Question: I recently saw the trailer for The Pink Panther, and it wasn't what I expected. I thought I'd be seeing a CGI version of the Pink Panther, but instead I got Steve Martin making a fool of himself. So what's the connection between the actual Pink Panther and the movie?


Answer: This one really threw me for a loop, but I guess I have to assume you've only seen The Pink Panther TV cartoons, not the original The Pink Panther (1963) or any of its sequels (a case history in diminishing returns, but that's another story), which starred Peter Sellers as bumbling French police inspector Jacques Clouseau. In the first film, "pink panther" wasn't Clouseau's nickname: It was the name of the rare gem that debonair jewel thief Sir Charles Lytton (David Niven) intended to steal. The Pink Panther was a huge popular hit, but Oscar-winning animator Friz Freleng's animated credits sequence, which was built around the visual conceit of a suave pink panther mischievously messing with the credits to the accompaniment of Henry Mancini's insinuating jazz theme, really grabbed people. The film's 1964 sequel didn't even have the words "pink panther" in the title, which is why it's such a great trivia-game stumper (the title is A Shot in the Dark). But once it became apparent that the Inspector Clouseau films were a potential megafranchise, the panther went back into the title. Freleng's cool cat got his own series, The Pink Panther Show, in 1969; it was the first of several.

When the new but much-delayed film was first announced in 2000, it looked as though Mike Myers would star (after a brief, bizarre speculation that Kevin Spacey might be interested), continuing the strip-mining of 1960s culture he started with the Austin Powers pictures. Myers later dropped out and there was talk of Chris Tucker becoming the new Clouseau. The consensus seems to be that Steve Martin is an inspired choice to take over Sellers' role and relaunch the series. I'm not convinced, if for no other reason than that Martin is 60 (Sellers was in his late 30s) and I think broad-stroke bumbling and stumbling looks less funny and more pathetic as actors get older.