Space Jam is one of those weird, classic childhood movies that everyone and their brother watched on VHS and wore out. It was originally released in theatres in 1996 and made over $27 million its opening weekend. I found it in the $5 bin at Walmart and the woman at checkout told me it was her kid’s favorite movie. Her kid was eight in 1996. Maybe I missed out in the late nineties, but I managed to go twenty years before I watched this film starring Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes.
The film has two storylines that collide halfway through. In the human world, we meet Michael Jordan just as he’s beginning his minor league baseball career with the Birmingham Barons, and just after he has retired from basketball. Simultaneously, on Moron Mountain, the amusement park owner Swackhammer has decided that he needs to drum up business at the park. Naturally, he cooks up a plot to kidnap the Looney Tunes and make them into slaves, who would perform at the park forever. Bugs Bunny and Co. are too smart for this; they challenge their kidnappers, the Nerdlucks, to a basketball game instead. If the TuneSquad wins, they walk free. Simple, right? Of course not. The Nerdlucks figure out a way to steal all the talent from popular basketball players like Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, and Larry Bird. This changes the game, so Bugs reaches out to Michael Jordan for his help.
After 20 years, it’s safe to say that some of the magic is gone from Space Jam. For one, it just looks dated. From the clothes to the cast, it’s very 1996. The film includes parts from Bill Murray and Wayne Knight, who bring a lot of comedy to Jordan’s performance. I didn’t expect Oscar worthy acting from the basketball great, but I didn’t feel that his performance was cringe worthy. This is largely due to the fact that the director, wisely, kept a large majority of Jordan’s scenes on the court.
The Looney Tunes characters create a cool, human-cartoon crossover, but then again – when was the last time that you talked to a ten-year-old about how great the Looney Tunes are? According to the Looney Tunes Wikipedia page, the show is still on the air, although it has been revived from what it was when it originally aired in 1930. The crossover concept is a weird one all around, and a weakness for me because I consider it to be gimmicky. However, for a young kid, it probably seems pretty cool. The cinematography isn’t stellar either. You can really tell what was filmed on a green screen, but since half of the cast is animated, I’ll let that slide.
Something that the film does really well is bring a sense of nostalgia back to audiences watching today. That’s a magical quality that not a lot of films have. Almost every review I read or person I talked to about Space Jam spoke to that. For all of its technical faults, this quality may be the film’s saving grace. I even decided to watch it based on the nostalgia factor when I was choosing a film to review! It doesn’t claim to be a masterpiece in any right, and I don’t think anyone has ever watched this film with that predisposition.
And now, spoiler alert: The TuneSquad wins with the help of Michael Jordan. This is a family movie, for all your devil’s advocates out there, and Swackhammer’s evil plot could not prevail in the Looney Tunes world. The Tunes go free, the Nerdlucks run off to Tuneland because “Moron Mountain stinks!” and Michael Jordan realizes he’s leaps and bounds better at basketball than baseball. All is right in the world again as the credits roll. I’d give Space Jam a B+, because I wasn’t expecting to be amazed, moved, or impressed by the artistic quality of the film. It starred Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan. I guess I just wanted to figure out what I’d been missing all these years, and while I can’t say that I found it, I can certainly appreciate it for the childhood classic it has become to thousands of viewers.