It was the year of Independence Day, Trainspotting, Scream, Fargo, Mission: Impossible.
It’s fair to say that 1996 was a hell of a year for movies. But look again at each of these titles. The sequel to Independence Day has come and gone. The sequel to Trainspotting is on its way. Both Scream and Fargo have been adapted into successful TV shows. A sixth Mission: Impossible film is due to begin production soon. Tom Cruise just can’t get enough.
And neither can we. It’s no secret that we’re stood with one foot in the ’90s and one foot in the now. The ’90s were our ‘good old days’, and good old days they were. Property was cheap. The economy was strong. Oasis were gods. There was no War in Iraq (kinda). People had faith in politicians (again, kinda). Everyone was optimistic about the future and had no idea they were about to have the trapdoor pulled on them.
So it goes, eh?
But there’s one film missing from those listed above. One film that epitomised the bright lights, bold colours and bonkers excess of the 1990s. One film that could bring us back from the edge of darkness.
Beautiful, isn’t it?
It’s probably been a while since you’ve seen Space Jam, so let’s have a quick rundown of the plot.
Michael Jordan, AKA the greatest basketball player of all time, has decided to retire from being the greatest basketball player of all time and become the most mediocre baseball player of all time. Everyone’s so in awe of MJ that they forgive for sucking; even the opposing team tell him how to swing on each pitch. Poor MJ, right?
Meanwhile, in outer outer space, the villainous owner of alien theme park Moron Mountain (voiced by – fuck yeah! – Danny DeVito) wants new attractions to keep visitors happy. He sends his minions – the Nerdlucks – down to Earth to kidnap the Looney Tunes and bring them back to Moron Mountain. Bugs Bunny and co aren’t so hot on the idea, so they trick the aliens into settling the predicament with a basketball game. An easy win, right?
What the Tunes weren’t counting on was the aliens stealing the talent of five NBA pros and morphing into big, brutish basketball terrors. To quote the script: “These little pipsqueaks just turned into superstars!” “They’re monsters!” “Suffering succotash – they’re ‘Monstars’!”
Well, shit. So what do the Tunes do? What anyone would do in the same situation: kidnap Michael Jordan and convince him to play basketball for them. But oh no! Apart from the ludicrously overly-sexualised Lola Bunny (whose narrative functions consist of being good at basketball and giving Bugs a big furry hard on), none of them can play ball. What are they going to do?
So let’s just hit pause for a moment.
It goes without saying that Space Jam is utterly, utterly ridiculous. It doesn’t make sense as a sports film, and it doesn’t really make much sense as a cartoon either. For a movie about basketball, there’s bugger all of it in the entire film. There’s no training montages or inspirational coaching moments – literally, the last thing Jordan says before the Tunes are potentially enslaved for the rest of their lives is, “Guys, let’s just go out and have fun.” Good job, coach.
If this were a Looney Tunes cartoon, it would have been over in six minutes. Someone would have dropped an anvil on the aliens and then blown up the anvil with dynamite and then dropped the blown-up anvil off a cliff and then let a steamroller run over the blown-up anvil. Unfortunately, six minutes does not a movie make, so the Tunes have to save their anarchic approach to problem solving until the very end of the film, by which time they may as well be playing nuclear war instead of basketball.
But the thing about Space Jam is that literally none of that matters. Space Jam isn’t about making sense or being logical; it’s about blind, relentless optimism in the face of madness and death. A team of giant aliens with the embodied talent of five NBA stars versus Michael Jordan and a useless bunch of cartoons – what else are you supposed to do except go out and have fun?
And when it looks like you’re about to be consigned to an eternity of slavery in an alien theme park, all you need is a blast of Michael’s Secret Stuff – you know, the stuff that’s been inside you all along – to spur yourself on to victory.
Is anyone buying this?
Okay, so it’s difficult to find any real meaning in Space Jam.
It’s a movie that was made to cash in on Michael Jordan’s enormous popularity and for Warner Bros. to steal a slice of the animated feature film pie from Disney. So why do we love it so much? The news that a sequel starring LeBron James could be on the way nearly broke the internet. The hilariously ’90s Space Jam website is still alive and well, preserved in time for future generations to discover. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, the film is making a one-off return to US cinemas.
The simple answer? It’s just awesome.
Michael Jordan and the Looney Tunes playing basketball against a bunch of suped-up aliens – what’s not to like? Who doesn’t think dunking a basketball is inherently cool? Who doesn’t enjoy the madcap antics of the Looney Tunes? Space Jam is legitimately funny, and the opening scene between Michael and his father is the realest thing in this movie.
As for the man himself, what Michael Jordan may lack in acting chops, he makes up for with pure charisma – he’s the most goddamn charming man on the planet. Everybody loves him, even if you never saw a single Chicago Bulls game in your life.
So maybe that’s why we need Space Jam. In the bleakness of now, in all the divisiveness and mistrust of today, maybe we just need one unifying experience that everyone, man or woman, rich or poor, black or white, native or foreign, can agree was Just. Awesome.
Oh, and Bill Murray saves the day.