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After a 25-year hiatus, the Space Jam franchise will look a little different when it returns to the basketball court this summer with A New Legacy — and that's not just because LeBron James is stepping in for Michael Jordan this time around.
For one thing, the long-awaited sequel will not feature Pepe Le Pew, the overly romantic French skunk who strikes a dissonant chord in the post-#MeToo era. According to Deadline, the handsy character was supposedly set to appear in the film's black-and-white Casablanca homage, where, at Rick's Cafe, he is slapped by Greice Santo (Jane the Virgin). The sequence was reportedly filmed in the summer of 2019 but, per Deadline, ultimately ended up on the cutting-room floor over a year ago. The decision apparently isn't sitting well with Santo, a past victim of sexual harassment, who saw the scene as a chance to show how antiquated Le Pew's antics are to modern audiences.
“This was such a big deal for Greice to be in this movie," a spokesperson for the actress told Deadline. "Even though Pepe is a cartoon character, if anyone was going to slap a sexual harasser like him, Greice wished it would be her. Now the scene is cut, and she doesn’t have that power to influence the world through younger generations who’ll be watching Space Jam 2, to let younger girls and younger boys know that Pepe’s behavior is unacceptable."
While it didn't have any specifics on Le Pew's appearance, The Hollywood Reporter did confirm that the character has been axed from the movie and will not be a part of any future WB television projects. It should be noted that the edit came long before Charles M. Blow's recent New York Times column, in which Blow writes that the animated Parisian skunk "normalized rape culture."
SYFY WIRE has reached out to Warner Bros. for comment.
Banishing Pepe isn't the only conscious change A New Legacy is making. The film is also updating its depiction of Lola Bunny, who made her Looney Tunes debut in the first movie (where she was voiced by Kath Soucie). Speaking with Entertainment Weekly, director Malcolm D. Lee explained that Lola "was very sexualized" in the 1996 original and compared her to the likes of Betty Boop and Jessica Rabbit.
"This is a kids' movie, why is she in a crop top? It just felt unnecessary, but at the same time there's a long history of that in cartoons," he said. "This is 2021. It's important to reflect the authenticity of strong, capable female characters. ... So we reworked a lot of things, not only her look, like making sure she had an appropriate length on her shorts and was feminine without being objectified, but gave her a real voice. For us, it was, 'Let's ground her athletic prowess, her leadership skills, and make her as full a character as the others.'"
To drive home Lola's status as a strong female hero, the follow-up introduces her among the Amazons of the Wonder Woman universe. "We wanted to meet her with the Amazons, trying to find greener pastures for herself," Lee added. "As she says in the movie, there's more to her than just being a Tune."
Fellow Looney Tune character Speedy Gonzales has also come under scrutiny for perpetuating what critics say are negative stereotypes, and comedian Gabriel Iglesias — who voices him in the new Space Jam — took to Twitter to chime in, saying: "I am the voice of Speedy Gonzales in the new Space Jam. Does this mean they are gonna try to cancel Fluffy too? U can’t catch me cancel culture. I’m the fastest mouse in all of Mexico."
Featuring LeBron James in the role once inhabited by Michael Jordan, Space Jam: A New Legacy arrives in theaters and on HBO Max on July 16.