Pepé Le Pew is a fictional character in the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of cartoons, first introduced in 1945. A French skunk that always strolls around in Paris in the springtime, when everyone's thoughts are of "love", Pepé is constantly seeking "l'amour" of his own. However, he has one huge turnoff to any prospective mates: his malodorous scent. Furthermore, he cannot take 'no' for an answer, blissfully convinced that the girl is flirting with him, even when she physically assaults him. Pepé is stereotypically French in the way Speedy Gonzales is stereotypically Mexican.
Pepé Le Pew storylines typically involve Pepé in pursuit of what appears to be a female skunk ("petite femme skunk"). But, usually, the supposed female skunk is actually a black cat (retroactively named Penelope Pussycat) who has had a white stripe painted down her back, often by accident (as by squeezing under a fence with wet white paint). Usually Penelope runs away from him anyway because of his putrid odor or because of his overly aggressive manner.
Chuck Jones, Pepé's creator, wrote that Pepé was based (loosely) on the personality of his Termite Terrace colleague, writer Tedd Pierce, a self-styled "ladies' man" who reportedly always assumed that his infatuations were requited. Pepé's voice, provided by Mel Blanc, was based on Charles Boyer's Pépé le Moko from Algiers (1938), a remake of the 1937 French film Pépé le Moko. Eddie Selzer, animation producer—and Jones' bitterest foe—at Warners then once profanely commented that no one would laugh at those cartoons. However, this did not keep Selzer from accepting an award for one of Pepé's pictures several years later. There have been theories that Pepé was based on Maurice Chevalier. However, in the short film, Chuck Jones: Memories of Childhood, Jones says Pepé was actually based on himself, but that he was very shy with girls, and Pepé obviously was not. A prototype Pepé appears in 1947's Bugs Bunny Rides Again, but sounds similar to Porky Pig.
In the shorts, a kind of pseudo-French or Franglais is spoken and written primarily by adding "le" to English words (example: "le skunk de pew"), or by more creative mangling of French expressions with English ones, such as "Sacre Maroon!", "My sweet peanut of brittle", "Come to me, my little melon-baby collie!" or "Ah, my little darling, it is love at first sight, is it not, no?", and "It is love at sight first!" The writer responsible for these malapropisms was Michael Maltese.
- Pepé: (sings) Affaire d'amour? Affaire de coeur? Je ne sais quoi ... je vive en espoir. (Sniffs) Mmmm m mm ... un smella vous finez ... (Hums)
- Gendarme: Le kittee quel terrible odeur!!
- Proprietor: Allais Gendarme!! Allais!! Retournez-moi!! This instonce!! Oh, pauvre moi, I am ze bankrupt ... (Sobs)
- Cat/Penelope: Le mew? Le purrrrrrr.
- Proprietor: A-a-ahhh. Le pussy ferocious! Remove zot skunk! Zot cat-pole from ze premises!! Avec!!
- Cat/Penelope: (Smells skunk) Sniff, sniff, sniff-sniff, sniff-sniff.
- Pepé: Quel es? ... Ahhh ... la belle femme skunk fatale!! Tch-tch.
Blanc's voice for the character closely resembles the one he used for "Professor Le Blanc", the harried violin instructor on The Jack Benny Program.
Relationship with Penelope PussycatEdit
In some episodes, Penelope Pussycat has attempted to help Pepé get rid of his odor.
The Academy Award-winning 1949 short For Scent-imental Reasons ended with an accidentally painted (and now terrified) Pepé being aggressively pursued by a madly smitten Penelope (who has been dunked in dirty water, leaving her with a ratty appearance and a developing head cold, completely clogging up her nose). Penelope locks him up inside a perfume shop, hiding the key down her chest, and proceeds to turn the tables on the now imprisoned and effectively odorless Pepé.
In another short, Little Beau Pepé, Pepé, attempting to find the most arousing cologne with which to impress Penelope, sprays a combination of perfumes and colognes upon himself. This resulted in something close to a love-potion, leading Penelope to fall madly in love with Pepé in an explosion of hearts. Pepé is revealed to be extremely frightened of overly-affectionate women ("But Madame!"), much to his dismay, as Penelope quickly captures him and smothers him in more love than even he could imagine.
