Screenplay : Leonardo Benvenuti, Timothy Harris, Steve Rudnick, and Herschel Weingrod
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1996
Stars : Michael Jordan (Himself), Wayne Knight (Stan Podolak), Bill Murray (Himself), Billy West (voices of Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd), Dee Bradley Baker (voices of Daffy Duck/Tazmanian Devil/Bull), Danny DeVito (voice of Swackhammer)
As we drove home from the theater, a friend and I were having a heated discussion about the merits of the new Michael Jordan movie "Space Jam." Personally, I hated it. I saw it as shameless attempt by Warner Brothers to ransack the Looney Tunes by ripping them out of their environment and dropping them in the middle of a computerized live action/animation film whose main purposes is to advertise the NBA along with McDonalds, Nike, Gatorade, and Hanes.
WB executives admitted they had the marketing scheme laid out long before they had a script or even an idea about what the film would be about. Instead of using marketing to increase awareness of a film, they used a film to increase the awareness of their marketing, which in my mind, is a prostitution of the film industry.
My friend's simple and well-made point was that movie is made for kids, it's clean and gives them a good role model, so what's to argue? He never once said he liked the film -- he was actually angry with me for having dragged him to it. But, he still supported it because it works well on a kids' level and that was all it ever sought to do.
I see his point, but I cannot abide by a movie that aims so low, it can't help but hit its mark (especially when it has a $125 million budget helping it along).
The best kids films are the ones that work on more than one level. Kids films don't have to appeal just to children -- if the film is intelligent and well written, it can appeal to anyone with an imagination. Films such as "The Wizard of Oz," "Babe," almost every Disney animated film ever made, and "The Muppet Show" are all testament to this fact.
"Space Jam" is not only one-dimensional, but it's unimaginative; it offers nothing new or exciting. The $90 million spent on animation produced some amazing results, but it wasn't any still inferior to "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" and "Toy Story."
On another level, I found "Space Jam" insulting for what it did to the Looney Tunes. I've loved this cast of characters since I was a child, just as other generations have since the mid-30s. But, for some reason, Warner Brothers decided today's kids can't enjoy Looney Tunes for what they are -- manic children's entertainment that also includes sly and often brilliant slaps of social and cultural satire.
Each Looney Tune, from Bugs to Daffy to Elmer Fudd to Foghorn Leghorn all have distinct, unique personalties that make them original and memorable. But, in its made rush to embrace the 90s, "Space Jam" somehow manages to strip them of that and make them almost interchangeable. The title seems to refer not to a basketball game (it doesn't even take place in outer space, but rather in the center of the earth), but more to the effect that the movie takes an armload of characters and jams them together where they don't belong. Even the addition of Lola Bunny, Bugs' sexy love interest who dresses like Daisy Duke and carries a feminist mentality to challenge Hillary Clinton, doesn't help much.
There are a few positive aspects of the movie. The production values are top-notch and there are some amusing in-jokes, including cameos from Bill Murray and several NBA superstars, a nod to "Pulp Fiction," and some potshots at Jordan's failed baseball career. The film also embraces the traditional American family, casting Michael Jordan as a good father and role model who fought his way to the top through motivation and hard work. Michael Jordan has an amiable screen presence, but he is wisely kept within the confines of playing himself, and as a result, he doesn't come of as anything more than the persona he plays in a 30-second Gatorade commercial.
But still, the negatives in this film far outweigh any of the positives. At one point, Daffy Duck, who had earlier announced that he is the property of Warner Brothers, Inc. and then smooched a big WB logo on his feathery fanny, was complaining that he and Bugs hadn't gotten any royalties from the blitz of Looney Tunes merchandising.
"We got screwed," he complains.
Close, Daffy. But I think it's the American people who got screwed with movies like this.
Reprinted with permission The Baylor Lariat