farce THE PINK PANTHER, the cartoon
character received reviews that were as good or better than the film itself! The
new star had obviously clawed his mark, and a series of short subjects was immediately
put info production.
Friz Freleng was the perfect man for
the job. Having begun his career in the same small Kansas City studio where Walt
Disney got his start in animation, Freleng moved to California in the late 1920s.
He was soon helping fellow Kansas City animators Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising
start up the series of "Looney Tunes" for Warner Brothers release. With
the exception of one year with M-G-M in the mid-1930s, Freleng was a Warner Brothers
stalwart, becoming Senior Director and supervising now-classic cartoons staring
Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Tweety for over 30 years. Freleng also directed the
first cartoons starring Sylvester, Porky Pig and Yosemite Sam, ultimately winning
four Academy Awards® for the studio.
When Warner Brothers
shut down its animation department in 1962, Freleng teamed up with cartoon producer
David DePatie to make animated commercials and industrial films. At this time,
director Blake Edwards - himself an aficionado of the classic Warner Brothers
cartoons and silent comedies - approached Freleng about providing animation for
the opening moments of his next film.
David DePatie recalls:
"We got together with some of our guys and came up with probably 100 to 150
different illustrations of the Panther. I remember very well that we took them
over to Blake's office and spread them all out and that he knew exactly what he
wanted. He went right over, pointed to one of them and said 'that's the guy!'"
"Then they asked us to do a storyboard," remembers
Freleng. "They just flipped when they saw it! When we finally got it onto
the screen and they previewed it, the comment from the press was that the titles
were better than the picture."
The cool contemporary
style of the design and graphics (co-credited to Hawley Pratt), the distinctive
theme music from Henry Mancini, and the pantomime comedy were a complete departure
from the cheaply made theatrical cartoons created by their competitors. The first
Panther cartoon, THE PINK PHINK , was honored with an Academy Award®. "We
made them for the theaters, and we made them for adults really," says Freleng.
"They didn't appeal to children; they're a little too sophisticated. Adults
are the people who are really the fans."
Though the theatrical
cartoons continued for almost twenty years, it is the earlier entries - those
directed by Friz Freleng and Hawley Pratt - which are considered classics. Freleng
and Pratt placed the Panther in many offbeat situations: spoofing 60s trends such
as secret agents in PINKFINGER and youth culture in PSYCHEDELIC PINK ; exploring
musical themes in PINK, PLUNK, PLINK and romping into the surreal in PINK PUNCH.
However the most entertaining of all the shorts are those featuring "the
little man," who can turn up as anyone - including a safecracker in DIAL
'P' FOR PINK and a drunk in PINK PAJAMAS.
When Edwards directed
an Inspector Clouseau follow-up the next year, a similar situation occurred. The
DePatie/Freleng opening title for A SHOT IN THE DARK, (1964) brought demands for
yet another theatrical series. The resulting group of witty and distinctive cartoons,
entitled THE INSPECTOR, featured the voice talents of comedian Pat Harrington
as both the not-so-clever Inspector and his faithful assistant Deaux-Deaux.
Pink Panther live-action feature films continued into the 70s, 80s, and 90s, each
beginning with lavish animated opening titles.