Is Pepe Le Pew Going Away? Warner Bros. Comments on the Looney Tune’s Future
Warner Bros. has found itself in a bit of a predicament amidst the ongoing reckoning with questionable content from the past. A recent column by Charles M. Blow for the New York Times reintensified longtime criticisms against the classic Looney Tune character, Pepe Le Pew, arguing that the persistent skunk perpetuated what we now call rape culture.
In response, Warner Bros. has had some tough decisions to make, as the Looney Tunes gang remain a fixture of pop culture and are featured in a handful of upcoming projects.
Is Pepe Le Pew in ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’?
The controversy surrounding Pepe Le Pew flared back up not long after the release of new photos from Space Jam: A New Legacy. The long-awaited sequel sees basketball legend Lebron James teaming up with the Looney Tunes crew to defeat a team of digitized all-star champions in an epic game of hoops. Michael Jordan starred in the hit original in 1996.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Warner Bros. confirmed on March 7 that Pepe Le Pew will not be featured in Space Jam: A New Legacy when it releases in theaters and on HBO Max in July. In fact, given the long-running criticism of the character, the decision to remove the cartoon skunk from the film was made about a year ago.
According to Deadline, the proposed scene would’ve tackled Pepe Le Pew’s odious reputation head-on. Script pages reportedly featured a scene where James stopped the skunk in the midst of his typical antics and gave him a talking to about proper consent. Live-action footage for the scene was shot, but the whole sequence was cut before anything could be animated.
The decision runs deeper than just ‘Space Jam’
THR later reported that the decision by Warner Bros. to ax Pepe Le Pew extended beyond Space Jam: A New Legacy. At around the same time he was cut from the movie, the company decided not to bring the character back in any future Looney Tunes projects.
The iconic cartoon characters currently feature in Looney Tune Cartoons, which premiered on HBO Max in May 2020. Pepe Le Pew has not appeared in this new series and, according to voice actor Eric Bauza’s IMDb page, hasn’t appeared in anything since a January 2020 episode of New Looney Tunes.
It should be noted that, despite the ire raised about the move by conservative commentators, the backlash against Pepe Le Pew’s creepy characterization is not new. It isn’t a phenomenon borne out of a supposed recent wave of overly-sensitive audiences. As far back as 2000, comedian Dave Chappelle mocked the character’s poorly-aged antics in his Killing Them Softly stand-up special. (Big language warning on that link, needless to say.)
“Watching Pepe Le Pew and I’m old now, I’m like ‘Good God, what kind of f***ing rapist is this guy?'” Chappelle observed over 20 years ago. “Like, take it easy, Pepe.”