Friday, July 16, 2021

Space Jam


1973. A young Michael Jordan dreams of being a professional basketball player. Two decades later, he reaches the pinnacle of his athletic career and decides to retire, dabbling in another childhood passion he was never good at which is baseball. Somewhere in outer space, a theme park tyrant faces the fall from popularity of his enterprise. Seeing the Looney Tunes on TV, he believes that kidnapping the cartoon characters and forcing them into a life of slavery will do the trick. As his minions head to Earth in search of them, Bugs Bunny devices a plan to outwit the aliens by challenging them to a game of basketball, being sure that they will win because their enemies are tiny. Unbeknownst to them their foes have just stolen the ball-dribbling talents of Jordan’s contemporaries, tipping the odds to their favor. Left without a choice, the Looney Tunes persuade Jordan to play for them despite their inexperience.

Silly and wacky, Space Jam works primarily because of the brand of comedy of these cartoon characters that an entire generation grew up with. Watching this movie for the first time in 1996, it was revolutionary despite the storyline and the acting taking the backseat. From the eyes of a 90’s kids, it was the perfect crossover. Maybe you were just a fan of the cartoons. Perhaps you were just a fan of basketball. You might have even been a fan of both or neither. Uniting those two worlds together, you end up with a crazy premise marrying animation and live action. What adolescent could actually resist?

Watching it again 25 years later, I still find myself grinning like the kid I once was, which got me questioning my sanity. As a kid, it’s the animation and outlandish exposition that keeps you glued to the screen. As an adult, it’s all about the nostalgia. Who from our generation has never really seen a Looney Tunes episode, to be honest? In the end, this feature will still find the inner kid in you that managed to remain intact despite spending decades of being a jaded adult all this time.

Perhaps what will change as far as the viewing experience is concerned is the practical side of it all. For a professional basketball player who had no acting experience whatsoever, you just wonder how Jordan’s experience was while filming this, considering how most of his scenes were with cartoon characters that obviously did not exist alongside him on set.  At least the five players who lost their basketball talent to aliens only had scenes with their live action co-stars.

As already mentioned, the story is as absurd as your common Looney Tunes skit, which is what makes it work. There is nothing to see as far as acting is concerned. Even Bill Murray’s extended cameo as himself didn’t save anyone from this cringe fest. Maybe the best thing to ever come out of this cinematic endeavor is the soundtrack, especially R. Kelly’s I Believe I Can Fly which, for some time and arguably until now, remains to be a go-to song for guys who want to belt at karaoke. The song doesn’t age given its very positive message, an anthem of undying determination in the face of overwhelming odds.

Overall, Space Jam might be corny and a waste of time for most people, but the core theme will always be relevant. As a kid watching this, your most important take-away will be that courage and perseverance to go after your dreams. As an adult who grew up with Looney Tunes, it is the perfect opportunity for a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

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