Saturday, 9 February 2013

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Love Stinks

Pepé Le Pew.

In English, that translates to Pepé The Skunk. At least according to the fractured French that creator Chuck Jones and his gag man Michael Maltese invented. Panicked residents upon sight of Pepé cry, "LE PEW!" or "LE KITTEE QUEL TERRIBLE ODEUR!" or "LE YIPE!" Ah, the language of love! This probably had some bearing on my low test scoring back in high school French class. 

Truthfully when I was younger, I wasn't really into Pepé Le Pew. It's like somehow I felt I wasn't sophisticated enough to be enjoying it. But as you mature (and I use that term loosely), you realize these cartoons are about language, lust and the id impulses you always kept in check. Pepé Le Pew is id personified. A horny little skunk with narcissistic tendencies. The perfect subject for a Valentine's Day-themed blog post!

Chuck Jones gave conflicting stories as to Pepé's origins. At one point he said he was based on Termite Terrace co-worker Tedd Pierce, a writer who thought of himself as a bit of a ladies' man. More recently he said Pepé was based on himself - a representation of his dormant id, like Buddy Love in 'The Nutty Professor'. The voice (by Mel Blanc, natch) was based on a character played by Charles Boyer in 1938's 'Algiers', a remake of a French film called 'Pépé le Moko'.

He was first featured in 1945's 'Odor-Able Kitty' (with a different, less sophisticated name), and it didn't follow the well-known formula of most Pepé cartoons we know today. Perhaps most jarringly different was his relationship status.

On the rebound in 1947, Pepé was seen dating again, experimenting with different species.

Five years later, in the Oscar-winning 'For Scent-imental Reasons' (1949), the regular set-up was established with the introduction of "la belle femme skunk fatale", who is really just a cat with a white stripe down her back. She became officially known as Penelope, despite the fact she has different names throughout the series. Here we see Pepé as full-on lothario, at times resorting to rather awful mind-games in order to win over his "little peanut of brittle".

In 1953, Pepé's relationship was "open", as he revealed a fondness for the rough stuff.

By 1954, Pepé only had eyes for Penelope again, but developed a few psychological issues, as evidenced by the conclusion of 'The Cat's Bah'. Note how he also became 'The Continental', long before Christopher Walken.

I've always admired how Chuck Jones created the coolest and most collected of cartoon characters, who could still be vulnerable, but not at the expense of their cool. His version of Bugs Bunny was confident enough to play the fool at times. And he applied that trait to Pepé Le Pew as well in later outings. My favourite cartoon is called 'Two Scents Worth', because it best displays these attributes and turned Pepé into a more physical comedian. Also it has my favourite line - something about the "ack-ack" of love.

As is the case with many older cartoons, you have to watch Pepé Le Pew as a product of his time. People have referred to the cartoons as being sexist. Do a Google search (or don't) and you'll find some interesting memes.

Admitedly there are some horrifying connotations in some of those above entries. But I like to include a seldom seen 1959 cartoon as a point of reference, where Pepé isn't portrayed as sexual instigator. In this cartoon (the only one that isn't directed by Chuck Jones), it's Penelope (or Fabrette, in this case) who initiates the chase. But it ends up a mutual love that these two have for each other, and it's sweet to see the extent they're willing to go to make their relationship work.

Based on the last official Pepé Le Pew cartoons, concluding with 1962's 'Louvre Come Back To Me!' (which I'll highlight in a separate post), it was unclear as to whether or not Pepé and Penelope were still an item.

But then 47 years later, this conveniently-timed AT&T commercial confirmed everything we had secretly hoped.

Vive l'amour!

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