‘Space Jam (1996)’- Throwback Review

If you’re in the group of people who grew up in the late 80s and ‘90s, I can guarantee one movie that must’ve watched on repeat during your childhood is the animated/live-action hybrid, Space Jam. A product of its time, this sees the unexpected crossover of one of Basketball’s greatest players and Looney Tunes. It might not be a movie everyone will like. But as someone who regained their nostalgia for this, I don’t care what other say when it rules in its own right. 

What’s the Story: When amusement park owner, Mr. Swackhammer (voiced by Danny DeVito), is in need to get more visitors to the declining Moron Mountain, he thinks the best idea is to have his minions, the Nerdlucks, travel to Earth to kidnap Bugs Bunny (voiced by Billy West) and the rest of the Looney Tunes to make them the new attractions. However, Bugs challenges the aliens to a basketball game, and they agreed to do so until they steal the mojo of NBA players to make them bigger and stronger, calling themselves the Monstars. The only solution is to enlist the help of Michael Jordan to help them win the match, despite returning from the sport.  

Space Jam was one of many movies I remembered watching a lot when I was a kid since I had the classic VHS tape and can put it on whenever I wanted without thinking too much about it. Because let’s face it; all everybody wanted to get out of this movie was to watch the simple combination of Jordan, Looney Tunes, and basketball into one fast-paced, fun ride. Was it going for that Oscar-quality entertainment? No, it’s made for kids, and it’s still there for those who will always have fond memories of this. 

The idea of how this came to be was assuming two popular things around the time and made it a movie. But little did I know Nike aired two commercials featuring Jordan and Bugs Bunny, which were directed by the movie’s director Joe Pytka, who’s also notable for helming a few music videos for Michael Jackson and commercials. They were so successful Warner Bros. thought it would make for a good movie and brought in Ghostbusters’ director Ivan Reitman as a producer. Certainly an odd premise, but it didn’t stop the public from wanting to bring popular cartoon characters into the modern world.

At the time this came out, everybody was obsessed with Michael Jordan, and even though I never considered myself a sports fan when I was a child, I knew who he was. But when he first retired from playing basketball for the Chicago Bulls and played baseball for that brief, odd period, I honestly thought it was part of the movie and didn’t know he played Minor League. This must’ve been exciting for fans to see him on the big screen, and while it probably wasn’t the simplest job for an athlete to act to basically nothing except a green screen for a majority of the film, I wasn’t expecting too much from his performance when he’s just playing himself, and I had to keep that in the back of my mind. Also, for those athletes around that time when transitioning into acting, he could’ve done much worse. 

And it’s the best of both worlds in having a legend like Jordan team up with the Looney Tunes, and I’ve been a fan of the cartoon since I used to watch them a lot back in the old Cartoon Network days. Sure, it was weird not hearing Mel Blanc providing the characters’ voices, but it didn’t bother me since voice talents like Billy West (Bugs and Elmer Fudd) to Dee Bradley Baker (Daffy Duck and Tasmanian Devil) didn’t come across as distracting. And even with the animation style in using 2D and digital technology, they can tell a lot of work into retaining that slapstick humor usually associated with them. Though it wasn’t as flawless when Who Framed Roger Rabbit? came out eight years prior. I’ll admit some CG background shots are dated and don’t contrast well with the characters, but it was in its time, and for 1996, it doesn’t look too bad now.

Of course, you got to see all our favorites: Bugs, Daffy, Tweety Bird, Porky Pig, Yosemite Sam, and the rest of the characters that are probably somebody’s favorite who are part of the Tune Squad. This was also our introduction to Lola Bunny (voiced by Kath Soucie), which showcases she’s good with a basketball, and I might be the one human being who never thought a cartoon bunny was sexy. They used Lolo better in The Looney Tunes Show with Kristen Wiig voicing the character. 

Not every funny moment will work for everyone, but it’s made for the Looney Tunes crowd who’ll understand the gag they would expect. They’re even a couple of jokes I didn’t understand until today. I was surprised with remembering certain lines of dialogue, despite not watching it in years. Even the montage that sees Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Shawn Bradley, Larry Johnson, and Muggsy Bogues after losing their skills was hilarious to me. Do I need an explanation why Bill Murray is in this? Why should I? This legend can show up whenever he wants, and I just love how he wants to play in the NBA when the plays lose their talent.

The selling point of what the movie is about- the basketball sequence between the Tune Squad and the Monstars- wasn’t the most thrilling part in the world, yet it’s exciting enough when you already know what the outcome will be. If we’re being realistic and not thinking about how it takes place during a cartoon world, I couldn’t help but think of all the technical fouls the players do on the court when apparently none of the rules matter, showing how any of these characters would do when playing the game. 

There’s no arguing the soundtrack is a true highlight of the movie. I still hate the fact the Grammy-winning single “I Believe I Can Fly” is associated with disgraceful artist R. Kelly, which is one thing that doesn’t age well nowadays in any medium. Now I feel terrible for still thinking this song is good. But aside from that, this also includes Seal’s cover of Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle” and Quad City DJ’s titular track “Space Jam” that gets you pumped him when played during the opening credits sequences.

Now watching Space Jam from an adult’s perspective, I know the story makes little sense because it’s weird enough, and the stuff before Jordan meets the tunes might not be the most interesting to watch. I feel those who will watch it for the first time this year won’t appreciate this and find it silly and thought it was more of a commercial for its merchandising. I can understand why the reviews back then were mixed reviews (Siskel & Ebert actually gave it “Two Thumbs Up”), but have grown a bit more fondly recently. For me, of course, there were better movies that came out the year I was born, but I like this. As of today, it remains the highest-grossing basketball movie of all time, earning $90 million at the domestic box office.

Final Thoughts: Space Jam isn’t the perfect family movie to come out in the late ‘90s, but when looking at it through a “guilty pleasure” lens, it’s a fun sports comedy with plenty of laughs and energy to keep that nostalgia intact. I’m still not sure if the upcoming sequel A New Legacy will even come close or be an improvement in some capacity.

Grade: B

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