And yet again, in Really Scent, Pepé removes his odor by locking himself in a deodorant plant so Penelope (Or known as "Fabrette", in this instance a black cat with an unfortunate birthmark) would like him (this is also the only episode that Pepé is acutely aware of his own odor, having checked the word Pew in the dictionary). However, Penelope (who in this picture is actually trying to have a relationship with Pepé because all the male cats of New Orleans take her to be a skunk and run like blazes, but is appalled by his odor) had decided to make her own odor match her appearance and had locked herself in a Limburger cheese factory. Now more forceful and demanding, Penelope quickly corners the terrified Pepé, who, after smelling her new stench, wants nothing more than to escape the amorous female cat. Unfortunately, she will not take "no" for an answer and proceeds to chase Pepé off into the distance, with no intention of letting him escape. (Credited to Abe Levitow, this cartoon is the only short in the Pepé Le Pew series not directed by Chuck Jones, save the debatable Odor of the Day—see below).
Although Pepé usually mistakes Penelope for a female skunk, in Past Perfumance, he realises that she is a cat when her stripe washes off. Undeterred, he proceeds to cover his white stripe with black paint, taking the appearance of a cat before resuming the chase.
Relationships with other creaturesEdit
Pepé generally make passes at conventional house cats, although three pictures do break the usual formula:
- Odor-able Kitty (1945). In his initial cartoon, Pepé (technically he is a different character because he is eventually revealed to be an American-accented family man named Henry) unwittingly pursues a male cat who disguises himself as a skunk.
- Scent-imental Over You (1947) has Pepé pursuing a female dog who has donned a skunk pelt (mistaking it for a fur coat) for a Park Avenue dog show.
- Wild Over You (1953). Pepé attempts to seduce a Wild Cat that has escaped a zoo and painted itself to look like a skunk to escape its keepers. This cartoon is notable for not only diverging from the Pepé/female-black-cat dynamic, but also rather cheekily showing that Pepé likes to be beaten up.
Chuck Jones first introduced the character (originally named Stinky) in the 1945 short Odor-able Kitty. This differs from later entries in several areas: Pepé spends his time in (unknowing) pursuit of a male cat, who has deliberately disguised himself as a skunk for reasons of his own; and in the closing gag, Pepé is revealed to actually be a philandering American skunk named Henry (complete with wife and children!). For the remaining cartoons Jones directed, Pepé retained his accent, nationality, and bachelor status throughout, and the object of his pursuit was always (or nearly always) female.
A possible second cameo appearance is at the end of Fair and Worm-er (Chuck Jones, 1946). This skunk doesn't speak, but looks identical (or is a close relation) and shares the same mode of travel and a slight variation of Pepé's hopping music.
A skunk often identified as Pepé appears in the Art Davis-directed cartoon Odor of the Day (1948); in this entry, the theme of romantic pursuit is missing as the skunk (in a nonspeaking role, save for a shared "Gesundheit!" at the finish) vies with a male dog for lodging accommodations on a bitterly cold night. This should be noted as one of the two cartoons where the character, if this is indeed Pepé, used his scent-spray as a deliberate weapon: delivered from his tail in a machine gun-like fashion. The other one is Touché and Go, where he frees himself from the jaws of a shark.
Pepé himself made a more obvious cameo in Dog Pounded (1954), where he was attracted to Sylvester after the latter tried to get around a pack of guard dogs, in his latest attempt to capture and eat Tweety Bird, by painting a white stripe down his back (in his only appearance in a Freleng short).
For some unknown reason, Penelope is always mute (more precisely - does only natural cat sounds) in these stories; only the self-deluded Pepé speaks (several non-recurring human characters are given minimal dialogue, often nothing more than a repulsed, "Le pew!").
