Animation director Friz Freleng may have died 21 years ago, but he’s having more success in Hollywood this month than many living directors. Yesterday we announced that Warner Bros. was developing an animated feature starring Speedy Gonzales, a character that was popularized by Freleng in the 1950s.

Later this month, film distributor Kino Lorber will release complete collections of shorts featuring The Ant and the Aardvark, The Inspector, and Crazylegs Crane, three characters that came out of Freleng’s animation studio, DePatie-Freleng, which he co-owned between 1963 and 1981.

Kino Lorber’s Studio Classics division is releasing new HD transfers of the shorts in both Blu-ray and DVD editions. Later this year, the company plans to release additional collections of DePatie-Freleng series including Roland and Rattfink, Tijuana Toads, Blue Racer, Sheriff Hoot Kloot, Dogfather, and Misterjaw.

Made during the last throes of Hollywood theatrical shorts production, The Inspector and Ant and the Aardvark series have much to recommend, including smartly made animation on a budget that often exceeds current American TV standards, minimalist yet striking production design, and some surprising elements, like jazz scores on the Ant and the Aardvark series performed by top West coast jazz musicians. (Unfortunately, Crazylegs Crane, a post-theatrical TV series, has much less to offer in terms of quality.)

DePatie-Freleng, most famous for its Pink Panther series, never achieved true greatness in any of its productions, but these Kino-Lorber sets offer a welcome opportunity for contemporary viewers to reassess their output. Lots of talented people worked on these cartoons and there’s creative inspiration waiting to be discovered in certain aspects of the studio’s output.

The best news is that the sets are quite affordable, and all of them will include the following documentaries by Greg Ford: Goodbye Warner Bros., Hello DePatie-Freleng and Of Aardvarks, Ants, Inspectors, and Cranes, featuring Jerry Beck, Barbara Donatelli, Will Friedwald, Doug Goodwin, Art Leonardi, Joe Siracusa, and archival audio of Friz Freleng.

The Inspector collection includes all 34 theatrical shorts created between 1965-1969, the Ant and the Aardvark collection contains all seventeen theatrical shorts created between 1969-1971, and the Crazylegs Crane disc includes all 16 made-for-TV shorts that appeared in 1978 on the The All New Pink Panther Show.

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