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Pépe Le Pew

Posted in WB Cartoon Companion on March 22, 2004

    One of the signature characters of Chuck Jones, this skunk with an overactive libido and fetid “Franglais” -- most of it courtesy Mike Maltese -- did not start out in the form that he is known today. In Odor-able Kitty (Jones, 1945), the character is revealed to be a fraud, with a midwestern accent and a wife with two kids. Jones wisely decided to bring back the character without these handicaps, and the fetid Frenchman won Jones his only Oscar for a Warner-released theatrical cartoon: For Scent-imental Reasons (1949) in spite of the fact that Eddie Selzer, the producer, hated the character.

    While most of the Pépe cartoons tend to look alike and have similar plots, there is enough fun in the fractured French to liven up the shorts, preventing them from becoming mere Speedy Gonzales cartoons in a different Romance language (so to speak). A funny twist on the usual cat-gets-painted routine comes in Dog Pounded (Freleng, 1954), in which Sylvester makes a bid for Tweety disguised with white paint as a skunk. His ploy succeeds in scaring away the dogs, but winds up attracting Pépe!

    The character is partly a spoof, in both name and manner, of Charles Boyer’s Pépe le Moko who appears in such films as Algiers. Pépe did, however, spoof Maurice Chevalier in at least one cartoon, Scent-imental Romeo (1951).

    There is one somewhat unusual Pépe cartoon, Odor of the Day (Davis, 1948), that has a practically silent Pépe. The short makes no use of the “Franglais” dialogue that marks the Jones efforts, though this does not, by any means, make it an inferior cartoon.

    Most Pépe cartoons in which a locale is specified take place either in France or a French-speaking area, such as New Orleans in Really Scent (1959) or Algeria/Sahara in Little Beau Pépe (1952). One cartoon, Scent-imental Over You (1947), takes place in New York City, on the Upper East Side.

    Filmography, all Jones unless otherwise noted:

        Odor-able Kitty (1945)
        Scent-imental Over You (1947)
        Odor of the Day (Davis, 1948)
        For Scent-imental Reasons (1949)
        Scent-imental Romeo (1951)
        Little Beau Pépe (1952)
        Wild Over You (1953)
        Dog Pounded (Freleng, 1954) cameo
        The Cats Bah (1954)
        Past Perfumance (1955)
        Two Scents Worth (1955)
        Heaven Scent (1956)
        Touche and Go (1957)
        Really Scent (Levitow, 1959)
        Who Scent You? (1960)
        A Scent of the Matterhorn (1961)
        Louvre Come Back to Me (1962)

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• The Warner Brothers Cartoon Companion is © (copyright) 1996 E. O. Costello. All rights reserved.

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