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On Nov. 15, 1996, Warner Bros. teamed with Michael Jordan to launch Space Jam in theaters, eventually grossing more than $230 million worldwide. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below.
Michael Jordan proves here that Dennis Rodman is not the only Looney Tune he can play with.
Taking the cinematic court with Warner Bros.’ vaunted lineup of Looney Tune characters, including Bugs, Daffy, Elmer et al., Jordan and his new cartoon teammates scores some fast-breaking laughs in this animation/live action teaming.
Kids who want to be “just like Mike,” as well as we bigger kids who get transported back to happy days via Bugs and the other Looney Tuners, will get off on this cagey winner. Expect a high-scoring box office for Warner Bros.
A hybrid in optical style — animation with live action — Space Jam is also a creative amalgam, owing its inspiration to Nike ads and Jordan’s ascendant popularity as a superstar pitchman and following through with a traditional film scenario centering around a shootout with bad invaders. With Jordan on the team, the shootout is held, not surprisingly, on the basketball court where the Looney Tunes must defeat a force of nasty aliens to avoid serving as perpetual theme-park attractions at Moron Mountain.
A team of screenwriters (Leo Benvenuti, Steve Rudnick, Timothy Harris, Herschel Weingrod) has drawn up a simple cinematic play of Xs and Os, allowing all the individual superstars from Mike to Elmer Fudd to have their moments in which to shine.
The creators have shrewdly thrown in some supporting real-life characters to give Mike some comic assists. These are most notably Bill Murray, who tosses some no-look nonsense to Mike, and Wayne Knight, a recurring delight as a rotund publicist. There’s also a team of NBA-ers, including Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, Shawn Bradley and Muggsy Bogues, who cash in with their hoops presence. It’s a well-selected comedy team, with the 7’7″ Bradley and the 5’3″ Muggsy making a great sight gag whenever cinematographer Michael Chapman can fit them into the same frame. Indeed, the integration of real-life Muggsy with cartoon Bugsy is a hoot.
Credit veteran TV commercial director Joe Pytka, whose zingy ads spotlight sports personalities, for the fast-break action. Perhaps the real superstars of Space Jam, however, are the talented technical team members who have magically blended the real-life and cartoon worlds.
Overall, Space Jam is a seamless marvel as Jordan slams and jams in the Looney Tune world. Animation co-directors Bruce Smith and Tony Cervone have orchestrated a dazzingly visual treat, including some zippy fun courtesy of special visual effects maestro Ed Jones and his ace team.
Jordan’s superstar persona and serious demeanor are well-suited for his role, essentially that of a straight man. His unruffled confidence and restless energy make him the perfect star and the perfect foil for his new 2-D teammates. If Space Jam scores heavily, don’t be surprised if the next big-screen Jordan effort is a single-product, 88-minute commercial posting low as a feature film. — Duane Byrge, originally published on Nov. 12, 1996
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