Space Jam in the #MeToo Era

Recent meme, addressing the
new-look Lola
What does Space Jam, a kids flick from the 1990s starring Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny and a lot of basketball sequences have to do with feminism? Quite a bit, if recent reports about the upcoming sequel are accurate. First, so-called fans went into a frenzy about the changes made to Lola, a character first introduced into the Looney Tunes universe in Space Jam, who then went on to become a staple in the suite of characters. And now Warner Brothers have decided to retire the sexually aggressive skunk, and his scenes are rumoured to have been cut from Space Jam 2.

Lola Bunny is an athletic female rabbit. When she debuted in Space Jam, she was one, the only female on the team, two the only competent basketball player on the Toon Squad other than Michael Jordan, and three, Bugs Bunny found her wildly attractive and the film made rather a big deal of this. Subsequently, Lola has appeared in The Looney Tunes Show and The New Looney Tunes. She appears regularly in Looney Tunes comics. Generally, Bugs' affections are reciprocal and Lola is a an official “cannon” character, unlike Bugs' previous love interest, Honey Bunny, who never had a speaking role in any animated shorts. (Honey Bunny was seen in comic books and the occasional bit of Looney Tunes merchandise prior to 1996, however, she was never given anywhere near the same status as Lola.) Originally, the creators of Space Jam wanted Lola's character to be a tomboy, however, they feature that she would be 'too masculine' and decided to emphasise her feminine attributes as well. (In other words, she became an anthropomorphic rabbit with eyelashes and breasts.) The latest incarnation of the character seems to be to be truer to the original idea of the character, and to the idea that we can actually have a female Looney Tunes character whose chief role is something other than whether or not the male characters find her attractive.

Typically, female characters have been few and far between in the Looney Tunes universe. Aside from Lola there's Granny, the tough talking owner of Tweety (and occasionally Sylvester,) Prissy, and Petunia Pig who has only been seen sporadically since the early 1940s when Bugs and Daffy became more popular than her love interest Porky. Later creations from Warner Brothers, such as Tiny Toon Adventures (which focused on a younger generation of characters,) addressed the gender gap slightly introducing female characters such a Babs Bunny (who was the lead chaalongside Buster Bunny,) Elmyra Duff, Shirley the Loon, Sweetie Pie, and Fifi La Fume. The characters were typically portrayed respectfully, unlike that other major female Looney Tunes character, Penelope Pussycat. 

Penelope's character was initially considered so unimportant that she had no name, and no voice, apart from the occasional growl or meow. (She was named retrospectively, at about the time when she started to appear on Looney Tunes merchandise.) A piebald cat, her role in the animated shorts was to somehow find herself with a white stripe down her back, where she would then be mistaken for a lady skunk and pursued aggressively and relentlessly by Pepe La Pew who neither seemed to notice, or care, that she wasn't interested in him. Even when I was a kid, I never really found Pepe Le Pew funny. Well, except occasionally when I'd point to him on the TV screen and declare that he was just like a boy from school who never left me alone. Or sometimes I'd just shout, 'That's [name of boy]!' Typically, though, the Penelope/Pepe Le Pew shorts were just unwelcome intrusions that prevented me from enjoying Bugs and Daffy arguing over whether it was rabbit season or duck season, or Wile E Coyote falling off a cliff. 

As far as I am concerned, Pepe Le Pew will not be missed. That said, the decision on Warner Bros part to retire the character comes with one big--and important--peice of collateral damage. Space Jam 2 was set to have a scene where Pepe Le Pew is confronted--and slapped--over his disgusting behaviour when he attempts to kiss a character played by Greice Santo. Another character in the film then tells him that he cannot grab other Looney Tunes without their consent. That scene has subsequently been deleted from the final cut of the film.

It would have been the perfect ending to the career of Pepe La Pew.


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