LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) — More than a year ahead of the release of its new “Pink Panther” film starring Steve Martin as Inspector Jacques Clouseau, MGM is hoping consumers are ready to celebrate the 40th birthday of the franchise by snapping up new music, DVDs and high-end clothing, sporting goods and accessories all bearing the image of a redesigned, sleeker and even cooler cat.

With more than 200 upscale products being manufactured by 20 licensees, promotions with the MGM Grand and Bellagio hotels and casinos in Las Vegas and the first retail store devoted exclusively to the Pink Panther due to open this year in Shanghai, MGM is pulling out all the stops to make sure the Pink Panther’s party pays off.

Starting April 13, consumers tickled pink by the panther can purchase U.S. postage stamps bearing his image along with that of Henry Mancini, the late “Pink Panther” theme composer.

“Clearly, we’re putting some money and energy into this on many, many fronts,” MGM Vice President of Corporate Communications David Bloom said. “Studio-wide, it’s been a huge effort.”

The 40th birthday consumer products and promotions campaign was launched independently of the newest “Pink Panther” live-action feature due to be released in summer 2005, according to MGM.

Observing that MGM, which has been developing the new film for several years, had faced a challenge in finding the right actor willing to fill Peter Sellers’ shoes as Clouseau, Bloom said: “It took time, but in the meantime this (consumer products campaign) was planned. It was wonderful that it came together the way it did, and I think they’ll feed off each other.”

Beyond the current rollout of Panther products, MGM will launch new mass-market consumer product lines next year featuring the stars of the upcoming movie as well as a 3D computer-generated Pink Panther. An infant Pink Panther line is planned for 2006. “You will have the whole family covered in Pink Panther property, sitting and watching a ‘Pink Panther’ movie in their Pink Panther PJs,” said Trish Halamandaris, vice president of worldwide marketing at MGM Consumer Products.

In honor of the Pink Panther’s 40th birthday on April 11, MGM hired popular West Coast artist Josh Agle, who goes by the name of SHAG, to give the famous cat an updated, more sophisticated and hipper look. In some of SHAG’s artwork, a tuxedo-clad Pink Panther is seen sipping martinis and surrounded by beautiful women as if he’s fashioning himself after that other MGM icon, James Bond, who’s been the subject of similar marketing efforts by the studio.

“I’ve often been approached by studios and production companies that want to use my art, and generally I decline,” SHAG said. “But since most of my paintings take place in an imaginary setting populated by beautiful women in Givenchy evening gowns and men in Yves St. Laurent tuxedos, interpreting the world of the Pink Panther was irresistible.”

Aside from some “evolutionary changes” over the years, MGM said that this is the first time the Pink Panther has undergone a makeover since his creation in 1964 by animators Friz Freleng and David DePatie for the opening credits of the first “Pink Panther” film.

In the 1964 comedy, the Pink Panther was actually the name of a diamond that attracts several international jewel thieves as well as Inspector Clouseau. But the opening credit sequence, in which a cartoon Pink Panther continually evades Clouseau, proved so popular that it spun off cartoons like the Oscar-winning “The Pink Phink” and a television series, and the Pink Panther became a star in his own right.

Among the consumer products featuring the new Pink Panther are men’s and women’s dress shirts, ties, cufflinks and boxers designed by Thomas Pink; T-shirts and tops by JEM Sportswear and Jerry Leigh; scooters by Vespa; beach cruiser bicycles by Nirve Sports; golf accessories by Global Tour Golf; barware and lamps by 3E Trading; diamond and pink sapphire charms by World Trade Jewelers; and watches designed by E-Watch.

“We are excited that Pink Panther is leaving his stylish paw print on all kinds of merchandise that allows the public to join his birthday celebration,” said Travis Rutherford, senior vice president, MGM Consumer Products and Interactive.

Some of the product lines, which target adults in the 25-54 age range, are already available at Nordstrom’s, Lord & Taylor’s, Marshall Field’s and Fred Segal.

The last time MGM launched a major Pink Panther consumer products campaign was in spring 2001, and, while the studio has targeted upscale markets with moderate success in the past, it has never before developed such broad plans, industry experts said.

MGM is also hoping consumers will respond to the Panther’s birthday bash by buying a special-edition, six-disc “Pink Panther Film Collection” DVD set of five digitally remastered films starring Peter Sellers, as well as six original “Pink Panther” animated short films and commentary by director Blake Edwards. The set goes on sale Tuesday.

Music lovers can choose a Virgin Records lounge/pop music collection called “Pink Panther’s Penthouse Party,” which includes remixes of Mancini’s “Pink Panther” theme by producers St. Germain, Fischerspooner and Malibu. It goes on sale April 6.

Virgin also has created a new “Pink Panther” video, and Concord Records just released “Ultimate Mancini” featuring the composer’s most memorable songs, including “The Pink Panther Theme,” performed by his daughter Monica Mancini.

Meanwhile, Las Vegas revelers can stock up on Panther products at the MGM Grand hotel and casino, which will open a Pink Panther store-within-a-store and feature the feline on the hotel’s room key cards. The nearby Bellagio hotel and casino will be bathed in pink lights and feature a number choreographed to the “Panther” theme during its hourly water show.