Review by Roger Ash
One of Warner Brothers’ supporting cartoon characters finally gets his day on the Looney Tunes Super Stars: Pepé Le Pew DVD. Created by director Chuck Jones, Pepé Le Pew is the popular French love-addled skunk with the voice of Charles Boyer who pursues cats he mistakenly believes are skunks. Pepé was always a favorite of mine growing up, as he was confident with women in ways I could only dream of. And he had the best lines (though they would guarantee you a shot of pepper spray if you used them in real life).
This single disc contains all 15 of Pepé’s starring cartoons plus “Dog Pounded”, a Sylvester and Tweety cartoon that features a Pepé cameo, and “Odor of the Day”, directed by Art Davis. Some people consider “Odor of the Day” a Pepé Le Pew cartoon, but I disagree. While it does star a skunk, he only bears a passing resemblance to Pepé and features none of his characteristics.
As with most animated characters, it took a few cartoons before Pepé Le Pew fully became the character we know today. In his first cartoon, “Odor-able Kitty”, Pepé actually pursues a male cat, and at the end of the cartoon, it’s revealed that he’s only pretending to be French and that he has a wife and kids! From his second cartoon on, he is truly French, and the wife and children are never mentioned again. But “Scent-imental Over You” is still different as it’s the one time Pepé pursues a dog who looks like a skunk.
All the pieces finally come together in his third film, “For Scent-imental Reasons”, which won the Academy Award. This cartoon, which takes place in a perfume shop, features a marvelously animated pantomime scene between the cat, who has locked herself in a display case, and Pepé. The ending also introduces a running gag in his cartoons. After falling in a barrel of water, the cat takes a good look at Pepé and decides he’s not so bad after all. She chases him and he runs. He enjoys the chase, but he enjoys being chased about as much as the cats he pursues do.
Probably my favorite cartoon in the series, as well as a good representation of Pepé Le Pew cartoons overall, is the fourth, “Scent-imental Romeo”. This time out, Pepé is a zoo animal in Paris. The opening is filled with language jokes, either involving his broken English or faux French. These can be as simple as putting “le” in front of a word to make it French — cats say “le meow”, lions go “le roar”, and whistles sound “le tweet” — to elaborate wordplay, such as the sign which reads “No Avance Nourishment Aux Pigeons” (don’t feed the pigeons). The cat in this cartoon paints a stripe down her back so she can enter his enclosure and eat the food that’s intended for him. Little does she know what she’s in for.
When Pepe sees the lady “skunk” in his cage, he prepares for a rendezvous by pulling down shades that make his enclosure look like a living room. Since this is an outside enclosure, where these blinds hang from is anyone’s guess. He attempts to woo her with champagne and song, but she runs off. He follows her into a nearby park to discover where she is “secreting” herself. In the process, he startles a poodle, is whacked on the head with club by the cat, and highly disturbs a man in the tunnel of love. Finally catching up with the cat, Pepé serenades her with a rendition of “Baby Face” and attempts to win her with his ability to tango. This only gets him smacked on the head with a stick again.
As he attempts to pursue her, he is caught by the zookeeper and returned to his cage. Pepé plaintively calls, “sweeting is such part sorrow” as he watches helplessly as the cat runs away. The oddness of the cartoons only increases in later entries with the people becoming much more stylized and the backgrounds by Philip Deguard becoming less realistic and more representational, with bold blocks of color behind simply drawn landscapes.
Some like to write off Pepé Le Pew cartoons as formulaic: a cat gets a stripe painted down her back, Pepé mistakes her for a skunk and pursues her, only to be rebuffed repeatedly. While that recipe is used in most of Pepé’s starring roles, it is what director Jones, writer Michael Maltese, and the animators do with that basic premise that makes these cartoons fun. In much the same way, Tweety and Sylvester, Coyote and Road Runner, and Foghorn Leghorn cartoons (for example) are formulaic, yet the creators mine comedy gold in their films.
Here’s a clip that shows just one of his pursuits:
Pepé travels the world in his cartoons, from the French Alps to the desert, from a movie studio to a luxury ocean liner, from Paris to New Orleans. Along the way, we learn that he can swing through the trees like Tarzan, he can run underwater (being a skunk, he reminds us, he’s learned to hold his breath), he is an expert skier, and his measured, bouncing pace will always keep him near his intended, no matter how fast she may run. This collection of cartoons ably shows that while there is a certain formula to his cartoons, Pepé himself is as well-rounded a character as any in the Warner Brothers stable.
Not that all of the cartoons are of the same quality. The best are penned by frequent Jones collaborator Michael Maltese. The others, including some written by Jones himself, seem more like a series of gags than a fully developed story. Jones directed all but one of Pepé’s starring vehicles, the exception being “Really Scent”, directed by Abe Levitow, an animator who worked with Jones.
The quality of the prints of the cartoons varies quite a bit, with some looking quite nice while others definitely show their age. All of the cartoons are available in standard format with a few (those made after 1953) also presented in widescreen.
Overall, this is my favorite of the Looney Tunes Super Stars discs. Part of that is simply because I’ve always enjoyed Pepé Le Pew. The other reason is that the cartoons on this disc, including 14 new to DVD, present all of his starring roles. This gives both the fan and the casual viewer a great opportunity to see the birth and development of one of Warner Brothers’ cartoon stars. He may not be as big as Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck, but as this DVD reminds us, Pepé Le Pew is a fantastic character and deserves his moment in the spotlight.
(The studio provided a review copy.)