One thing I will give the crew credit for is that when this "new, younger" Pink Panther show was announced in 2005, I had my serious doubts over how it would handle (especially as everyone seems to bleat about the 1993 series where the title character was voiced by Matt Frewer throughout its two-season run). But it seemed that some brainiacs over at MGM were paying attention when the animation community went in total uproar about it - next to the fact that the whole "babyised" versions of popular characters has been run into the ground countless of times, the original draft style presented wasn't exactly "thinking pink" either... :P
Note how here, The Inspector was also a chosen candidate...
Then of course over a count of time, the chosen characters were given a new redesign, this time aging the Pink Panther to be a teenager instead of a kid. Better thinking and the background design seems more DePatie-Freleng-ish in the next draft below - which was happily continued into the series itself - but the character design was still pretty "yecchhh" to many.
FINALLY...someone at MGM finally pulled their finger out and gave the character designs one last major revamp, giving us the final result below:
Happily (but only just) the public accepted this new look, which remains more faithful to their original designs, with the Ant and Aardvark looking much more cartoony and fun in their redesign during the development process. But as you will notice, The Inspector was eventually dropped from this latest revival, the cast and crew instead deciding to bring back the Pink Panther's adversery the Little Man (originally "Friz" in the theatrical shorts, a fun caricature of Friz Freleng himself, but renamed "Big Nose" in PP&P), that dog who received many a beating from "Friz" and the laughing horse from "Pinto Pink", now renamed "Hoarse"...
Pinky's design could have been handled better, but admittedly he looks more plesant than the original promotional artworks before.
OK, so with the history lesson over, how does the show hold up to me?
From having observed a whole season of the show on Cartoon Network - when it decides to play the episode in the correct airing order!! - I've taken particular note on the series per episode in terms of animation and storytelling; two vital key points that ANY cartoon series/movie must take special care with, whether it's in 2D, Flash, CGI or stop-motion.
First off, the animation - while obviously made using Flash MX and/or ToonBoom, the animation for both Pink Panther and Ant and Aardvark segments were all drawn frame-by-frame, which helps the show a lot. According to research, much of the animation was done by Rubicon based in Jordan, Arabia, and for the most part it's fairly decent - though at times the PP cartoons look rather stiff and slow-paced, and some of the jokes seem to suffer because of this. Whereas the A&A shorts are more stream-lined and indeed animated; it really helps keep their fast-paced humour up with chuckles a-plenty.
In fact, according to a Cartoon Brew review of the series, it seems a cast member from PP&P had this to say for the animation:
"Rubicon definitely had a ton to learn regarding timing and following boards. Our animatics were timed and fully posed out, however, a lot of it just didn’t translate overseas. Gags that got laughs in animatic form fell flat because they evened out or simply didn’t understand the timing. We eventually resorted to animating certain actions in-house just because it was impossible to direct animation from 3000 miles away.
They did get better over the course of production."
As with the design styles, very smart thinking there ;)
To add to the artwork style, I do love the "animated title cards" to this series; another creative plus for the animation team.
Next up comes the storytelling. For the Pink Panther shorts, they're rather a mixed bag, TBH. While the writers did try to remain as faithful to the original shorts as possible, in terms of telling a story with little or no dialogue at all, they seem to rather struggle in that section - notably when it comes to the comedy relationship between PP and "Big Nose" steady.
In the original theatrical shorts, the Pink Panther would pester or persist the Little Man either intentionally or unintentionally reg; the storyline or set up: in most cases, either "Friz" is the innocent by the Panther's suave intentions - in episodes like "The Pink Phink", "The Pink Blueprint" or "Twinkle Twinkle Little Pink" - or both characters are without meaning any intended malice to one another - like "Gong with the Pink", "In the Pink" or "Sky Blue Pink".
Heck, even the Panther still managed a good story on his own without pestering "Friz"; turning even the simplest of tasks into major cartoon backfires, happily demonstrated in "Pink Punch", "Shocking Pink" or "Reel Pink".
But in terms of what Pink Panther and Pals has brought us, "Big Nose" seems to be branded the "bad guy" throughout (often paired alongside his dog) who PP has to do battle with a vast majority of the time. To add also, many episodes wind up with Big Nose taking up most of the screen time over the titular character, often focusing far, far too much on his short temper and "LOL Random" moments that take too long to show or aren't properly executed. Such shorts including "Pink Up the Volume", "Pink Beard" and "Life in the Pink Lane" demonstrate how Big Nose unwittingly takes over, leaving PP a cameo in his own cartoons...!!!
Another problem with the Little Man is, whereas "Friz" remained totally silent in the original PP cartoons, here "Big Nose" has to continuously grunt, squawk, squeak, shriek, yell, sob, mutter, grumble, mumble and sneeze in every damn scene he's in just to show the audience how he's feeling. Intended audience or not, I'm more than happy to tell how Big Nose is feeling just by seeing his expressions and complete pantomime acting rather than indicate his "feelings" by stupid little noises.
However, with the bad comes the good. When the writers bring us a good episode they do, happily in cases when Pink Panther takes complete centre stage without Big Nose's nose poking into his business. Some of the newer shorts often do recall the original PP cartoons where, again, he turns a simple everyday task into a manic but humorous mess. Notable shorts worth checking out include:
- "Pinkaroni Pizza", where PP tries to make himself a home-cooked pizza with a cookery kit.
