Font Size

KINO LORBER has performed a terrific service for everyone interested in the art, culture, business and history of the animated cartoon with this six volume release of all 124 films produced in the original PINK PANTHER SERIES.

Art is largely about the discovery of the value of the accidental.

Jack Warner saw no future in animated cartoons in 1963. He shut down his studio leaving a host of dedicated and talented artists out of work including director Isidore “Friz” Freleng.

Friz Freleng was asked by David DePatie to join him. That led to the birth of Depatie-Freleng:  .

Blake Edwards asked the studio to create the main titles for his new comedy THE PINK PANTHER (1963)  , starring David Niven and Peter Sellers.

Friz designed a panther. The panther, adroitly animated to the music of Henry Mancini was a bigger hit with the critics and the public than the movie.

United Artists, then distributing the pre-1948 WARNER CARTOON LIBRARY and the Paramount Max Fleischer and FAMOUS STUDIOS POPEYE cartoons commissioned around 200 Pink Panther cartoons for eventual use on television.

The Panther cartoons were a huge hit in theaters.

Suddenly a medium everyone thought dead wasn’t.

That pretty much sums up the history of the movies. No sooner do the money people make the statement that the public is no longer interested in a genre or a star than a first rate talent creates something wonderful that proves that wrong.

American film and American film makers generally get the short end of the stick in critical assessments. This is because American film has never been as self consciously arty as have films from other countries.

As well, until the rise of film schools from the 1970s on (which marks the moment when the movies began to lose their audience) American film makers learned by doing.

American films (both short subjects and feature films) at that time possessed a vitality non-American films have never had. For this reason American films dominated the world.

Friz Freleng remains one of the great unsung geniuses of the Hollywood Cartoon. Trained as a musician Freleng timed his films on music sheets. This gave him a control that allowed him to spin his ideas on a dime.

Creating interesting one shot films is one thing. Taking a character and spinning that character through a series of starring films is quite another. It is much more difficult.

124 short cartoons were produced in the original series. All of them are presented here. Each comes with a commentary track. Sometimes there are multiple tracks.

The first in the series, THE PINK PHINK, took the Academy Award in 1964.

Just hearing Henry Mancini’s music in the theaters when these were first shown brought excited gasps of anticipation from the audiences I saw them with.

Producer/director Friz Freleng is one of my mentors. He is also a personal hero.

1980 was the 5oth birthday of Betty Boop and LOONEY TUNES.

That year I invited to Toronto the man credited with creating Betty Boop, Grim Natwick, to Toronto for three days.

I also invited motion picture sound pioneer Bernard B. Brown who not only scored some of the first LOONEY TUNES, he also directed a few, and directors Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones and, for the second time, Bob Clampett.

Unlike just about everyone else in the alternate film scene I do not ask for grants. My father’s brother, Douglas Hartt, served as Director General of Public Works Canada. He thought me crazy for not seeking government funding. He said, “Your work certainly warrants it.”

I wanted to learn. I wanted to face the same challenges everyone who does original work faces. I work with no money. As a result I have to put bums on seats to finance the work I do.

The event with Bernard B. Brown got major publicity from THE GLOBE AND MAIL and THE TORONTO STAR. However only three people came out for it. That was fine. I learned a lot from him.

Animation fans let me know they were not interested in Friz Freleng. I was told he was old hat.

This attitude I have found is prevalent among many who dismiss Hollywood animation.

When I invited Mr. Freleng to come to Toronto I said, “Would you care for a fee?”

To my surprise he said, “Can I bring my wife?”

I had brought director/producer Bob Clampett to Toronto the summer before. With Bob had come his wonderful wife Sody who was a joy to meet. I wondered who said no to that question. I was surprised the question was asked.

I said, “Of course.”

Mr. Freleng said, “In that case there is no fee.”

I found out later that the institutions with government funding (colleges, schools, universities, art galleries, museums, etc. all said, “We’re sorry our budget does not cover that.” Them Mr. Freleng would charge a fee of $10,000.00.

I had acquired 16mm prints of hundreds of classic cartoons. As one of the few who had actually studied the medium AND seen the films WITH paying audiences I knew that Friz Freleng was a brilliant artist. He was the farthest thing possible from old hat.

Nonetheless among the instructors at the nearby animation schools there was a disdain for American studio animation. This disdain poisoned the minds of their students. I was told, “There is nothing Friz Freleng can teach us.”

I replied, “There is one thing he can teach you?”

They asked, “What is that?”

I replied, “How to be working at his age.”

Still the event with Mr. Brown had been an expensive financial loss. At the time I had a board of directors. They told me I should call Mr. Freleng and cancel the event.

“Hello, Reg, this is Friz,” said a voice from the phone as I picked it up. He continued, “DePatie/Freleng has folded. I’m back at Warner Brothers. They don’t want me going anywhere they don’t approve of and they don’t approve of you.”

My first thought was, “I’m off the hook. I won’t lose face. All I have to do is say, “Gee, Friz, that’s too bad.”

But I did not.

Instead I said, “How do you feel about it?”

Friz said, “Well, I gave you my word and my wife is looking forward to the trip.”

I then said, “I guess you are coming.”

When I told my board he was coming I was told, “You’re crazy! We resign.” They all walked out.

