Thursday, March 09, 2006

PICKLED PINK (1965)

It's tough to be the Pink Panther. You are generally lonely, unable to find a warm bed at night due to your outcast status... and your handlers, in the space of less than ten films, have already seemingly forgotten what made you a unique cartoon character at the outset of your career. I know that they got back on track eventually (for a while, at least), and maybe they were trying out different approaches to Pink early on to help establish or develop the series. The problem is, they had it right from the beginning, and could have made every film in the same style and the series could have run forever in that vein, and it would have been far better than the direction that they actually took.

The last film had an annoyingly verbose and unfunny hunter from Texas villain; this film continues with the rampant dialogue, though it is a bit funnier. This is due to Mel Blanc doing the voice of the drunk who discovers the Panther in his lonely vigil on a park bench and drags the poor creature home. The cartoon starts out just fine, and the drunk's animation is terrific, if exaggerated in the usual comic manner. The drunk believes that the Panther is a fellow drunk in need of solace, and invites him to his house to both party and rest up. He leads the cat to his door, but can't quite find the keyhole with his key; the Panther kindly moves the doorknob over to the other side of the door so that the drunk can easily gain access. They sneak in (everytime the drunk tries to sneak, he ends up making noise, naturally), and the drunk stows the cat in the kitchen, and invites him to get something to eat.

Pink pulls an egg from the fridge and goes to the stove to cook it. However, the egg is seemingly unbreakable, and he smacks it over and over and over again on the frying pan without success. Finally, he gives a huge smack... and the pan and the stove shatter and crumble into a billion pieces. Pink cleans up the mess, dispatches it in the garbage can, and then returns to the indestructible egg. This time, he gets a nutcracker, and the egg cracks easily. Too easily, and the remains splat Pink so violently that his entire head is covered in yolk. When he goes back to the fridge, the drunk opens the kitchen door, which slams Pink shut inside of the fridge. The drunk finally finds him, but believes he is a Blue Panther, due to the fact that he is now freezing, and asks him where the Pink Panther is hiding.

The drunk's wife, who they have been trying desperately not to wake up, barges sergeant-like into the kitchen. (Mel Blanc also does the voice of the wife, but it seems there is little attempt made to distinguish her voice from the drunk's, which makes it kind of weird to hear Blanc jump from character to character as if he were reading from the script for the first time without embellishment.) After she yells and threatens the drunk not to have brought anyone home, she storms off. The drunk opens the fridge again, and the Panther is encased in a block of ice. The drunk is confused, and asks where the Blue Panther has gone off to hide, quite forgetting the Pink Panther. The frozen Pink slides out of the fridge and straight into the basement, where he crashes and is freed from his icy tomb. The drunk celebrates the return of his Pink friend.

The drunk, fearing his wife's approach, next tries to hide Pink in an umbrella stand. When she does not appear, he suddenly can't find the Panther (two umbrellas end up having handles that look like the Panther's feet), who has sneakingly slipped out of the tube. The wife comes in again, and the Panther has to disguise himself as a lamp, complete with using his tail as an electric cord. (There is no real payoff on this joke, just as in the umbrella stand bit.) Finally, the drunk gives Pink a sleeping bag to crash in, and goes to zip it shut on him. But the zipper breaks, and Pink becomes trapped inside just as the wife charges into the room. She tells the drunk to take his "Caterpillar" friend and get out of her house, which they do. The drunk is confused and hurt by the Panther's seeming betrayal. He staggers off into the night, saying "I hate Caterpillars", as the Panther squirms after him in the sleeping bag, just like an inchworm.

They started off the series with just Pink and the Little Man. The films were largely silent, except for sound effects and the eternally terrific music by Henry Mancini, and everything was funny and sharp and bright. In the space of just a handful of films, they had already forgotten everything that had made the films perfect, including a lot of the charm. There are still some good bits here, and the dialogue doesn't kill the film as badly as it did in Sink Pink, but there is a definite lack of focus at play in this one. The return of the Little Man would go a long way into getting the Panther back to his pink roots.

Pickled Pink (DePatie-Freleng, 1965) Dir: Friz Freleng & Hawley Pratt
Cel Bloc Rating: 5

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