The Looney Tunes are practically animation royalty nowadays, they’ve been around since the 1930’s and generations of children have come to love Bugs, Daffy, and all the other wacky characters that make up the Looney Tunes roster. Their longevity is testament to their popularity, as there are still TV series running now that carry on the lineage of the Looney Tunes.
Their dalliance with feature-length films were exclusively compilations of classic cartoons up until the release of Space Jam in 1996, their first feature-length, single-narrative film, and there would only ever be another one after it, why is this? Well there could be a number of reasons, chief among them being the disappointing return of this film’s successor, Back in Action, which was only a fraction of the success that this film was (despite being, in my opinion, the better film).
So with the potential for nostalgia routinely warned, let’s dive into Space Jam.
Legendary basketball player Michael Jordan announces his decision to retire from basketball, and transition into a baseball career, during this transition, he is unwittingly transported to the world of the Looney Tunes, where he gets caught up in an attempt to steal the Looney Tunes to be attractions at a failing amusement park.
What I would really like to know is what sort of powerful drugs were going around the Warner Brothers writer’s room at the time of Space Jam.
What bold visionary said: ‘Hey, let’s do a Looney Tunes film, where Michael Jordan saves the world by being good at basketball.’ To which an entire room said: ‘Brilliant!’.
Strange, and somewhat jarring plot aside for a while, you really have to admire the sheer effort of combining the worlds of live-action and animation together in this film, at times it makes it look seamless, as if Michael Jordan is actually interacting with an anthropomorphic rabbit. Granted, there are times when it looks cheesy and out-of-place, specifically when any characters from the two worlds have to touch.
All in all it’s an inoffensive film, it doesn’t know what it wants to do at times, and flits wildly between whacky times in Toon-land and serious basketball players (who I assume are actually basketball players, as they act like they’re coming off seriously strong anaesthetic) in counselling due to them losing their powers after some tiny aliens stole it with a basketball. This plot gets weirder the more you talk about it doesn’t it?
Never is this frantic tone more evident than in the casting of Michael Jordan, look, I know Michael probably wasn’t trained at Julliard, but can anyone think of a single athlete that has transitioned into acting, and been good at it? In Jordan’s case it’s a definite no. He has the same delivery and expression for every emotion, like he’s reading from a teleprompter and he forgot to wear his glasses. It’s especially noticeable when he’s paired with actual actors, who make him look like a competition winner.
It really is shame as the animation is also extremely slick and stylised in that Looney Tunes way we’ve come to know and love. It is more in line with the house style than Back in Action would be, which focuses more on real-world interactions, most of this takes place within the world of the Looney Tunes, which works in its favour as anything is possible in Looney Tunes world, and the world outside just seems drab and dull, no scene better typifies this than the scene before Michael Jordan is taken to the cartoon world, in which our human characters play golf, not known for being the most exciting sport, a significant chunk of screen-time is devoted to this before the plot properly kicks in, and it really shows where the priorities truly lie.
In truth, I can’t stay particularly mad at this film. Sure, Michael Jordan’s acting is so awful it makes Sofia Coppolla look like Meryl Streep, and his basketball playing buddies fare even worse. But there are some fun moments with the Looney Tunes themselves, as well as a delightfully over-the-top Bill Murray at the peak of his Bill Murray-ness.
I can’t really recommend Space Jam on its merits as a film, if you’re about my age and remember it being a fun time as a kid, keep it as that memory, it will do you no favours re-watching it. Some things are best left in the 90’s.