Pepe Le Pew absence from 'Space Jam 2' prompts 'cancel culture' debate
Looney Tunes (AFP)

French skunk Pepe Le Pew will not appear in an upcoming "Space Jam" sequel and is not planned to feature in any new "Looney Tunes" cartoons, sources familiar with the productions told AFP Wednesday, as a debate swirls over sexism and "cancel culture" in Hollywood.

The lovelorn cartoon animal -- who spends most of his time in luckless pursuit of a female cat who is repelled by his advances and noxious smell -- hit the headlines last week after a New York Times columnist said Pepe "normalized rape culture."

Days later, it emerged that a live-action scene for this summer's cartoon-hybrid "Space Jam: A New Legacy" featuring Pepe had been filmed in 2019, but will not appear in the final cut -- prompting claims that the decades-old character was the latest victim of heavy-handed political correctness.

"Does this mean they are gonna try to cancel Fluffy too?" tweeted Gabriel Iglesias, who voices Speedy Gonzales in the "Space Jam" sequel, referring to himself by a nickname.

"U can't catch me cancel culture. I'm the fastest mouse in all of Mexico."

The scene would have featured a typically amorous Pepe getting his comeuppance, but was abandoned when the film's director changed and had never reached the stage of rendering the skunk's animations.

There are currently no plans for Pepe to appear in Warner Bros' "Looney Tunes Cartoons" or upcoming series "Bugs Bunny Builders" and "Tweety Mysteries," although the decisions were made by the shows' individual producers. The character has not been officially banned or retired.

Decisions not to feature Pepe had been made months before the New York Times article, the sources said.

The Times column came in response to last week's announcement that six Dr. Seuss books are being pulled because of imagery now considered racist.

The move followed similar debate over problematic elements of classic films including "Gone With the Wind," "Peter Pan" and "Dumbo," which have all recently seen content warnings added, or been removed or recategorized on streaming platforms.

"Looney Tunes," with characters including Bugs Bunny and Speedy Gonzales, date back to the 1930s, when the brief humorous cartoons would play in theaters along with Warner Bros movies.

They have been reincarnated multiple times, including in the 1996 crossover family comedy "Space Jam," which cast the cartoon characters alongside basketball legend Michael Jordan.

The sequel, out July, will see current basketball superstar LeBron James join forces with Bugs and the gang.

Alterations have been made to modernize the cartoons in keeping with shifting cultural attitudes.

At the launch of streaming platform HBO Max last year, "Looney Tunes Cartoons" producer Peter Browngardt said cartoon hunter Elmer Fudd would no longer tote a rifle, telling The New York Times: "We're not doing guns."