As the world gets ready for the sequel to Space Jam, the 1996 animated/live action hybrid celebrates its’ 25th anniversary this year. The original film was inspired by both a hit Super Bowl halftime commercial for Nike, and Michael Jordan’s retirement from basketball to play baseball. Reaction to the first Space Jam was very mixed upon the original release, yet it has gone on to become a beloved film amongst many Millennials, as well as lovers of the game of basketball and the cartoons that are Looney Tunes.
I myself have not seen the film since it was originally released in 1996. When it was first released, my reaction to it was tepid at best. I guess I was hoping for another Who Framed Roger Rabbit when the film was released, because that is not what we got. So, with the sequel we never expected coming out this Friday (just in time for my birthday nonetheless) I decided now is the time to watch the original for the first time in 25 years. So yes, this is a Test of Time, and since I do not have the benefit of the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia, I figured this will be a fine time to do this.
For those unfamiliar with the film, I will not ask what rock you have been living under and instead give you the basics: Michael Jordan has retired from basketball in order to play baseball – an event that happened in real life. While this happened, the ruthless leader of an alien theme park (voiced by Danny DeVito) called Moron Mountain (a kind-of sly play on the actual Six Flags theme park Magic Mountain that the WB characters are part of) has decided to kidnap the Looney Tunes characters to be his new park’s attractions.
Bugs Bunny manages to buy some time by convincing the aliens to let them battle for their freedom. They decided that the aliens could never beat them at a game of basketball. However, the aliens steal the talents of many (at the time) predominating stars of the NBA to become The Monstars. Discovering that they are doomed, the Tunes enlist the help of Michael Jordan to save them. This is a very simplistic plot that is an excuse to see Michael Jordan play the game again, and also to sell merchandise galore at the still-open Warner Brothers Studio Stores in malls nationwide.
As I stated, I do not have rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia in regards to this film. So, after 25 years what is my response to this film? I am happy to report that my response to the film has improved over the years.
The animation is really well done, with some really great special effects when it comes to the mix of live action and animation. I just wished we had more scenes of Bugs and the gang in the real world than we did. While Michael Jordan and a scene stealing Bill Murray did excellent work with the green screen acting around the animation, it would have been fun to see more of how the gang interacted with the real world.
With that said, there are some elements that have not aged well. First and foremost, there is Wayne Knight. Now, I know this film was meant for kids, but even for 1990s kids film standards his character was grating to the point where you wished another dinosaur would come in and eat him again a la Jurassic Park just to shut him up. To me, these scenes where he tries chewing the scenery brought the film to a screeching halt.
The other element is the use of the song “I Believe I Can Fly” by R Kelly. While the song is a good song, knowing what we do now know about the guy makes the presence of the song really uneasy. Especially since it is the first thing we are greeted with in this film. It immediately makes one wince.
Other than that, I must say I found myself pleasantly entertained by this film after all these years. It may not be the best family friendly film of the 90s, but at the same time I can now see why it has such a beloved following. Now, let’s see if the sequel can pass the test.