Space Jam… this certainly is a movie alright, one of the most aggressively 90’s movies out there. Is it a good one, though? I mean… kinda? It’s entertaining, sure, but it’s not a slam dunk for me. As much as I like the Looney Tunes cartoons, I’m not a big sports aficionado, nor do I have the benefit of nostalgia goggles, as I didn’t own it on DVD growing up. With the recent release of Space Jam: A New Legacy, however, I figure now’s as good a time as any to look back to the original and see what all the fuss was about.
The story: Michael Jordan, iconic basketball star, decides to go into baseball instead. Though he gets plenty of support, he’s not so good at the sport… but he’s trying his best, caring for his family all the while.
Meanwhile, in the world of cartoons, some dude called Mr. Swackhammer wants a new act for his amusement park. The pint-sized Nerdlucks of Moron Mountain are thus sent to enslave the Looney Tunes cast, only to get bamboozled into a high-stakes basketball match by the crafty Bugs Bunny.
The Nerdlucks, however, have a trick up their sleeve: they can steal talents, and transform into monster superstars with the powers they stole from high-profile NBA players. Pitted against these Monstars, the Looney Tunes yoink Michael Jordan into their world, hoping he’ll be able to whip their ragtag team into shape.
This movie certainly has a creative premise: it takes a structured tactical team sport, fills the player roster with rule-benders, and yeets all conventional logic out the window. So long as it didn’t crash and burn, it was practically guaranteed to make a profit just from the novelty of a cross-over between professional basketball and childhood cartoons… and if its lasting reputation and A New Legacy are anything to go off of, it succeeded.
It’s chaotic, and admittedly a bit of a cash-grab, but it has a certain old-school charm to it that somehow makes it work. Both teams blatantly break the rules, but the spirit of the game and its players are still respected, and its sheer zaniness falls in line with the Looney Tunes brand.
That being said, the balance between comedy and drama didn’t feel quite right. Was the comedy too far exaggerated, or the drama too much downplayed? I can’t pinpoint what exactly it was that went wrong here, but either way, the movie’s dramatic elements (and narrative tension by association) took a hit.
As for the characters? Michael Jordan is… fine. He played his role well enough, but you can tell he’s not used to acting. The Moron Mountaineers are fun and memorable villains, and Danny DeVito was a great fit for Mr. Swackhammer. Lola Bunny… I don’t see her appeal (though I don’t tend to see anyone ‘that way’, if you catch my drift), but I don’t dislike her.
Most of the other human characters aren’t all that memorable, besides Murray (played of course by Dan Aykroyd) and Stan (played by Wayne Knight), but that’s probably intentional. The Looney Tunes, of course, are iconic characters who are already well-established. If you like ’em, you like ’em. If you don’t… why are you even here? Personally, I’ve got a soft spot for Taz (who stars in a game I’ve previously reviewed, link to that at the end) and Daffy Duck (who stars in a game I intend to review sometime in the later future). They’re all great characters, and have (at least for the most part) aged pretty well.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same of Space Jam‘s animation and cinematography. I can’t speak to how well it was received upon its initial release, given that I wasn’t even born yet, but you can definitely tell that it was a product of its time.
Live actors existing in the same space as cartoonish characters has always looked a little bit weird to me, but it’s particularly off-putting here, where said actor’s bodies are distorted into unnatural positions. I won’t question the physics-breaking shenanigans, for obvious reasons, but some of the camera angles and proportions feel just a little bit off at times. Also, the credits sequence is literally just text overlaid onto a slide-show of random screenshots from the movie.
That being said, I won’t judge its visuals too harshly, as that would be unfair. 3D animation was only just starting to pick up steam when Space Jam was released, and the first Toy Story (the first fully 3D movie) was less than a year old at that point. In fact, it does hold up well, considering its age: the cartoon characters are expressive and well-animated, it’s just the human morphing animations I don’t like.
Does Space Jam still hold up as a whole? Well… it does, kinda. It’s certainly not perfect, and the passing years have laid bare a lot of its flaws, but none of them are pressing enough to ruin my experience. In recognition of its cultural impact, I’ll give it a III.
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