We need to clear up a widely held misunderstanding. Most of the
country by now has heard of the hugely popular Warner Brothers film
SPACE JAM. Most of you by now are aware that it is a mixture of
animation, featuring all your favorite Looney Tunes characters, and
live action, featuring various sports stars from the NBA. So far; so
Now, you are probably under the impression that Michael Jordan
ACTS in this movie. This is patently false. What Michael Jordan does
is APPEAR in the movie; he never acts. With the except of a single
brief smile, he manages to maintain a dispassionate and deadpan look
throughout the picture. Since he gets $40,0000,000 a year in product
endorsements, perhaps his actor's salary was just pocket change to him.
More likely, he just can not act -- most of us can't.
Michael Jordan is certainly a great athlete, and he provides a
good clean-cut role model for youngsters, but this does not an actor
make. The good news is that the cartoon characters in the film are
excellent and the story by Leonardo Benvenuti, Timothy Harris, Steve
Rudnick, and Herschel Weingrod is well developed and quite funny. This
is one of those rare examples of a good movie with a lead that is DOA.
SPACE JAM opens with a seven year old Michael Jordan displaying
amazing talent at shooting hoops. He dreams of being a star in the
NBA. After a collage of real stills and video memorabilia of his rise
to glory, we come to a grown Michael Jordan who has conquered
basketball and gone onto baseball. Until this point the story is
little more that a schmaltzy autobiography.
Never fear, the animated characters are here. A group of cartoon
aliens under the direction of the evil Swackhammer (voice by Danny
DeVito) have an amusement park called Moron Mountain. The guests are
becoming bored so Swackhammer sends the aliens off to capture all the
Looney Tunes. Daffy Duck (voice by Dee Bradley Baker) takes one look
at the pip-squeak aliens and laughs, "Oh, fear clutches my breast!"
When they turn a chicken into a skeleton with their ray gun, he changes
The Looney Tunes challenge the height-challenged aliens to a game
of basketball to see whether the Tunes have to go to Moron Mountain or
not. Ever confident Daffy ridicules them with, "Too bad you can't
practice getting taller, boys." They then go and suck the talent and
stature of various NBA heroes which makes the aliens look like major
Back up on earth Bill Murray and Larry Bird are playing golf with
Michael Jordan. Costume designer Marlene Stewart has Murray in a
classic example of how not to dress on the golf course. Below his
umbrella hat is a travelogue shirt followed by plaid Bermuda shorts and
finished up with falling down old socks and battered shoes. The Looney
Tunes pull Jordan into the Tune world and enlist his help in defeating
The picture works as a feature length cartoon. The Looney Tunes
are as funny as I ever remember seeing them. There are constant jokes
about product royalties. Daffy kisses his rear because it has a big
Warner Brothers logo pasted on it. Daffy and Bugs Bunny (voice by
Billy West) grouse about not getting any money from all the lunch boxes
and other toys with their faces on them. Daffy tells him, "We've got
to get a new agent. We're getting screwed!"
This "screwed" line is funny, but it is this and a couple of
others where the humans talk about getting their "butts whipped" that
gets the film a PG rating rather than a G. Since there are so few G
shows made, it is a shame that the producers went for a more bankable
PG picture. Yes, there are many teenagers and adults who will not go
to G films thinking subconsciously that they are only for little kids,
but why do the studios keep pandering to these prejudices? Changing
these few lines would not have made the picture one scintilla less
All the Tunes are hilarious in the show, but Daffy is the best
mainly because he gets the best material. He refers to the human
environment as "3D land."
No one is immune from the jabs in the show. They even go after
arch rival Disney when Bugs remarks, "What kind of a Mickey Mouse
outfit would name their team The Ducks?"
My favorite scene is the highly charged announcement of the
players at the big game where Jordan and the tunes play the alien hunks
with the NBA talent inside. Two small mice steal the microphone from
the sleeping announcer and manage to boom out each player's name and
stats. When Bugs enters the arena, the mice call out on the PA,
"Standing at three foot three, four foot if you count the ears, is Bugs
Along with the humor, the show is upbeat and full of energy thanks
to the strong live action direction by Joe Pytka and animation
direction by Bruce Smith and Tony Cervone. Joe Pytka's only other film
is LET IT RIDE which I hated back in 1989. Here he redeems himself in
my eyes. I had great fun watching the film as did my son, my wife, and
my 70 year old parents.
Technically the film is a success as well. The colors are bright
primary ones that radiant joy. Other than the lifeless lead and the
little bit of needless bad language, I think the show is good fun, and
I believe your family will too.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes