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Thursday, 3 November 2016

Retro Review: Space Jam (1996)

Space Jam
1996
Cast: Michael Jordan, Wayne Knight, Bill Murray, Frank Welker, Danny Devito, Mel Blanc
Genre: Live-Action Animated Sports Comedy
Estimated Total Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $300 million 

Plot: Swackhammer, an evil alien theme park owner needs a new attraction at moron mountain. when his gang, the Nerdlucks heads to earth to kidnap Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes, Bugs challenges them to a basketball game to determine their fate. The aliens agree but they steal the powers of NBA basketball players, including Larry bird and Charles Barkley - so Bugs gets some help from superstar, Michael Jordan 






'The Looney Tunes Characters Alone Are What Makes This Film Watchable, More-So Than MJ'

Produced by comedy director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Fathers' Day, Kindergarten Cop, Twins), Space Jam is somewhat fundamentally underestimated as a sports film and was unfairly mauled by critics during its release in the 1990s. But alas, the mixed critical reviews didn't prevent it from grossing over $300 million in global ticket sales, making Space Jam a box office smash. This joint animated and live-action cross-over with one of the sporting icons of the world, Michael Jordan along with the Looney Tunes cast of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Tweety Pie sounded rather surreal on paper. It was a question of how this idea would translate onscreen: eventually though Space Jam is a solid and decent film, where it could also do with some improvement in certain areas. 

It's a non-Disney movie that helps bridge the fun, kiddie stuff with an adult appeal that makes this film entertaining for everyone to enjoy.

The animated sequences are terrific and just as one would expect from Warner Bros, the home of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and company; they are fluid, creative, colourful and expressive, the live- action blends in well with the 2D animation seamlessly and the film did take advantage of, as well as capitalised on Michael Jordan's popularity at the time. Because of that, Space Jam did well at the box office. 

A lot of people have slammed the premise of this film, and though they may see it as being silly, for an animated film this is ideal. Space Jam is a sports fantasy film, set in an alternate universe with aliens and main characters, Bugs and co. and one that remains firmly grounded and doesn't become too outrageous and over the top. Space Jam basically tells the story of a disillusioned Michael Jordan, who has lost his passion for basketball and turns to baseball. The bad guys called the Nerdlucks, who run an amusement park, kidnap the Looney Tunes characters. Bugs Bunny reaches a deal with the Nerdlucks: they'd get their freedom if they can defeat the Nerdlucks in a game of basketball. If they lose however, the Looney Tunes folk are then transformed into theme park attractions for good. The Looney Tunes then go out their way to recruit Michael Jordan for their team and to help reignite Michael's passion for the game, in preparation against the team known as Monstars, who have stolen the abilities of the other NBA basketball players.

The film doesn't downplay the serious conflict, but it also avoids descending into mawkish, gag -inducing tripe. Space Jam does have its weaknesses though: the scenes involving the other basketball players only are not very interesting (too much focus on the story-line where they lose their basketball abilities) and the Lola Bunny character wasn't really necessary. I believe the creators added that character because the film needed a female character and one that will draw in the female viewers, particularly the younger ones. But what they forgot is that a character needs personality and appeal, - and Lola really lacks that.

Another thing I noticed is that Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and co. aren't as funny and amusing as they usually are in the animated cartoons and somewhat pale in comparison in this movie, which is a slight disappointment. A 7 min Looney Tunes cartoon would have more humour in it than the vast majority of Space Jam. However, it's good to see some of the cartoon slapstick featured that is somewhat equal to the cartoon shorts and the satirical aspects work well. But seeing the Looney Tunes characters in this film, they were the spark of energy and the main reason why I tuned into it in the first place. In essence, it is really they, more so than Michael Jordan who makes Space Jam more watchable. 

Wayne Knight and Bill Murray do well, though I'd wished for more Bill Murray screen-time and thus, it is a bit of a shame that this is limited. It was great to see him come on for the team during the game against the Monstars and to lead them to victory in the end. Danny Devito voiced the main antagonist and he did good. As for Michael Jordan himself, he's all right. His performance is better than Shaquelle O' Neil's in Kazaam and Steel and doesn't come across as contrived or forced; by doing so he retains a sense of dignity and in being himself. But at the same time, he doesn't make it more appealing and interesting at the same time. 

Where it comes up short against 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?' however, is the story element: here in Space Jam, it is not as strong or as interesting as in that film and the writers didn't do more to make it worthwhile. If they did, Space Jam would have been even better. Even with scenes featuring Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd, when they are onscreen, they have that onscreen appeal to draw in audiences in '....Roger Rabbit'. Whereas the same cannot be said for Michael Jordan in Space Jam

The best part of the film, like with all sports films is the main match between the two teams; that and the camera work is terrific and great to see too.






Final Verdict: 


Space Jam is a light animated film and one that shouldn't really be analysed too deeply and it also serves its purpose well. It does have a few flaws, yet if you can accept it as a harmless piece of sports entertainment at over 90s mins long, you'll be in for a treat. 


Does it still hold up 20 years on? Personally, for me, but for the presence of Lola Bunny, it still does and it certainly has that 90s' nostalgia factor that I can still take to today. 

Overall, if you enjoy basketball, sports or cartoons - or all 3- then you'll be more than pleased with Space Jam.



Overall:








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