Cuts in Panther Lead to Box Office Success

After screening the latest Pink Panther film a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t help but be surprised at the lack of objectionable content. There are some mild sexual innuendos—one involving the infamous little blue pill—but I was expecting the gags to go out of control. Not so. Instead, the short comment or sight gag ended, and we continued on with the truly hilarious antics of Steve Martin playing Inspector Clouseau.

As a reviewer, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and was even more pleased we could recommend it to a family audience (albeit with a mild warning regarding a few lingering sexual innuendos). But I couldn’t help but sense that someone had made a deliberate decision to keep the bumbling detective from going morally overboard.

On February 13, the Los Angeles Times confirmed my suspicions.

Last year, Sony Pictures purchased Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, known for decades under the name MGM. The popular Pink Panther franchise was one of many elements within the package of movies, brands, and real estate.

The LA Times article reveals that Sony’s movie chief, Amy Pascal, took a look at the new Panther before "the ink was dry" on the new deal. Instead of the Clouseau we saw on opening weekend, she viewed a man who (using the words of LA Times writer Claudia Eller) "came off more like a dirty old man."

That’s when Pascal ordered director Shawn Levy to make sweeping changes to the film, with the goal of making it more family friendly and bringing it into a PG rating. "I saw a great family movie in the movie, but not everything was appropriate for a family audience," said Pascal.

What music to this reviewer’s ears! How often I have sat through films that appear to be created for a young audience, yet contain jokes and innuendo that most parents wouldn’t want to share with their kids. (And, on the other side of the coin, these films are often too juvenile to keep adults looking for bathroom humor and sex jokes happy.)

A few of recent examples:

Big Momma’s House 2: I know, it’s earning big dollars, likely because of the momentum gained from the first film. Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder who was in charge of creating a script that, at one point, has Big Momma helping a grade school girl learn some new cheerleading moves, and in another scene shows the huge housekeeper at a spa trying to help a buxom young lady remove her bra.

The Ringer: Making fun of the Special Olympics is already putting the creators of this film in the bull’s-eye position. The sad truth is this movie could have scored high by attempting to show a humorous, yet sensitive, glimpse into the lives of these athletes. Instead, foul language and sexual situations created a major hurdle for family audiences, and the sentimentality would hardly wash with those who appreciate the politically incorrect comedy genre.

Elizabethtown: While we gave it a cautious recommendation for family viewing, this film could have hit grade-A status if it hadn’t included unnecessary profanities, sexual comments, and a strange closing scene where a character makes some blunt sexual remarks. These twists in the road turn "heartwarming" into "lukewarm" and will turn-off many of the softhearted viewers the film was intended to charm.

Thankfully, this isn’t the case with The Pink Panther (although we still had to grade the film just short of our "A" category due to the leftover sexual moments). Yet, what is important to recognize is Pascal didn’t just make these changes to please families, she made them knowing it would help the film make money.

Investing an additional seven months and $5 million into re-shooting scenes and re-editing the movie will pay off in the long run. Instead of ending up with a product that is trying to be please both adults who enjoy crass humor and innocent children looking for slapstick silliness, she has steered the project toward a much higher quality outcome, which will have parents (like me) recommending it to other families.

It also has the huge additional benefit of creating a new Clouseau whom audiences will feel empathy and fondness toward—a difficult accomplishment when your hero is "a dirty old man." Hopefully, with the success of this Panther firmly en-trenched, the writers of the inevitable sequel (which may include Martin at the word processor, as he penned the original script for this new film) will get the message and keep this cat as a favorite family pet.

More details about the movies mentioned in this post…