Space Jam (1996)

Space-Jam-1996.jpg

Director: Joe Pytka

Starring: Michael Jordan, Danny DeVito, Billy West

Review Author: Shaun

Space Jam turns 23 this year (How old do you feel now?) with that said, I thought it would be good to go back and look at one of my favourite childhood films to see how it holds up in this modern day.  The film sees a retired Michael Jordan comeback to basketball and team up with the Looney Tunes to defeat an evil group of aliens who have taken over the Tune world. First off this concept would not work today, I know they have been trying to get a sequel off the ground for years now but let’s be honest this is full 90s cheese and fill which would only work in the crazy 90s.

The story begins with a young Michael Jordan shooting hoops with his father in their home while dreaming of his path to happiness: North Carolina . . . the NBA . . . and finally the ultimate goal, pro baseball. Then we flash forward to very funny sequences showing Jordan in the midst of his baseball career (which actually happened in real life! He really did leave Basketball to become a baseball player). He’s not a very good baseball player but everyone around him is starstruck by his sports stardom, anyway. (“He looks good in a uniform,” one player enthuses. “You can’t teach that.”) An opposing catcher is such a fan that he tells Michael what pitches to expect, and Jordan is having a great time realizing his childhood dream when suddenly he finds himself yanked down a hole on the golf course, and into Looney Tunes-land.

A parallel story has filled us in on the situation in an alternate cartoon universe, where an amusement park in outer space has a desperate need for new attractions. To bolster ticket sales, the alien Nerdlucks, who run the park, kidnap the Looney Tunes stars. The desperate Bugs and friends have cut a deal: They’ll get their freedom if they can defeat the Nerdluck “Monstars” in a basketball game. But the Monstars suck up the basketball talent of such stars like Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing leaving them unable to even catch a ball. In desperation, the Looneys kidnap Michael as their secret weapon.

Rising to the occasion, Jordan coaches the Looney Tunes squad in a series of high-energy games and action sequences that combine his live scenes with state-of-the-art animation. The cartoon sequences employ traditional animation techniques and newer approaches, such as the three-dimensional computer animation used in “Toy Story.” You can watch the movie on the sports and cartoon levels, and also appreciate the corporate strategy that’s involved. There are hints of the rivalry with Disney all through the film. The outer space amusement park is named “Moron Mountain,” perhaps a tribute to Space Mountain at Walt Disney World. And when a professional hockey team is mentioned, Daffy sputters, “The Ducks? What kind of a Mickey Mouse organization would name their team the Ducks?”

It is difficult for an actor to work in movies that combine live-action with animation because much of the time he cannot see the other characters in a scene with him. But Jordan has a natural ease and humour, an unforced charisma, that makes a good fit with the cartoon universe. By not forcing himself, by never seeming to try too hard to be funny or urgent, Jordan keeps a certain dignity; he never acts as if he thinks he’s a cartoon, too, and that’s why he has good chemistry with the Tunes. He’s a visitor to Looney-land, not a resident.

There are other funny live-action scenes involving Jordan and Hollywood’s favourite unbilled guest star, Bill Murray, and scenes, too, with Wayne Knight, as a baseball publicist who comes along as an adviser and confidant. The film was produced by Ivan Reitman (“Ghostbusters”) and directed by Joe Pytka; their work was blended with the animation of a team headed by Ron Tippe, and the result is delightful, a family movie in the best sense. “Space Jam” is a happy marriage of good ideas, giving us a comic treatment of the career adventures of Michael Jordan, crossed with a Looney Tunes cartoon and some showbiz warfare. It entertains kids at one level while giving their adults a lot to smile at, too. It’s an inspired way to use, and kid, Jordan’s image while at the same time updating Bugs Bunny & Company to doing battle in the multimillion-dollar animation sweepstakes.

Looking back as an adult I did enjoy the film as it brings back that nostalgic feel from my 90s childhood. The animation is a bit outdated but still looks decent for a film hitting 23 years old and the cast is timeless with everyone still remembering the tunes cast of characters. Overall I would recommend this for anyone looking for a simple and easy going watch. Plus Bill Murray at the end still brings a tear to eye with happiness.

Rating: 4 / 5

*Also, maybe one of the greatest openings in a film?

3 responses to “Space Jam (1996)

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