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25 Years Later: Space Jam

21 March 21 words: Katie Green

The Michael Jordan–starring Looney Tunes adventure Space Jam turns 25 this year—Katie Green takes a look back at this crazy 1996 live-action (and animated) sports comedy...

Director: Joe Pytka
Starring: Bugs Bunny, Michael Jordan, Wayne Knight
Running time: 88 minutes

Whenever I think of Space Jam, it brings back memories of my childhood. What pops into my mind is having nothing to watch on a Sunday afternoon, so my mum would get out the video (yes video, not DVD) of Space Jam and stick it on for me, and that was me occupied for the next hour and a half. 

In the beginning of the film, we see a much younger Michael Jordan playing basketball in his back garden - all the way back in 1973. We see his father continually encourage him to keep practicing, because who knows where he could end up? As we go on, we get only a slight glimpse into the success of MJ over the next few years – mirroring his reality outside in reality. 

As we progress, we see Michael retire from basketball and attempt a career at baseball. Meanwhile, in space the evil Swackhammer (voiced by Danny DeVito) is looking to open an alien theme park and needs a new attraction. He comes up with the devious plan to kidnap Bugs Bunny (Billy West). Cue the Looney Tunes

As they attempt to take Bugs, he challenges Swackhammer’s aliens to a basketball match to determine Bugs fate. Both sides agree. Bugs thinks he stands a good chance considering the aliens are the size of his foot. However, they steal the powers of professional NBA basketball players – including Larry Bird and Charles Barkley. 

Bugs discovers their secret and figures out he’s going to need a little bit more help, so he goes on the hunt for Mr Michael Jordan. Somehow, they convince Michael to play the basketball game, but what will their fate be?

Key moments include when Wayne Knight gets flattened by one of the aliens and has to be pumped back up with air

As I said before, this film has always been a childhood favourite of mine, so there is not much I can fault about it. A standout positive of this film is how well the cartoons and live action come together. Michael Jordan may not be the best actor, but he still makes the film what it is, and with this mixed in with the acting alongside the cartoon versions of the Looney Tunes, it works surprisingly well. 

As a child, this film was clearly a comedy to me as I would always find myself laughing at the screen, key moments that stick out to me include when Stan Podolak (Wayne Knight) comes on to play for the team – as a reserve – and he unfortunately gets flattened by one of the aliens. As a result, he has to be pumped up with air to get him to original shape – crazy, I know!

I get a feeling of joy from this film when I hear the main featured track I Believe I Can Fly by R. Kelly. In my opinion, this song makes the finale as Jordan departs the spacecraft to bring him back to earth. It’s such a feel-good song that just brings a satisfying end to the film.

Perhaps if there was one element to fault from the film, it would be Michael Jordan’s acting. Even before the film was released, people were not expecting a masterful performance from the sportsman because let’s face it, his profession was basketball, not acting. It was his acting that was questionable in places, to the extent it can be described as wooden.

However, I would still call the film a classic so perhaps it was his bad acting making the film just as great as it always has been. Space Jam remains a classic – at least in my eyes – 25 years after its release, so if you have not seen, it you have no excuse now.

Did you know? Veteran Looney Tunes director Chuck Jones said the film was “terrible”, adding that his version of Bugs Bunny would have dealt with the alien antagonists in seven minutes flat. When he expressed this opinion at a dinner party with the animators who worked on the film, he was escorted off the premises.

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