Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Toon Legends: The Pink Panther (1969)

The Pink Panther made his debut in the opening title sequence to the 1963 movie of the same name, which became a huge hit, such that legendary Warner Bros. animator-director Friz Freleng and his new business partner, David DePatie, were commissioned to produce a series of theatrical shorts starring the Panther. That success was later transferred to television, as the Panther was one of two new entries from DePatie-Freleng to debut on NBC in 1969 (Here Comes the Grump was the other).

The theme song for the series was composed and performed by studio tunesmith Doug Goodwin, but the shorts themselves retained Henry Mancini's iconic score, under the direction of Walter Greene or William Lava. The Panther would remain a staple of NBC's Saturday lineup for 9 seasons before moving to ABC in 1978, and along the way, introduced viewers to other DFE theatrical stars, such as The Ant & the Aardvark (impressionist-actor John Byner based his voices for the characters on Dean Martin & Jackie Mason), and, also inspired by the "Panther" movies, The Inspector (Pat Harrington, later of One Day at a Time, who also voiced the title lawman's sidekick, a French officer named Deux Deux). In the mid-70's, at the height of fan frenzy over "Jaws", DFE added Misterjaw to the mix, with Arte Johnson (Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In) in the title role.

Here's the opening theme, uploaded by Club1981channel:

However, the Panther left his friends behind when he moved to ABC, and had a new back-up feature, Crazylegs Crane, who, like Misterjaw before him, apparently was made strictly for television. Unfortunately, the Panther's stay at ABC was a short one, as the series was cancelled after 2 seasons there, ending a 11 year run overall, and this was despite having Scooby-Doo as a lead-in.

By 1984, DFE had become a thing of the past, as the studio was purchased by Marvel Comics and rechristened, Marvel Productions. The Panther, however, found a new home at Hanna-Barbera with Pink Panther & Sons, which also lasted just one season. However, the classic shorts were now available in syndication for weekday use, and in 1993, a new Pink Panther series debuted in syndication, produced by MGM, and for the first time since his earliest shorts, the Panther spoke, courtesy of actor Matt Frewer (ex-Max Headroom). Impressionist Rich Little had been the previous voice of the Panther.

Given the less-than-stellar returns on the remake of the original "Panther", starring Steve Martin, and its sequel, it doesn't surprise anyone that there hasn't been a call for some new Pink Panther cartoons. Currently, the 1993 series airs on This (check local listings) and the classic shorts are airing on Boomerang. Is it time for the Panther to prowl again? We'll see.

Rating: A.

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