Space Jam - 1996
Space Jam is the ultimate summary of my childhood, so I give you fair warning: this review is completely draped is nostalgia in the beginning, but I will give some impartial critique towards the end. This movie was produced by legendary filmmaker Ivan Reitman (Animal House, Stripes, Ghostbusters, Kindergarten Cop and Twins, just to name a few) and directed by Joe Pytka (Space Jam). Reitman managed to combine two huge fandoms by putting Michael Jordan and his NBA friends with Bugs Bunny and his Looney Tunes friends. The story centers around the Tunes recruiting Jordan to play for their freedom against an alien invader trying to enslave them.
I recently watched this movie at the park with my wife and friends since we wanted to bank in on our nostalgia. But we were also surrounded by parents taking their kids to probably see it for the first time. I wasn’t really all that surprised to see that the kids responded to the movie, the very same way I responded to it when I was… nope, not going to date myself this early in the game. The reason why it works is because it plays to almost every child’s fantasy: the fantasy that cartoons are real and you can one day meet them.
One can’t simply rely on building an entire movie around a childhood fantasy and hope it resonates with your audience; it needs to be properly executed. The writers created almost a rule of equivalent exchange, giving one joke designed for the adults for every joke designed for the kids. The jokes that flew right over my head when I was a kid landed this time around and I was delightfully surprised that I was still laughing along with the kids surrounding me at the park. One of my favorite sequences is of the NBA players searching for answers as to why they have lost their basketball skills.
Space Jam, thanks to Reitman, landed the talents of comedic GIANT Bill Murray. As he said when asked how he got to Looney Tunes Land, “I know the producer”. This was also one of my first exposures to Murray as a kid, following it up with a little-known movie called Ghostbusters. I remember saying out-loud when he came on screen, that’s Michael Jordan’s friend. Now, watching it back, he does feel a little out of place golfing with Jordan and Bird, but I appreciate every word he spoke since most of the jokes that flew over my head when I was a kid but landed now were delivered by him. The best joke comes from his banter with Bird over the fact that the NBA needs a star and he is the star.
Sure, my experience is a little tainted by nostalgia as I had all the toys McDonalds had in their happy meals, but I’m still able to see the flaws it has. Yes, the CGI doesn’t 100% hold-up to this day, with some of the effects being a little distracting. Yes, the acting from the players outside of Jordan, Bird and Barkley are shaky at best, specially Shawn Bradley. And yes, it is not Mel Blanc providing the voices for the Looney Tunes stars (many of them sounding similar enough to the original but not close enough for a fan that grew-up with them to not notice). But who cares, that soundtrack is beyond amazing. Welcome to the Space Jam. Here's your chance, do your dance at the Space Jam. Sorry, this has been stuck in my head for days.
Space Jam can be picked apart by any critic over many of the flaws it carries, but at the end of the day it’s a fine, good kid’s movie and a great nostalgia trip. Watching three of my idols in Jordan, Murray and Bugs share a screen made is why I love movies.
Space Jam is available to rent and buy in many streaming services. Eh watch it, doc.
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