Anyone who grew up in the 90s will remember the movie Space Jam, the live-action/animated hybrid film which brought together the likes of the NBA with the antics of the wacky Looney Tunes characters that we all know and love. Whether it truly holds up however, is an altogether different animal. The plot, albeit simple, was absolutely bonkers. In case you have never heard of Space Jam (and why wouldn’t you?), the film is about tiny aliens from Moron Mountain, an amusement-park style planet ran by the ruthless Mr. Swackhammer (Voiced by Danny DeVito of all people), who seems to be struggling with bringing in customers for his rides. The aliens that show up to the park find themselves disenchanted with the attractions there. As one bratty alien tells his dad “This place stinks! Don’t bring me here anymore, right?”, a phrase that the corrupt, cigar-chomping proprietor has heard one too many times. “We need new attractions!”, he declares to his assistants, the nerdlucks (Yes, those are their names), who are more than happy to please. So what do they do? They decide to go visit the Looney Tunes in order to kidnap them and bring them back as nothing more than entertainment. Of course, the Looney Tunes are not going without a fight, and convince the nerdlucks to give them a chance to defend themselves. How do they do it? With a game of basketball. Enter Michael Jordan, who has retired from the game in order to play Baseball (which actually happened in real life), though not as skilled at hitting a ball as he was slamming dunks. After a relaxing golf game with Larry Bird and Bill Murray (No joke), Jordan ends up getting sucked into a golf hole down into “Looney Tune Land”, where Bugs Bunny desperately asks him for help.
Turns out, the Nerdlucks have stolen the talents from some of the best players in the NBA (Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Muggsy Bogues, Shawn Bradley, and Larry Johnson) to become giant monstrous beings dubbed “The Monstars” (A combination of “Monsters” and “Superstars” according to Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and Sylvester), which ends up being a big challenge for the Looney Tunes to face. I hope you are still with me, because that is only the beginning of this insanity! A plot like that could only be conjured up by some loon-atic (Excuse the pun) who had nothing better to do at Warner Bros. Studios and just decided to play some Mad Libs with the execs, only for them to take his idea seriously. That could only be further from the truth.
Before it became such a beloved 90s classic, Space Jam was a series of Nike superbowl commercials with Jordan and Bugs as they fought Marvin the Martian and his crew of bird aliens, directed by Joe Pytka (who eventually directed this movie). It seems that the commercials were thought to be good enough for a feature-film (though you would not be hard-pressed to call it a feature-length commercial), and it seemed to have worked, as it grossed $250 million worldwide, and became the tenth highest-grossing film of 1996. It even has a sequel entitled Space Jam: A New Legacy, though starring LeBron James in place of Jordan, just released today! As far as 90s culture goes, Space Jam has found a place in pop culture history and is fondly remembered as a nostalgia trip. Its soundtrack was an absolute smash, going 6-times platinum and being one of the best-selling albums in music history. It is hard not to remember its memetic theme by the Quad City DJ’s set to compilations of Jordan’s basketball footage, nor can you think of R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly”, which opens the movie and shows a young Jordan staying up late to shoot some hoops outdoors, or even Seal’s rendition of Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle” set to Jordan slamming dunks in the Tunes’ gymnasium as they look on in admiration. But does it really stand the test of time?
As someone who has watched it multiple times as a kid all the way through adulthood, I can just say that it is not as good as my kid self was led to believe, and I find myself growing more disenchanted in it with each viewing. Baffling premise aside, it is actually a cheesy product of its time, made embarrassingly awkward by its direction and script. The amount of facial close-ups this movie has is enough to make me cringe, as the film likes to be all in-your-face, literally and figuratively. The wackiness of it just does not slow down (I get that it is supposed to be a Looney Tunes movie, but I do not need to see awkward facial expressions if I ever decide to pause). The effects should be amazing, but they border between bad green screen and feel copy-and-paste, some literally, only showing its age in the animation; something that Who Framed Roger Rabbit has perfected and continues to amaze to this day.
Of course, let’s talk about Lola Bunny. While she was made to be a romantic interest for Bugs. It seems that she serves no purpose than to be a sex symbol for the characters (and teenage boys) to ogle over. Though her character has been reduced to pure looniness in future projects, and was even toned down for the sequel, so it is clear that her character had some sort of impact.
No, Space Jam is not a good movie in the least, but it is worth revisiting for the sake of pure nostalgic goodness!