If you don’t know what Space Jam is, I’m willing to bet it’s because you’re either really young or really old. I say this because I personally don’t know of anyone who is unaware of this movie’s existence. A few noteworthy things I’d like to get out of the way; Space Jam was the first theatrical film to exclusively feature the Looney Tunes with 100% all new animation. (Older readers may recall the slew of compilation film releases peppered throughout the 80’s.) Something most people probably already know about this film; it grew out of a very successful ad campaign teaming Michael Jordan with popular Looney Tunes characters. This is where the skepticism begins.
The Nike commercial I took this screenshot from actually ends with this shot and Bugs saying to Michael Jordan, “This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
I was 7 years old when this movie came out. I was the target demographic for this movie. Did I see it? Of course. Did I love it? Of course. Would I have cared that this movie sprouted from successful commercials? Fuck no. (Not that I’d have been aware of that sort of thing.) It was a movie that teamed Michael Jordan with the Looney Tunes. How could any kid in the 90’s not be sold on this? I enjoyed the movie when I was a lot younger. A lot of people seem to have a fondness for Space Jam but 16 years later, how well does it really hold up?
I think the highest praise I can give to this movie is that the animated parts of the film look pretty good. It’s nothing exceedingly well done or groundbreaking enough to really call it “GREAT animation,” and some of the live action integration is less than seamless, but the colors are bright and lively, the characters move with fluidity and have a certain bouncy squashable quality to them. This is probably in part due to animation director Bruce W. Smith, who would go on to create The Proud Family cartoon. The backgrounds are good but nothing stands out as being particularly memorable. Michael Jordan, in this movie, is charismatic and generally likeable if you don’t expect to see a real performance from him. And that leads me to…
This will just be a point on general laziness in this movie. Michael Jordan’s performance is just kinda lazy, even when he’s supposed to be getting mad in a scene he rises just above monotone. He never quite rises above that level of commercial acting that brought him to this point. Michael Jordan has enough charm on screen for me to overlook this for the most part, but then we have the script. Oh boy is this is a lazy script. I wouldn’t say any one thing in this script is god awful, it’s just… the premise is completely ridiculous and feels very ‘last second’ to the point where it hurts the overall flow of the story. If you don’t know the premise, I’ll try to sum it up as fast as I can…
An amusement park in outer space needs an attraction that will make them money, the owner of the amusement park in outer space, played by Danny DeVito, sits on a TV remote by accident which turns on 50 classic Looney Tunes cartoons all at once and decides to send his minions to force the Looney Tunes to be said new attraction, the minions (nerdlucks… yeah they’re fucking called nerdlucks) are tricked into thinking they have to give the Looney Tunes a chance to defend themselves, and so because the nerdlucks are very short, they decide to challenge them at basketball.
The nerdlucks learn what basketball is; learn what the NBA is, and decide to steal the ‘talent’ of, at the time, NBA superstars Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Muggsy Bogues, Larry Johnson and Shawn Bradley… because they just have the ability to do that apparently… that’s something aliens can just do now, and they use their stolen talents to bulk up and play the Looney Tunes at a basketball game. Also this movie makes a complete joke out of Jordan’s baseball career… essentially saying the events of Space Jam are what lead him back to basketball. This whole movie feels rushed as far as the script goes; they try to work in these self aware moments, like at one point the NBA players who lost their talent go to see a fortune teller who runs down the plot of the movie. The NBA players of course dismiss it as ridiculous nonsense. Just because you acknowledge that you know the plot is weak doesn’t make it any less flimsy.
The jokes… the good jokes that may actually make you laugh… those are pretty few and far between. They rely on a lot of the old Looney Tunes gags that we’ve seen before just done with bad timing. When they don’t seem to have a better idea of how to execute a joke or a gag or what have you. It can be charming sometimes, but mostly I just felt like they were relying on 40-50 year old jokes that we’ve seen before… and when they’re not relying on the old Looney Tunes shtick… the new material, for the most part, falls on its face.
Daffy Duck as we knew him is dead.
The Looney Tunes are just not funny in this. It doesn’t help to hear some truly great voice actors doing these shitty jokes either.
I cannot tell you how much I cringe when I hear Billy West doing the “Buggin” rap from the soundtrack. All these voice actors are doing good recreations of the voices of these memorable characters… and they have very little to work with. I think any real charm that comes from the Looney Tunes themselves is that they have these great voice actors providing their voices. The shtick from the old cartoons can work in moderation but it seems like whenever they’re in doubt, that’s a go to. When they do try to do more modern comedy, it just doesn’t work.
Nothing is ever taken to ‘out of character’ levels but they do ride the line a few times. And then we have Lola Bunny… I guess the main reason behind adding Lola to the cast was to try to pull a larger female demographic… and the sad part about it is I think it worked.
There’s only one thing fully developed about Lola-AND IT’S NOT HER CHARACTER! *Ba-Dum-TISS!*
This movie feels rushed. I don’t think there’s any better evidence of that then the actual finale of the film, the basketball game. Most of it is hit and miss gags that go nowhere until at one point it’s discovered that the Monstars stole the talent from the NBA players, and then Wayne Knight’s character; did I forget to mention he’s in this? Anyway, Wayne Knight’s character is flattened like a pancake and blown up like a balloon… and is deflated with a fart. HA HA. (To be fair, everything preceding the fart makes me laugh. It looks dated, it looks cheesy, and above all it looks stupid.)
Whether this is actually funny or ironically funny is completely up to you.
The movie’s big laugh out loud moment comes from when Michael Jordan realizes he too can squash or stretch his body. So he goes for the game winning dunk, is stopped short by the Monstars, and, I kid you not, stretches his arm all the way to the hoop to make the game winning basket.
It’s quite a sight.
If you’re not familiar with Space Jam already, I’d suggest avoiding it. It doesn’t hold up well, the jokes that were actually funny at the time are dated for the most part, anything comedy wise worth looking at is probably taken from a classic Looney Tunes short that would inherently be funnier and much more clever than this film. Having said that, if you grew up with Space Jam, it’s not the worst nostalgic 90’s family film you could revisit. I like this movie in some capacity; it can be charming but it does have a lot of flaws and it hasn’t aged well.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: when you hear a classic Looney Tunes catch phrase. “What’s up, Doc?” “Sufferin’ Succotash!” “You’re Despicable” etc.
Take a Drink: when you recognize a joke/gag from the golden age of Looney Tunes cartoons.
Take a Drink: whenever people in the movie just write off supernatural/other worldly occurrences. (E.G. Michael Jordan is sucked down a golf hole so Larry Bird and Bill Murray just casually say, “I hope he’s gonna be alright.”)
Take a Drink: when you feel like Michael Jordan’s about to start plugging something in the middle of a scene.
Take a Shot: when something is actually plugged in the middle of a scene.
Take a Shot: for either Wayne Knight being blown up like a balloon or Michael Jordan’s stretching arm.