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Frames of Time...

065_04 - In the Pink
Blake Edwards' THE PINK PANTHER debuted in 1964. I saw it when a friend's mom took us all to the theater for his birthday party. From the dazzling opening title sequence, to the silly antics of Peter Sellers, to the climatic Keystone Kops-style chase (which included a very nice two-man zebra costume), I was delighted. In fact, I liked the film so much; I talked my parents into seeing it. This allowed me to, for the first time, see a film more than once while it was still playing in theaters.

As the years went by, I continued to love the Pink Panther. I loved when one of the cartoons would appear in front of a movie. I was glad when the Pink Panther came to Saturday Morning TV so I could see the cartoons even more. I collected a variety of Panther items over the years, including the Pink Panther Flakes (frosted corn flakes that turned your milk pink), Panther figures, comics and more. I even included the Panther in a stationery logo designed by a friend in college. (The other characters were James Bond, Tramp, Tom and Robin Hood.)

Eventually, Sellers and Edwards re-teamed for a series of sequels. The films became an excuse for a collection of Peter Sellers' schtick. I found these pretty unbalanced, and often, unfunny. However, for Sellers' final entry, REVENGE OF THE PINK PANTHER, story and character finally reunited for an excellent farewell.

While at Film Roman, I got to see the work on a pilot for a primetime series which featured a detective and an animated, talking Panther. The series had been commissioned by CBS. When a regime change occurred at the network, the new exec looked at the pilot and dumped it. The reason: A talking Panther "was not the real Pink Panther!"

What brought these memories up was the recent opportunity to talk with David DePatie, of DePatie-Freleng. Along with Friz Freleng, DePatie was co-producer of the animated Pink Panther credits and cartoon shorts. The interview was set up to help promote the release of a special DVD set featuring five of the Pink Panther features. A bonus in the pack was the inclusion of four Pink Panther short cartoons. (I highly recommend this set.)

Talking with DePatie was great fun. He came across friendly and full of praise for the many folks who helped create one of the most famous animated icons of the 1960s. Not only was DePatie key to the creation and success of the Panther, he also kept the theatrical short alive in the 1960s when others had declared them dead a decade earlier. DePatie also pioneered creator rights when he requested, and actually received, a percentage of the Panther's copyright for his studio.

But the most fun was just discussing some of my favorite creators. Blake Edwards produced two of my most loved comedies (THE PINK PANTHER, THE GREAT RACE). Henry Mancini was one of the best, and sadly frequently neglected film composers. Friz Freleng, often overshadowed by other directors at Warner Bros, had a natural talent for mixing animation and music.

As MGM prepares another Pink Panther film, this time with Steve Martin, it was nice to talk with someone who not only understood the Panther, but understood what the series was really about. DePatie feels a pantomime Panther is better than a talking one, and that the sleek cat appears better in traditional animation than the round forms of CGI.

I think the Panther would definitely tip his hat to DePatie. I know I would.

The article is currently up at AWN.

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