Through some kind of random haphazard, a black cat is painted with a white stripe down her back. At that moment a skunk with a thick French accent spots her, falls in love, and forces himself on her for the next six minutes. That’s the plot of every Pepe Le Pew cartoon produced by Warner Bros in the 1950s…funny at the time, but in the light of all the real world Le Pews that have been caught in recent years, they’re awkward to watch now.
Last weekend a New York Times columnist suddenly remembered Pepe existed, rushed to his keyboard and pounded out an angry diatribe blaming a cartoon skunk for “normalizing rape culture.” In reality, Pepe Le Pew’s contribution to the decay of American morals in the 20th century is dubious — it’s unlikely Weinstein or Cosby learned their behavior from old cartoons. Problematic and dated humor aside, the viewer isn’t meant to side with the skunk in these shorts.
Nevertheless, WB piped up to say Pepe wouldn’t be appearing in Space Jam: A New Legacy. But it wasn’t because they opened their newspapers and went “EEK!” It’s because WB themselves has been quietly removing Pepe from newly produced Looney Tunes material. The decision was made years ago.
According to Deadline, a Pepe scene DID exist in an earlier version of the film, but it was hardly an endorsement of him: he was at a bar, kissing the arm of an unwilling live-action woman, who then pours her drink all over him and slaps his face, causing him to spin in his chair. At that point LeBron and Bugs enter the scene, and LeBron tells him he’s not allowed to do such things to someone without their consent. Pepe admits to them Penelope Cat has fined a restraining order against him. The scene was removed when the picture changed directors back in 2019.
When Looney Tunes Cartoons premiered last year on HBO Max, Elmer’s lack of a gun received all the attention, but no one really noticed the absence of a certain French skunk until now. The last time Le Pew has been used in anything was in an AT&T phone commercial from 2010, where Penelope was thrilled to receive a phone call from him, implying their relationship was changed to a consensual one. Already, the studio was beginning to rein him in.
So if you’re now furiously writing up a petition demanding Le Pew be reinstated, save your effort — it’s way past too late. The real question here is if Pepe appeared again and did what he always does, would you still find it funny? Probably not.