- "Remotely Pink" which has PP buy a new remote control that manages to control everything but the TV!
- "Pink Hi-Tops", where PP tries on some strange running shoes with a mind of their own (even if it does involve annoying, unnecessary cameos by Big Nose and his Mutt)
- "Pink Party Of One", which has PP trying to sneak into a restaurant for food, avoiding the detection of Head Waiter Big Nose.
One more qualm I do have with PP&P is the music. from what I've seen in recent years, it's become a common trait in many present day animations that they become lumbered with dull or uninteresting background scores that don't have enough "punch" to keep the action or attention of the story. What made Doug Goodwin and Walter Greene's music oh-so popular was their unique styles to fit within any cartoon their scored, even when the same themes are used as "stock music" in later episodes to come. They were catchy, they were fun. They didn't try too hard to be "hip" or "down with it", even for the '70's! ;)
Doug Goodwin gave Ant and Aardvark their swinging signature Dixieland themes (their "Chase" theme being the most signifigant with their wild trumpets and pianos!) whilst Walter Greene had cool flutes and guitar strings along with a smoking sax for The Pink Panther. Hell, even Bill Lava's ominous but sexy sax and piano sting themes were brilliant for the first several dozen Pink Panther scores!
But here, while David Ricard does do the job well for the most part, he could really take a few pointers from Goodwin and Greene on upping his soundtracks for a possible future series to come. Even James Stemple gave his heart and soul into his soundtrack for the 1993 Pink Panther series (yes, AGAIN with Matt Frewer!) with an intro that would make Henry Mancini glow with pride:
So my view on the series as a whole is Pink Panther and Pals has certainly come a long way from those early promo posters. While they still have faults that should be noted and hopefully amended in future, the crew have done a splendid job in trying to remain as faithful to the original theatrical shorts as they can in this day and age of television. If they are ever granted a second season, I'd love to see them improve over their human errors - mainly in terms of scripting - and really push themselves to keep the Pink Panther segments as hilariously active as the Ant and Aardvark shorts.
It is fair to say, too, that they have obviously watched and rewatched the original PP cartoons, taking special attention to the art style and storyboardings from the DFE crew - keen eyes will notice that they even pay homage to a few classic scenes from the classic PP shorts in the modern-day cartoons made...
However, if staying faithful to the original PP cartoons is their selected goal, it leaves me with two more questions should I ever meet anyone from the PP&P team:
- What was the whole point of deaging the Pink Panther? Is it because TV producers think teenage viewers think he'd be "better" when brought down to their age group? Is it because they fear his nature of smoking fancy cigarette holders might encourage busybody mothers to shriek like tree monkeys over this "bad behaviour"? Or is it because someone thinks he'd look better without complicated whiskers to animate?
- Why the HEX did they bring in "Hoarse" as a proposed main character? From what I've seen so far, all this character has done is cameo in several shorts as either a Knight's noble steed or as an unlikely competitor in the Olympics - basically an extra slot to full the quota.
IMO, there are plenty of other DFE characters the PP&P crew could have also brought back onto the small screen alongside the Ant and Aardvark, and with many good reasons why:
- why not exploit Pancho and Toro the Tijuana Toads, since Warner Bros are daring enough to bring Speedy Gonzales in the latest Looney Tunes series and forget the whole "racial Mexican" issue ever happened. Think Laurel and Hardy but with "meh-hee-kan" accents!
- The Blue Racer, another favoured character by David DaPatie himself. Plenty of fun stuff to do with this stretchy, fast little serpent; very expressive without the need for limbs and a chance to bring awareness of this endangered species in real life. Also with another redesign, have his target prey the Japanese Beetle alongside him, too!
- Crazylegs Crane, one of the busiest and actively-used DFE characters throughout the studio's legacy: starting as a threatening but goofy bird of prey for first the Toads then Blue Racer respectively before gaining his own series alongside a hilarious (but totally non-racial) Firebreathing Dragonfly. The latter would be a good reason to see if Frank Welker is still up on voicing a singing Dragonfly again!
- Roland and Rattfink - think Spy Vs. Spy but one is a British do-good and another is a evil green version of Frank Nelson. Brilliant opp to have hidden anti-war messages and stuff that'll go way over the Kid's heads but make the adults hoot with laughter over!
- The Dogfather. OK, so kids won't get the whole Godfather reference but hey, old style gangsters in snappy suits, who happen to be talking dogs, is more than enough to keep the knee-biters entertained. Besides, their design is more visually approving than the version of the Dogfather that was presented to us in the 1993 Pink Panther Series... XP
- The Inspector - no, NOT Inspector Clouseau, not someone who looks like or sounds like Inspector Clouseau - just "The Inspector". It's the poifect set up for bizarre criminals harassing France with a violent Paul Frees-like Commissioner and a humble, misunderstood Spanish French Officer, Segt: Deux-Deux, to make up a small but winning French Police cast.
- Hoot Kloot. Hell, why not!? A Yosemite Sam-wannabe with a put-upon war-horse as his getabout. If Warner Bros can allow guns in their Animated Marvel / DC shows, why not Kloot? The ol' western set-ups were good enough storytelling for Quick Draw McGraw, after all...
A'right, I think this blog post has run its lengthy course for one night. But for those who have managed to read it this far: please do share it around for others to read and learn from, for the sake of creative freedom everywhere...we beg of you! =)