The 1996 film, Space Jam, combines live action and animation to create a fast-paced sports comedy, starring real-life basketball player Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes cartoon characters from Warner Bros Pictures.
Produced by Ivan Reitman, the film relates an alternative and fictional version of what happened after Jordan’s retirement from the NBA in 1993, until his return in 1995.
Jordan stars as himself, with the action beginning in 1973, when the ten-year-old future basketball star is practicing at home. His father tells him it’s bedtime but allows the youngster to take a few more shots.
As he shoots, Jordan makes several wishes, such as joining the NBA and later going on to play baseball. His father is impressed when the boy scores every shot.
The action then fast-forwards to 1993, when the adult Jordan announces his retirement from professional basketball. His father is now deceased, but Jordan starts to forge a new career in baseball instead, as his late father would have wished.
However, he isn’t as skilled at baseball and has a difficult time adjusting, with his career going through a bumpy patch. His assistant and publicist, Stan Podolak, is given the job of smoothing Jordan’s transition into baseball.
Meanwhile, the cartoon characters live peacefully in Looney Tunes Land, which is hidden in the centre of the earth, but their existence comes under threat after a planet which houses an intergalactic theme park, called Moron Mountain, begins to feel the effects of its dwindling popularity.
The park’s owner, Mr Swackhammer, decides it needs to be livened up, so he sends his tiny army of minions, the Nerdlucks, to earth to kidnap the Looney Tunes, believing they will provide the new entertainment needed to boost Moron Mountain’s takings.
On their arrival in Looney Tunes Land, the Nerdlucks are challenged to a game of basketball by the residents, who are playing for their freedom. However, the invaders cheat by stealing the skills of several professional basketball players, such as Shawn Bradley, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Muggsy Bogues and Larry Johnson.
This turns them into a team of basketball superstars called the Monstars, who seem invincible. The Looney Tunes seem doomed, until their unofficial leader, Bugs Bunny, locates Jordan playing a round of golf with Bill Murray, in a cameo role. Jordan is sucked down a giant hole and recruited for the basketball team.
When Jordan meets Bugs Bunny and friends, initially, he refuses to join the team, but after being humiliated and ridiculed by the Monstars, he’s fired up to play basketball again and rises to the challenge.
He’s joined on the team by his assistant, Stan, who follows him down the hole, and a number of cartoon characters. Will Jordan and his team of Looney Tunes win the day, or will their opponents, the giant Monstars, triumph and consign the Looney Tunes to life on a theme park?
As a key player in the Chicago Bulls basketball team, Jordan won six NBA championships during the 1990s. However, he wasn’t known for his acting skills and Space Jam was his first foray into movies. His performance was widely praised by the critics, as he eased into the comedy role, acting alongside animated characters.
The Looney Tunes characters were voiced by a number of regular voice actors, many of whom had already been providing their voices in the long-running cartoon series. Danny DeVito provided the voice of Mr Swackhammer.
The Tunes included Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, the Tasmanian Devil, Daffy Duck, Foghorn Leghorn, Pepé Le Pew, Sylvester the Cat, Tweety Pie, a new character called Lola Bunny (Bugs’ love interest) and other familiar faces.
Jordan and Bugs Bunny
The unlikely pairing of Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny has led to Space Jam being described as a “buddy movie”, with their relationship compared to that of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito in Twins.
Joe Pytka, Space Jam’s director, said initially he thought it was a “silly idea” for a film and didn’t think it would work, but the idea grew on him and somehow, it all came together, largely due to the “entertaining” pairing of Jordan and Bugs Bunny.
It wasn’t the first time the basketball player had appeared on court with the cartoon rabbit. A few years earlier, Pytka had been asked to direct a Nike commercial featuring Jordan and Bugs.
The commercial and music video director initially said no, as he felt Bugs Bunny’s appearance was too “old school” and wouldn’t fit in with the modern theme of the commercial he had in mind. He said it was tough when he eventually decided to do the commercial, as Warner Bros were reluctant to modernise Bugs’ appearance.
Eventually, they agreed and the resulting commercial was a huge success when it made its debut during the Super Bowl. Pytka has also made a Hare Jordan ad for Nike, starring Michael.
He said he was surprised to learn the movie pairing was planned, mixing live action with animation, as no-one had contacted him for his input, but he reckoned he was finally brought onboard when Warner Bros realised they needed someone who was adept at mixing animation with live action.
The first thing he did was rework the script to make the pairing of Jordan and Bugs more central to the plot. He praised Jordan, who had no experience as an actor, for being totally professional through the complicated filming process, always turning up on time and knowing his lines perfectly.
Space Jam 2
A long-awaited sequel to Space Jam is now in the pipeline – Space Jam 2, with LeBron James taking the place of Michael Jordan. Several other NBA all-stars are also reportedly taking part in the movie, while Ryan Coogler will be the director. This will be his first project since directing the hugely successful Black Panther.
Following months of speculation, it was officially announced in September that the film will be going ahead. Filming is tentatively set to start in 2019, although the date hasn’t yet been confirmed and no plot details have been released.