THE NEW YORK TIMES
By JANET MASLIN
Published: November 15, 1996
‘‘Space Jam” may well be the only film in which Looney Tunes characters openly discuss merchandising tie-ins. As Daffy Duck asks Bugs Bunny when the subject of mugs and T-shirts comes up, ”You ever see any money from that stuff?”
Maybe Bugs doesn’t, but somebody will. ”Space
Jam” is all about salesmanship, though it also turns
out to be a reasonably good big-screen baby sitter
for small children with savvy commercial tastes.
It’s both a frantic, innovative mixture of animation technologies and a fan magazine full
of adulation for Michael Jordan. He handles this tribute with regal bearing and good
As a sports star so celebrated that even the backs of his ears are famous, Mr. Jordan need
do little more here than show off his sportsmanship and play ball. (Typical line: ”Let’s
just go out and have fun.”) It’s baseball at first, which gives the one enterprising twist
to an otherwise near-plotless spectacle. Mr. Jordan is first seen giving up basketball
to try baseball, and the film makes knowing jokes about this switch. After all, it saves
Mr. Jordan from being nabbed by animated space aliens who bewitch the film’s other
(Parents who know they won’t resist the juggernaut of ”Space Jam” should take a popcorn
break at this point. Skip the next two paragraphs. Also feel free to ignore this information
when you see it on screen.)
Somewhere in animated outer space, a bunch of brightly colored bugs called Nerdlucks
need a new attraction for Moron Mountain, their amusement park. They decide to kidnap
all the Looney Tunes characters. Then Bugs challenges the Nerdlucks to a basketball
game. The Nerdlucks, being wily (and with Danny DeVito supplying the voice of their
ringleader), morph themselves into big, mean basketball aces by sapping the talents of
Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Muggsy Bogues and others.
But the Nerdlucks don’t catch Michael Jordan. Since they’re from another planet, they
are able to mistake him for a baseball player, which no real earthling would do. Still, Mr.
Jordan does not stay out of the fray. He’s out playing golf with Bill Murray and Larry
Bird when he gets sucked down a hole and dragged into Looneyland for the big game.
Back? Anyway, to make ”Space Jam,” Mr. Jordan shot and dribbled among figures in
special green suits, who were later replaced by animated versions of everyone from
Tweety Bird to Foghorn Leghorn to Yosemite Sam. The juxtaposition of human and
animated figures is very skillful, thanks to direction by Joe Pytka, a star director of
television commercials. Mr. Pytka never need have a visual idea that lasts longer than 30
seconds here, thanks to the film’s scriptless state and giddy, cacophonous style. This film
was made very quickly by animation standards, and the haste shows.
”Space Jam” is also the brainchild of Ivan Reitman, who is one of the producers and
whose own films (”Ghostbusters,” ”Stripes,” ”Kindergarten Cop”) also value high-
concept thinking and loose, wisecracking style. In the energetic, mishmash manner of a
Mad magazine parody, the film simply throws
in every gag and non sequitur it can think of. (”I
didn’t know Dan Aykroyd was in this picture,”
says someone or something, misidentifying Mr.
Murray.) Crammed with pop and sports
references, the film also kids about its own
crassness. One character succeeds in plugging
Hanes, Wheaties, Gatorade and a Big Mac in a
Wayne Knight, as Mr. Jordan’s devoted gofer, is
around to provide comic relief, which means being squashed flat by the film’s animation
tricks. Also on hand, in all their collective glory, are the celebrities of the Looney Tunes
world. ”Space Jam” is as much a fond tribute to their past as it is a product-plugging,
high-tech, hip-hopping thing of the future.
”Space Jam” is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested). It’s mildly rude but fine for young
Directed by Joe Pytka; written by Leo Benvenuti, Steve Rudnick, Timothy Harris and
Herschel Weingrod; director of photography, Michael Chapman; edited by Sheldon
Kahn; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Geoffrey Kirkland;
animation producer, Ron Tippe; produced by Ivan Reitman, Joe Medjuck and Daniel
Goldberg; released by Warner Brothers. Running time: 99 minutes. This film is rated PG.
WITH: Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Muggsy Bogues, Bill Murray
and Larry Bird (as themselves); Wayne Knight (Stan Podolak) and Theresa Randle
WITH THE VOICES OF: Danny DeVito (Swackhammer), Billy West (Bugs Bunny and
Elmer Fudd), Bradley Baker (Daffy Duck, the Tazmanian Devil and Bull), Bob Bergen
(Bertie, Hubie, Marvin the Martian, Porky Pig, Speedy Gonzales and Tweety), Bill
Farmer (Sylvester, Yosemite Sam and Foghorn Leghorn) and Kath Soucie (Lola Bunny)