It helped that Space Jam had as its star the then-33-year-old Michael Jordan — whom the NBA itself calls “the greatest basketball player of all time” — shooting hoops with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd. That winning combination led the 1996 family movie to become a $230 million blockbuster smash. (It also allowed The Hollywood Reporter to begin its review by saying the film lets the Chicago Bulls star “prove that Dennis Rodman is not the only Looney Tune he can play with.”)
THR recently broke news of a sequel that will have LeBron James, 31, filling Jordan’s Nikes and Star Trek Beyond helmer Justin Lin behind the camera. But the original film was all about Warner Bros. getting an animation division off the ground. It would be moving into a territory then dominated by Disney. (The unit’s next film, the entirely animated Quest for Camelot, fizzled.)
Producer Ivan Reitman says every week he’d have a meeting with Warners co-chairman Bob Daly, who would remind him that Looney Tunes characters were the “studio’s crown jewels — those were the words he’d use.” Space Jam‘s plot was that Bugs and company needed to defeat the Monstars alien basketball team to avoid serving as perpetual attractions at Moran Mountain, a galactic theme park. “The key was getting the tone to hold so it works for kids and adults,” says Reitman. “That was the line we were walking.”
As for the sequel, the original film’s director Joe Pytka has this advice: “Don’t do it. It’s doomed. Michael Jordan was the biggest star on the planet.”
His point being that James already has been eclipsed by Steph Curry, and it will be at least two years before the film can be completed. “When we did Space Jam, there was a perfect storm of players and ex-players available — Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing,” says Pytka. “They all had a persona that complemented the film. There are none around like that now.”
This story first appeared in the May 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.