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Retro Review: Space Jam

Space Jam [Source: Digital Spy]

Space Jam probably has a special place in your heart if you’re a 90s child. However, does it remain good when removed from our nostalgic memories? Well before the release of the long-anticipated sequel let’s see if this cult classic holds up after 25 years.

Synopsis

A group of aliens called Nerdlucks come to earth and try to kidnap the Looney Tunes (who live underground) to rescue their boss Swackhammer’s failing theme park, Moron Mountain. Outmatched technologically, the Looney Tunes, challenge the aliens to a basketball game to earn their freedom, expecting an easy victory. But the aliens steal the talent of Earth’s best basketball players, becoming the intimidating Monstars. The Tune’s only hope is to get Michael Jordan (playing himself) to coach and play with them. But with Michael having retired from basketball to play baseball professionally does he still have what it takes to save the Tunes?

What Did I Like?

Space Jam’s best elements are its animation and direction. The animated characters move smoothly and have a great level of energy that feels in keeping with the classic Looney Tunes aesthetic. In addition, their incorporation into live-action settings along with the real actor’s interaction with the animated world feels natural and well done. The eye-lines, framing, use of props, and stage actions gives everyone a feeling of presence and weight in the world, which helps audiences buy into the world being shown.

Another positive is the voice acting which gives every animated character a distinct feel. Billy West is suitably self-assured as Bugs Bunny, Dee Bradley Baker shines as the selfish Daffy Duck, and Kath Soucie is certainly memorable as the sultry Lola Bunny. The voices of the Monstars add a real level of danger to proceedings with their intimidating and maliciously evil tones and Danny DeVito feels truly slimy as Swackhammer.

Then there’s the delightful soundtrack. Full of RnB and hip-hop tracks which are undoubtedly endearing to those who love 90s music. But the subject and emotions communicated by each song fits and adds to the scenes they are used in. And of course, the Quad City DJ’s theme song is infectious; remaining permanently ingrained in many people’s heads to this day.

What Did I Not Like?

Space Jam’s story is incredibly underdeveloped and doesn’t seem to know who it’s aimed at. The excuse to involve the Looney Tunes in the story feels flimsy at best (Swackhammer sees them on TV and decides to make them his star attraction. Why exactly?). Michael’s story also feels lazy. Despite the initial setup of Michael leaving basketball to play baseball the movie spends little to no time with him away from basketball or doubting his ability when the Looney Tunes ask him to play. Thus, it lacks any impact and makes the human’s story feel mostly pointless. With everything else being a cookie-cutter, cliched underdog story. Tonally the film is also inconsistent. With the Looney Tunes’ child-friendly over-the-top slapstick and funny voices contrasting awfully with long stretches showcasing humourless sports drama and Michael’s private/business life.

The human characters also lack interesting dimensions. The actors are written as either bland versions of themselves or stock characters. Which quickly becomes boring. The acting doesn’t help. Wayne Knight aside, all the human actors are clearly putting in no effort. And the athletes featured in the film are terrible at acting. The worst offender is undoubtedly Michael Jordan who just doesn’t have any discernible personality or charisma to latch onto as the main character. Because no characters make an impression and the lack of enthusiasm or talent from the human stars is palpable it also diminishes most of the attempts at comedy. Making large portions of the film a chore to watch.

Finally, because the film’s story, characters and much of its humour fails to engage viewers the blatant product placement for McDonald’s, Nike, Gatorade etc. and the use of the film as a branding exercise for Warner Bros animation properties and a vehicle for NBA players becomes more difficult to stomach. Contrary to films like the Lego Movie, which showed it’s possible to make great movies from merchandising opportunities, this movie feels uninterested in being anything more than a commercial. Which sincerely sours the whole enterprise.

Verdict

Space Jam’s animation and direction which mixes animation with live-action remains incredible. The voice actors are distinct, and the great soundtrack really enhances the viewing experience.

But the poor story, which doesn’t seem to know its audience combined with lazily drawn or stock human characters and mostly bad performances (Michael Jordan being the worst) makes it impossible to invest substantively in the action. While also making many jokes flounder, and the films aggravating use as a vehicle for product placement and branding harder to ignore.

Ultimately, Space Jam doesn’t hold up without the rose-tinted glasses.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars (1.5 / 5)

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Posted by
Josh Greally

Writer and filmmaker from Chesterfield. I have a masters in directing film and television and have written film reviews for several smaller sites in the past. Films are my life, but I also enjoy writing, reading, listening to music and debating.