Space Jam (1996)

Posted by on Dec 22, 2011 in Welcome to Our World | 0 comments

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Disclaimer: Some violence and destruction often involving ACME products.

It seems like a crime that the most beloved and prized of Warner Brothers’ creations, the Looney Tunes, never managed to land a feature film until 1996. While Disney’s characters (Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, etc.) spent eons appealing to the younger, adolescent crowd, the Looney Tunes celebrated similar success, though through different means and to a broader audience. That broad appeal was the result of their riffs on pop culture, slapstick gags, and a touch of violence. Though the film grossed $200 million and its soundtrack sold 6 million copies, Space Jam has only moments of typical Looney Tunes brilliance. The rest of the time it stoops to a combination of sports movie clichés and Michael Jordan ogling, which in the 90s were actually quite popular.

The concept for the film stemmed Jam3from Nike advertisements that teamed Jordan with Bugs Bunny against Marvin and other Martians. The movie presents two different worlds: the “real” world and the animated world – the latter of which actually seems more accurate. It presents an amusement park called Moron Mountain (a poke at Space Mountain?) on a distant animated planet run by a cigar-chomping gremlin (Danny DeVito). He realizes he needs to add better attractions and decides to capture the Looney Tunes. So his five little minions take them prisoner, and provide them one chance for freedom. Since they’re small, Bugs requests a basketball game. While learning about the game, these little creatures steal the talent of pro basketball studs Muggsy Bogues, Larry Johnson, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, and Shawn Bradley. So to have any chance of winning, the Tunes look to contract His Airness.

“But I’m a baseball player now,” Jordan responds to Bugs.

“Right, and I’m a Shakespearean actor,” Mr. Bunny snidely retorts.

The movie coincides with Sir Jam2Altitude’s return to the NBA – the first one, that is – and dedicates its first portion to Mike’s childhood dreams; his college, NBA, and Olympic highlights; and his fledgling baseball career. In this sense, it’s a little bit biopic, and Jordan can act surprisingly well (though I’m guessing producers cared more about seeing him dunk a basketball 194 times in tempo with an R. Kelly slow jam). Producer Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Stripes, and Meatballs) also threw in a few other comedic characters: Wayne Knight, as MJ’s assistant, and Bill Murray, a golf buddy and fellow Chicagoan who dreams of being in the NBA.

“It’s because I’m white, isn’t it?” Bill asks Jordan.

“No it’s not; Larry’s white,” Mike responds while pointing to Larry Bird.

“Larry is not white; Larry is clear,” Murray states quite mater-of-factly.

The majority of the experience is that of a typical sports movie. The “big game,” often the most elementary of sports movie elements, sadly comprises 30 minutes of the movie – but thankfully they play by Looney Tunes rules, meaning there are no rules. The “secret stuff” sequence during halftime might make you squirm a bit, since it now seems like an uneasy reference to steroids.

“This goes against everything I learned in health class,” Daffy says.

“You wanna win, or not?” Air Jordan says.

The gang’s all here, from Taz, Tweety, Daffy, Elmer, Sylvester, and Wiley, to Roadrunner, Foghorn, Gossimer, Porky, Yosemite, Pepe, and Michigan Frog. They even threw in a new character, Lola Bunny, a saucy and independent minx to catch Bugs’ eye. The filmmakers brought advanced animation approaches to our favorite characters to give them increased shadow, depth, and dimension for more modern looks.

The movie’s saving grace, besides some funny Murray moments, is its self-reflexive comments. This establishes the animated characters as real, and provides for some booming laughs. Daffy and Bugs have a conversation of this nature concerning the name of the team, which Daffy suggests to be The Ducks. “The Ducks? What kind of Mickey Mouse organization would name their team the ducks?” Bugs snipes. The duo later complains about never seeing percentages from merchandising (their faces are on mugs and T-shirts after all), as well as working with dogs and children. If the movie contained more of the Looney Tunes’ signature zany moments, and less tongue-out basketball, we’d all feel better about it.

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