Pepé was, at one point, integral to the storyline for the movie Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Originally, once Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and their human co-stars arrived in Paris, Pepé was to give them a mission briefing inside a gift shop. Perhaps because of the group receiving their equipment in Area 52, Pepé's scene was cut, and in the final film, he plays only a bit part, dressed like a police officer, who tries to help one of the human co-stars (played by Brendan Fraser) after his co-star (played by Jenna Elfman) is kidnapped. However, some unused animation of him and Penelope appears during the end credits, thus giving viewers a rare glimpse at his cut scene, and his cut scene appears in the movie's print adaptations. Pepé also appears in Space Jam, where his voice has curiously been changed into an approximation of Maurice Chevalier, as opposed to more traditional vocalization.
Pepé was going to have a cameo in Who Framed Roger Rabbit but was later dropped for reasons unknown.
Pepé occasionally and seldom appeared on Tiny Toon Adventures as the mentor to the character Fifi Le Fume, and also made a cameo appearance in the Histeria! episode "When America Was Young". Pepé also has a small cameo in the Goodfeathers segment, "We're No Pigeons", on Animaniacs.
In the 1995 animated short Carrotblanca, a parody/homage of the classic film Casablanca, both Pepé and Penelope appear: Pepé (voiced by Greg Burson) as Captain Renault and Penelope (voiced by Tress MacNeille) as "Kitty Ketty", modeled after Ingrid Bergman's performance as Ilsa. Unlike the character's other appearances in cartoons, Penelope (as Kitty) has extensive speaking parts in Carrotblanca.
In Loonatics Unleashed, a human descendant of Pepé, called Pierre Le Pew has appeared as one of the villains of the second season of the show. Additionally, Pepé and Penelope Pussycat appear as cameos in a display of Otto the Odd, in the series. In the episode The World is My Circus, Lexi Bunny complains that "this Pepé Le Pew look is definitely not me" after being mutated into a skunk-like creature.
A 2009 Valentine's Day-themed AT&T commercial brings Pepé and Penelope's relationship up to date, depicting Penelope not as repulsed by Pepé, but madly in love with him. The commercial begins with Penelope deliberately painting a white stripe on her own back; when her cell phone rings and displays Pepé's picture, Penelope's lovestruck beating heart bulges beneath her chest in a classic cartoon image.
Pepe Le Pew appears in The Looney Tunes Show voiced by Rene Auberjonois in Season 1 and by Jeff Bergman in Season 2.
In the Cheers episode where Carla is circulating a petition to have the late Eddie LeBec's number (38) retired, one of the signers is surprised his friend doesn't know who LeBec was: "He was that cartoon skunk."
Dave Chappelle mentions Pepé in a standup routine.
In the third Episode of the first Season of the Gilmore girls Drella compares Michel with Pepé.
He was mentioned in the song Lookin' Boy
In the Drawn Together episode Requiem for a Reality Show, the character Toot is trying to lose weight and Xander tells her to stick her fingers down her throat and vomit up all her food, to which she replies "Well, I suppose if I can put them in Pepé Le Pew I can put them in my mouth". Xander believes she was involved in a fling with Pepé, but she tells him "...no, not the Pepé Le Pew, my Pepé Le Pew".
Pepé Le Pew shortsEdit
(Directed by Chuck Jones unless otherwise indicated)
- Odor-Able Kitty (1945)
- Scent-imental Over You (1947)
- Odor of the Day (1948, the only cartoon in which Pepé is not a "lovebird" nor does he have a French accent; directed by Arthur Davis)
- For Scent-imental Reasons (1949), Academy Award
- Scentimental Romeo (1951)
- Little Beau Pepé (1952)
- Wild Over You (1953)
- The Cat's Bah (1954)
- Past Perfumance (1955)
- Two Scents Worth (1955)
- Heaven Scent (1956)
- Touché and Go (1957)
- Really Scent (1959) (directed by Abe Levitow with Jones' animators, etc.)
- Who Scent You? (1960)
- A Scent of The Matterhorn (1961)
- Louvre Come Back to Me! (1962)