I brought Friz and his wife Lily to Canada via First Class Air Canada. When I booked the seats I informed Air Canada Friz was one of the key artists at Warner animation on Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety, Sylvester, etc., the creator of The Pink Panther and the receiver of five Academy Awards. The result was that when the plane landed in Toronto Friz sat in the pilot’s seat.

This, of course, no longer happens. A lot of the fun has gone out of the world.

Unlike the event with Bernard B. Brown I got no press on Friz. The papers said, “You deserve it but if we give you space others will complain.” It turned out people thought that with all that press the place would be packed. That was why they had stayed away.

The first night with Friz the place was packed.

As he walked in Mr. Freleng said, “I’m not going to speak for more than half an hour.”

He spoke for three.

As he and Lily left for the Royal York Hotel where I had booked them he said, “You are doing something good here.”

The few animation students who had come said, “WOW! We learned more from him tonight than we learned in two years in school!”

The next night the place was even more packed.

Friz was surprised and delighted by the caliber of the questions he was asked.

For the first and perhaps the only time in his life he was met by an audience that treated him as they would have treated Matisse, Picasso, Salvador Dali, any serious artist.

Friz’s wife, Lily, was an absolute joy. She reveled in the respect that met her and her husband.

The final night, a Sunday, was the icing on a particularly great cake.

What made Warner animation’s LOONEY TUNES and MERRIE MELODIES great was that they were made by great men and women. Most don’t know this because the films look so great is that those artists were working on low budgets. Said producer Leon Schlesinger, “I don’t want quality and I don’t want it in the worst way. Let Walt Disney make chicken salad and win prizes. I’ll make chicken shit and I’ll make money.”

Yes, some of the films were assembly line pieces (exceptionally good assembly line pieces filled with lots of fun) but mixed in there are many personal films from each of the units which are staggeringly good.

When Jack Warner shut down the cartoon studio and Friz found himself out of animation he faced a grim future. He had a wife and kids to look after.

Asked what his favorite character was Friz replied, “My wife likes Bugs Bunny but I like The Pink Panther.”

That shows in every one of the films in this terrific collection.

Why did all those people come out?

Most came out because, like me, they loved The Pink Panther.

And, when they met Friz Freleng, they loved him.

Friz Freleng was one of the finest men I have had the pleasure to know.

When Friz Freleng took over Tweety  after his creator Bob Clampett left his producer told him to use a woodpecker. Friz said, “I’m using Tweety.” “I want a woodpecker.” said his boss. “I’m using Tweety,” said Friz. The producer said, “I want a woodpecker.” Friz said, “Here’s the pencil. I’m going home.”

That was on a Friday. On the Monday the boss called Friz. He said, “Make it your way.”

That cartoon TWEETIE PIE (1947) became the first Warner cartoon to win an Academy Award.

Later the same boss said to Friz, “Camels are not funny. Do not use camels.”

Friz made SAHARA HARE with Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam and a camel.

When his bosses at Warner Brothers said, “We don’t approve of Reg Hartt. Don’t go there,” Friz came.

It takes great people to create great work.

In his book CONFESSIONS OF AN ADVERTISING MAN David Ogilvy wrote, “What this business needs is a massive transfusion of talent. Talent is found in the ranks of dissenters, non-conformists and rebels.”

Friz Freleng was a dissenter, a non-conformist and a rebel.

As the films in this wonderful collection show he was also one helluva talented artist.

That Christmas when I called Friz he said, “You are the finest host I ever met.”

He and his wife Lily are among the finest people I ever met.

You are going to enjoy these films.

Millions before you already have.

–Reg Hartt

NOTE: I self-published books of the visits to Toronto by Bob Clampett, Grim Natwick and Friz Freleng. I have also placed videos of their visits on the web. All of my events were and are admission by donation so that those who can least afford could come. If you’d like to support my work get in touch: . Donate $25.00 and I will send you my book of Friz Freleng’s Toronto talk. Cheers.


This issue of FILM COMMENT changed completely my thinking on Hollywood Cartoons. For the first time I saw the medium as an art form.

Friz Freleng at Reg Hartt’s CineForum, Toronto, 1980:

Friz Freleng



Liora Lind wrote in 1992, “Reg Hartt’s Cineforum is everything Jane Jacobs wrote about in THE DEATH AND LIFE OF GREAT AMERICAN CITIES.” What makes that statement particularly true is that my work in this city has never been valued by the people who run this city. I have been under attack from the moment I started in 1968. Said David Beard in a Toronto Star piece from 1980, “Reg Hartt is overworked, under-financed and snubbed. We should be paying tribute to him”

Liora Lind wrote in 1992, “Reg Hartt’s Cineforum is everything Jane Jacobs wrote about in THE DEATH AND LIFE OF GREAT AMERICAN CITIES.” What makes that statement particularly true is that my work in this city has never been valued by the people who run this city. I have been under attack from the moment I started in 1968. Said David Beard in a Toronto Star piece from 1980, “Reg Hartt is overworked, under-financed and snubbed. We should be paying tribute to him”

Bernard B. Brown played first violin in the orchestra which accompanied THE BIRTH OF A NATION during its premiere run in Los Angeles in 1915. On retiring he taught film and film sound at UCLA. For three days in 1980 he taught me.

The author of this piece from the Toronto Star said, “The people at THE STAR think the films you show are trash.”


« »