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Wayback Wednesday: Space Jam (1996)

The best sports movie of all time.

Look, I’m no rube. I’m well aware that the trend of rebooting old movies and creating new sequels for a new generation isn’t going anywhere soon. It’s a sure-fire way for studios to exploit the wonder of nostalgia and make some serious cash without having to work too hard to create a whole new movie. I get that. But there are some movies that I wish studios would just let stand alone and live in movie history as their own thing. Space Jam (1996), a movie I and every other child of the 1990s watched approximately a billion times, is one of them. While I’m sure the upcoming sequel, Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021) will be fine (unnecessary, but fine), my deep-rooted adoration for the original movie leaves me cold to the idea of seeing it. Truly, my only hope for the sequel is that it’s as odd as the first one. Because wow oh wow you guys, Space Jam is a weird movie.

Credit: / Warner Bros.

When Bugs Bunny and the rest of his Looney Tunes friends are in danger of being enslaved by aliens, they must win a basketball game to earn their freedom. To help them beat the supercharged alien team, the Tunes enlist the help of retired basketball legend Michael Jordan to coach and play alongside them.

On paper, the idea for a movie in which professional basketball champion Michael Jordan teams up with the Looney Tunes to play a game against a group of space aliens should have been an overwhelming disaster. Hell, the first red flag should have been not only the notion that Jordan would have to ACT, but do so against a green screen without any other actors! And yet, Space Jam rose above the failure it was seemingly set up for and quite inexplicably became one of the most beloved and cherished movies for anyone who grew up in the 90s. Not only that, but the movie went on to make over $250 million against an $80 million budget! Though I spent practically every weekend of my childhood watching Space Jam, it has maybe been a solid 10 years or so since I’ve last seen it. While my 25-year-old eyes may have been opened to the movie’s shortcomings 10-year-old Luke blissfully ignored, I can’t deny that I had the biggest, stupidest smile on my face the entire time I was watching this movie. I can’t help it! Some movies you come across in your childhood and they end up solidifying themselves as nothing but pure joy and lovely nostalgia. That’s Space Jam for me. As a child I had such a blast each time I watched this movie and now as an adult I had just as good a time. Well, almost. You guys, even as a kid I knew that this movie wasn’t exactly giving much, but I had no clue just how thin on plot Space Jam actually is.

While my nostalgia for this movie prevents me from branding it as terrible or even bad, I’m at least self-aware enough to acknowledge that there are large parts of this movie that aren’t good. Like, you can pretty much skip everything but the big game at the end, and moments here and there of the little aliens. I swear, the pre-suped up Monstars are low-key hilarious and I almost wouldn’t mind seeing them appear in other Looney Tunes media. Any scenes featuring the Looney Tunes or the aliens is comedy gold, but everything else in Space Jam? Let’s be real: Not quite as entertaining. I’m sorry, but did anyone ever truly care about the plight of the talentless NBA players? I certainly didn’t.

As someone who doesn’t like sports, I never cared about the opening shot of young Michael playing basketball, nor did I care about the sizzle reel highlighting his rise to stardom. And I still don’t care. In fact, I pretty much shut down any time the movie wanted to focus on Michael and his baseball career. Just like when I was a a kid I found myself yelling at the TV, “get to the Looney Tunes already!” The way the first 30 minutes of Space Jam focuses on both the aliens deciding to abduct the Looney Tunes and Michael Jordan’s failing baseball career without any crossover, makes the movie feel like two wildly different movies that you couldn’t imagine coming together to form one cohesive plot. Thank God when they finally do come together though because the antics of the Looney Tunes are largely what make Space Jam so much damn fun. The parts of this movie that are funny are funny because the Looney Tunes always have and always will be a laugh riot. They’re wacky, zany, and well, loony, so drop them into any kind of situation and it’s going to end up being hilarious. That’s kind of the reason why I don’t hate the forgettable Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003). Trust and believe, that movie is by no means good, but hey, there are Looney Tunes in it so you’re guaranteed to laugh throughout. The Looney Tunes themselves are what make Space Jam so irresistibly lovable. It’s certainly not the MANY melancholy scenes of professional basketball players trying to recapture their basketball mojo. Those parts of the movie always frustrated me. They have nothing to do with the Looney Tunes or Michael Jordan at all!

For a movie that’s only 87 minutes long, Space Jam sure does dedicate an alarming amount of time to non-Looney Tunes things. From Michael Jordan’s family life to literally showing a “how to play basketball” film, the movie finds a lot of ways to pad the runtime in between the beginning of the movie and what everyone is eagerly waiting for: The big game between the Tune Squad and the Monstars. Like Lizzie McGuire’s colosseum concert in The Lizzie McGuire Movie (2003) there isn’t a single child from my generation who wouldn’t want a ticket to this event. As soon as I saw the Tune Squad in their uniforms I immediately screamed out, “ICONIC!!” And the same with the Monstars! Oh, and speaking of iconic, can you believe that this was the first time we were introduced to the legendary Miss Lola Bunny? ICONIQUE. 

As someone who grew up watching a lot of classic Looney Tunes cartoons, I have to say that Space Jam really did a fantastic job of capturing the wacky spirit of the Looney Tunes shorts from the 1950s and seamlessly translating them into the 90s. It makes Space Jam – at least the parts that take place in Looney Tune Land – feel timeless. The entirety of the game between the Tune Squad and the Monstars – the highlight of the movie – is chock full of that good ol’ fashioned Looney Tunes antics that will have any fan of these classic characters rolling with laughter. Bugs, Daffy, Taz, and the rest of the Tunes are in top form. From the Road Runner outsmarting Wile E. Coyote, to Sylvester trying to eat Tweety, to Porky Pig not being able to finish a single sentence, Space Jam absolutely nails each and every Looney Tune. Especially during the big game. I hate to sound like a broken record, but I could very easily just watch the last 40 minutes of this movie and be a happy camper. The quality animation is partly to thank for that as well. Y’all know I’m a huge fan of 90s animation and the animation in Space Jam looks great. Seriously, it holds up surprisingly well! Even today, Space Jam remains a crowd-pleasing delight that showcases why our universal love for the Looney Tunes has endured over the decades.

This movie is so wonderfully weird and so never should have worked, but words can’t describe how glad I am that it did. I’m thankful that I had years and years of laughter and enjoyment while watching Space Jam. No matter how much it doesn’t exactly hold up, this movie will always hold a special place in my heart and I can’t express how happy I am to be a child that had a movie like Space Jam to grow up with. Here’s hoping that the new movie will be as impactful for the kids of today as it was for the children of my generation. AT LEAST the soundtrack better be as fire as the original. “Fly Like an Eagle,” “I Believe I Can Fly,” and the titular theme song? “C’MON AND SLAM, AND WELCOME TO THE JAM!” I love that.

Space Jam is a slam dunk and it’s no wonder why director Joe Pytka never made another movie. When you’ve already set the bar so high, it can’t really be topped can it?

Are you a fan of Space Jam? Will you see Space Jam: A New Legacy?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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