When United Artists commissioned David DePatie and Friz Freleng (whose new company was born from the eclipse of the old Warner Bros. cartoon unit) to make freestanding Pink Panther cartoons, their first effort struck gold. Literally: The Pink Phink won the Oscar for best animated short subject, and is still a prime example of circa-1964 line drawing and visual humor. Most of the early shorts display a sure sense of timing and a cheeky feel for the era; they were directed by Freleng and Hawley Pratt (Pratt's design for the Pink Panther had been selected by Blake Edwards from dozens of offerings at the time of the first feature). In two of the first handful, Sink Pink and Pink Ice, the Pink Panther himself speaks stray lines of dialogue, a mistake that would not be repeated later. One unwelcome aural intrusion: some of the cartoons here have a laugh track from the TV series, even on the Oscar-nominated Pink Blueprint.
Animation voiceover veterans of the era chimed in with narration or voices for other characters; for instance, the indefatigable Paul Frees does the narration on Phinkfinger, a funny spoof of 007-style spy movies. But most of the cartoons are wordless, which is one reason they remained popular internationally for so many years. The main reason is the slinky character of the Panther, a mischievous hipster who could be either the instrument of chaos or the victim, depending on the cartoon. The plots tend toward the cartoon verities: the necessity of catching a mouse or silencing an alarm clock, for instance. A documentary, Behind the Feline, gives a fine account of the history of the character; it is also bundled on a previous boxed set, The Pink Panther Film Collection. Useful new extras include a portrait of Friz Freleng by his daughters, an illuminating interview with animator-director Art Leonardi, and a delightful vignette with Leonardi instructing us on how to quickly draw the Pink Panther. The opening-title sequences from five Pink Panther movies are included. Throughout the cartoons and the extras, you will be reminded of one incalculable boost to the series: Henry Mancini's lithe, foxy theme music, which surely had much to do with the character's enduring fame. Mancini gets an onscreen shout-out in Pink, Plunk, Plink, in which the Panther tries to inject his theme into an orchestral performance of Beethoven's Fifth. --Robert Horton