Active from 1963 to 1985, DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, founded by Friz Freleng and David H. DePatie, is most remembered for The Pink Panther, What’s New, Mr. Magoo? and the cartoon adaptations for Dr. Seuss books. Also called DFE Films, the studio was a Hollywood-based animation production company, and most of their animations are owned today by the Walt Disney Company.
Isadore “Friz” Freleng, illustrator and co-founder of DFE films, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on August 21, 1906. His talent for cartooning was revealed while Freleng was still in high school. In addition to drawing cartoons for Westport High School’s publications, he worked at the United Film Ad Service where Walt Disney and fellow cartoonist U.B. Iwerks were also employed. Walt Disney moved to Hollywood in 1923 to further his career in animation and a few years later, Freleng joined him where he and several other former animators from United Film Ad Service worked at Disney’s studio.
In 1931, Freleng embarked on a 30-year career with Warner Brothers, becoming the director of animation in 1933. It was with Warner Brothers that Freleng helped to bring to the world some of the most memorable characters in the history of animation. He even admitted to being the inspiration for the character Yosemite Sam with his small stature and red mustache. In addition to being exceedingly popular with the public, Freleng’s work was heralded by critics as well – he was honored with four Academy Awards and seven additional nominations for his work at Warner Brothers.
In 1963, after Warner Brothers closed down their animation department, Friz Freleng and David H. DePatie – the former producer of the Warner Brothers animation department – established DePatie-Freleng Enterprises. DFE was actually located within Warner Brothers’ animation building in Burbank, empty after they stopped producing cartoons in 1963. After the incredible success of The Pink Panther, in 1964, many of Warner Brothers’ former animators came to work for them, since they were overflowing with work. In 1981, Marvel Comics bought DFE, struck by the rising costs of production and inflation. Frelang returned to Warner Brothers and DePatie became the new head of Marvel Productions. In the 1990s, Marvel sold their previous animations to the Walt Disney Company, and then in 2009, Disney bought the entirety of Marvel itself, along with Fox Family and Fox Kids, reuniting the DFE library with Dr. Seuss.
Freleng teamed with Warner Brothers again in the 1980s as an executive producer for three television specials and compilations: The Looney Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie (1981), Bugs Bunny’s 3rd Movie: 1001 Rabbit Tales (1982), and Daffy Duck’s Movie: Fantastic Island (1983).
Freleng was recognized for his contributions to animation in a number of receptions and award ceremonies later in life. Retrospectives were held at the British Film Institute and the American Film Institute in 1981; the Chicago International Film Festival celebrated his lifetime of achievement with the Hugo Award in 1981; the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences held a gala in his honor in 1982; his work was included in the Museum of Modern Art, New York’s salute to Warner Brothers animation; and in 1992 Freleng was immortalized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Friz Freleng died in 1995 at the age of 89, while DePatie is still living. The characters and cartoons they created and produced endure and remain popular favorites of adults and children alike.
The Pink Panther (1964-1980)
The name, The Pink Panther, has an ambiguous history. In 1963, Blake Edward wrote and directed a movie by the same name, a non-animated, live-action film about a detective called Jacques Clouseau. This film introduced the notorious, jazzy theme song written by Henry Mancini. The Pink Panther is actually the name of a gigantic pink diamond featured in the film. The pink anthropomorphic panther is introduced, however, in both the trailer and the opening credits, like a spokesman for the film. Zooming inside the pink diamond, a dream sequence featuring the panther begins, and the panther dances through the opening credits, playing with the typeface and jumping over obstacles. In the theatrical trailer, the panther has a reel of the film’s negatives, pouring over them with an eyeglass and laughing hysterically. A narrator asks him questions – what he thinks about the actors, what’s he’s doing with those negatives, what he thinks about the music – and he mimes his answers. The feature film entitled The Pink Panther was the first in a long list of eight sequels, ending with Son of the Pink Panther in 1993. In 2006, Steve Martin revived the original film with his adaptation of The Pink Panther, producing another sequel in 2009, simply called The Pink Panther 2.
With the unforeseen, incredible popularity of the Pink Panther character in the 1963 feature film, United Artists contracted DePatie and Freleng and they began producing theatrical cartoon shorts featuring Blake Edward’s The Pink Panther. The first short was seven minutes long, called “The Pink Phink” released in 1964, which won that year’s Academy Award for best Animated Short Film. The plots varied, usually centering on the panther and the Inspector plus a dozen other interchangeable characters. In early episodes, Marvin Miller acted as an off-camera narrator, asking the panther questions.
The panther did not make it to television until 1969 when it landed on NBC’s Saturday morning cartoon lineup as The Pink Panther Show. Each of these episodes was also released theatrically after it had aired on NBC. Nine years later, the Pink Panther moved to ABC as The All New Pink Panther Show for one more season. A comic book called The Pink Panther and the Inspector was produced by Gold Key Comics from 1971 to 1984, lasting 87 issues.
From 1964 to 1980, The Pink Panther had 124 original animated shorts produced by DFE Films. Today, reruns can be caught on BBC Two (UK), Teletoon Retro (Canada), and Boomerang (U.S.).