Why you won’t see lecherous skunk Pepé Le Pew in LeBron James’ ‘Space Jam’ movie
Turns out the folks behind “Space Jam: A New Legacy” made the decision to exclude Pepé Le Pew from the upcoming movie long before a New York Times columnist declared the animated French skunk to be a normalizer of rape culture.
But had he appeared, this newer incarnation of the cartoon character would have been spun as an example of what not to do when engaging with a woman.
The footage that bit the dust had the animated Le Pew smooching and slobbering all over — and being rebuffed by — a live-action woman at a bar styled after Rick’s Cafe in “Casablanca,” according to Deadline, which reported the following details from the axed scene:
“Pepé, playing a bartender, starts hitting on a woman at the bar played by [Greice] Santo,” the outlet said Sunday. “He begins kissing her arm, which she pulls back, then slamming Pepé into the chair next to hers. She then pours her drink on Pepé, and slaps him hard, sending him spinning in a stool, which is then stopped by LeBron James’ hand.”
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In the cut footage, Le Pew also reportedly mentioned a restraining order obtained by Penelope Pussycat, the usual object of his desires, and James informs the skunk that he can’t grab other Looney Tunes characters without their consent. It all sounds like it would have been a firm message against sexual harassment and sexual assault.
The scene reportedly was shot in June 2019 by filmmaker Terence Nance, who was replaced in July 2019 by director Malcolm D. Lee. There was no Le Pew footage in a rough cut of the new film viewed three months ago by Deadline sources.
Actress Santo, who played the unnamed woman in the bar, found herself on the cutting-room floor along with Le Pew.
“Even though Pepé is a cartoon character, if anyone was going to slap a sexual harasser like him, Greice wished it would be her,” a Santo representative said in a statement to Deadline. “Now the scene is cut, and she doesn’t have that power to influence the world through younger generations who’ll be watching ‘Space Jam 2,’ to let younger girls and younger boys know that Pepé’s behavior is unacceptable.”
Santo’s rep did not reply to The Times’ request for comment.
Le Pew, who was voiced by Mel Blanc in old Looney Tunes cartoons, was brought to life in the first “Space Jam” by Canadian actor Maurice LaMarche. In the 1996 movie starring Michael Jordan, the skunk played on the star’s basketball team along with other Looney Tunes characters.
New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow mentioned Le Pew’s behavior in a column last week addressing six problematic Dr. Seuss books in the context of his childhood experiences with “toys and dolls, cartoons and children’s shows, fairy tales and children’s books” that he said elevated white people at the expense of Black folks.
“Some of the first cartoons I can remember included Pepé Le Pew, who normalized rape culture; Speedy Gonzales, whose friends helped popularize the corrosive stereotype of the drunk and lethargic Mexicans; and Mammy Two Shoes, a heavyset Black maid who spoke in a heavy accent,” he wrote.
The first photos of “Space Jam: New Legacy” starring Lakers star LeBron James were released on Thursday from Entertainment Weekly.
But Blow was hardly the first to slap that description on Le Pew. In his 2000 special, “Killin’ Them Softly,” comic Dave Chappelle talked about watching old cartoons with his nephew, only to be surprised when the skunk’s behavior didn’t live up to his memories.
“Good God, what kind of ... rapist is this guy?,” Chappelle joked.
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