Metaphysics in pink

The leading man of my featured items today has it all: he’s lithe, funny, soldiers on through existential crises, doesn’t overstay his welcome, and, above all, comes with a fabulous soundtrack. That’s right, the Pink Panther is on Netflix Instant and he will win you over in a heartbeat. More importantly, your kids will love him too.

Now, when I say the Pink Panther, you have to understand that I mean the real Pink Panther, the one who found his fame in the animated title sequence to Blake Edwards’s 1963 film starring Peter Sellers and who so wowed United Artists that they signed Friz Freleng to do a series of theatrical cartoon shorts starring the fabulous feline. I mean the Pink Panther who loped across screen accompanied by Henry Mancini’s wonderful theme music, the long-legged, silent star. I absolutely do not mean, under any circumstances, any of the 1980s, 1990s, or 2000s remakes of Pink Panther. I don’t know what those things are, but they are not lithe, nor funny, nor fabulous.

The other thing you need to know when I’m recommending the Pink Panther is that I did not grow up watching him on Saturday morning cartoons. I was a Bugs Bunny gal, through and through, and I have no memory of the Pink Panther or the Inspector, other than seeing him in commercials for Owens Corning fiberglass insulation. But, as a harried mom does when home with a sick child and in need of getting some work done, I trolled through Netflix and stumbled across The Pink Panther Classic Cartoon Collection. Little did I know: my sick one loved it and his laughter was so contagious that I had to watch too, and very little work got done that day.

I’m not sure I find him as hilarious as my kids do. I’m continually baffled by the ways in which the Pink Panther is not Bugs Bunny. Bugs Bunny never loses, for instance; no matter how crazy the situation, he always comes out on top, and the few times that he doesn’t, you get the impression that he’s fine with that, so it’s like he’s really winning after all. The Pink Panther, unlike Bugs, sometimes outwits his opponent (usually The Man, but not always), but sometimes he’s the doofy outwitted one. Many times the plots are only tangentially adversarial, existing only to serve up the real joy of the short, which is the existential flexibility of the cartoon medium. I’m not talking about the ways in which cartoon characters get anvils dropped on their heads and run over by trucks and the feathers pulled right off them but then go on to reappear seconds later back to their normal healthy selves. I’m talking about the ways in which what seems like a bear skin rug turns into a real bear, and you can walk through walls and climb into holes that appear in the background and reappear in other locations and you can split yourself into pieces. The Pink Panther excels at these feats, and all the hints of metaconscious you’ve seen in earlier Freleng cartoons come full force here.

That’s the beauty of cartoons: anything is possible. I don’t know why our culture moved away from thinking about cartoons as theatrical releases for adults and towards developing them as Saturday morning pablum for kids. Yes, I know that there are adult-oriented cartoons out there (thank you, Matt Groening) but overwhelmingly cartoons have become bland, hyperactive, poorly drawn drek for children. This could lead me down a path ranting about why do we give our most impressionable minds ugly stupid things, but I’ll stop myself. Instead, sit down and watch some Pink Panther with them. They might not watch it in the way that you do, but you will all love it.

The Pink Panther in Netflix Instant:

The Pink Panther Classic Cartoon Collection

The Pink Panther Classic Cartoon Collection: The Inspector

The Pink Panther Classic Cartoon Collection: The Ant and the Aardvark [n.b. My kids don’t actually like these, but you never know, maybe you or yours will.]

The Return of the Pink Panther [the 1975 Blake Edwards/Peter Sellars movie; sadly, the first isn’t streaming]

Pink Panther and Pals is also available streaming, but you’ll have to search it out on your own, because I’m not going to dignify with a link.

Sarah Werner has two sons, at least one job, and too many books to read. As a result, Netflix Instant is her constant companion. She blogs about books and reading and is
known to a corner of the twitterverse as @wynkenhimself.

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