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Getting the Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD box set for birthday and watching every single cartoon on the discs, my interest in the Looney Tunes has risen just about as high as the Muppets when I first saw Jason Segel's movie. I even looked at my old Looney Tunes annuals and found the comics funny as a 20 year old, the best coming from Dave Alvarez. One of those comics was a Lola Bunny comic in which she went on a Lara Croft style adventure which turned out to be another day in her life as a pizza delivery girl. Later came Who Framed Roger Rabbit's 25th anniversary, and I imagined what life would be like for cartoon characters with the current state of the animation industry. The next month, I watched their newest Cartoon Network sitcom, and the more of it I watched, the more I thought, "You know what? I think I'll review Space Jam!"
Space Jam is basically a movie about Michael Jordan's life post retirement with Looney Tunes added in to make it exciting. It was the second film by music video and commercial director Joe Pytka, whose first film was an action comedy without any cartoonish or sci-fi elements. Of course, having directed the "Hare Jordan" spots, which first paired Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny and became successful enough to get this movie made, he at least knew about handling green-screen and animation. It was a hit at its time - its songs were memorable, one even received an award, it made heaps of money at the box office, its website is the longest living movie website on the whole internet, and even today it's considered a nostalgic cult classic. Hell, I owned the VHS as a child and then the DVD which came with Back in Action. Then again, when you're a child, everything's great. So let's see why the more you know about Looney Tunes, the worse the movie gets.
As this movie has less than 100,000 votes on the IMDB for a movie that was a hit in the 90's, some of you may still be curious. Well, here's the whole story. MJ's retired basketball for baseball. After he announces this, we are abruptly taken to an alien world where everyone is a cartoon, just like the inhabitants of the Earth's core. A theme park boss voiced by Danny DeVito (obviously) sends some aliens down to capture the Looney Tunes (who live in the Earth's core) so that he can turn his boring amusement park into Six Flags in outer space. Meanwhile, Michael Jordan is just spending some regular time with his family. Scrap that. Down in Tune Land, which can be visited just by ripping through the WB shield underground (God knows how they get back), the aliens (Nerdlucks) and the Looney Tunes must decide what challenge they should put against the aliens to see if they get enslaved or not; apparently this interrupts a classic Road Runner cartoon. The Looney Tunes, being the tricksters most of them are, could have easily just kicked their alien butts into oblivion and called it a day, but no, they simply choose a basketball game because they are slow and puny.
The Nerdlucks proceed to turn into goo that steals the talents of NBA's top players, one of them being the singer of the movie's theme song, and use the ball to turn themselves into the exact opposite of their girly-sounding midget selves. The Looney Tunes, who have tackled a giant, a martian, an orange monster and even a dinosaur, are too wimpy to take them on. So wimpy that Porky Pig makes a pee joke. They could've at least blown them to smithereens with their explosives and ray guns in the first place, but no, it's clear that despite a scene where classic cartoons are played on multiple TV screens, Joe Pytka and the rest of the crew haven't watched enough Looney Tunes.
So they steal Michael Jordan from his game of golf and persuade him to help them win the game. He doesn't quite agree until he first meets the giant aliens, now called "Monstars". Similar to how Eddie Valiant was squished by the elevator's speed and grabbed his hat as he started falling from the top of a hotel, Michael Jordan gets squished into a basketball by a Monstar and forgets about both that and the fact that he was able to fit through such a small hole when his friend is flattened without any gore involved and blown up like a balloon. Of course, this wasn't the first time a black man was squished into a basketball and still talked. The last time was in a Troma film.
After we are given a montage of the NBA stars struggling to cope with their lack of skills and MJ's friends Wayne Knight and Bill Murray (because Ivan Reitman) trying to dig him out, we are introduced to Lola Bunny, whose talents at basketball get the toons interested (Tweety actually calls her "hot"), Bugs much more than that, enough to join the team. She also punishes those who happen to call her "doll". Being a rabbit in the shape of a human being, she is considered to be one of the reasons furries exist, besides Minerva Mink. She was intended to be a replacement for Honey Bunny, a plug for feminine interest and a successor to Jessica Rabbit. Unfortunately, she isn't as Looney as even Red Hot Riding Hood. There is a part where she goes wild after kissing Bugs the second time, but we'll get to that later.
People say that she has little personality, but I don't agree with them. She's athletic, independent and tomboyish, a good role model for girls. Except that's the main problem with her - she ain't funny (then again, neither is anyone in this movie), she gets treated too well, and her personality traits do not belong in the Looney Tunes canon. What, are kids going to shoot themselves next? Even worse, this new character only gets up to three minutes and three quarters of screen time and it doesn't help that she often disappears in scenes she's supposed to be in.
But here's here the real kick in the balls comes in - a member of the Toon Zone forums remembers finding an interview which was either featured on television or in a magazine with Looney Tunes master Friz Freleng, who died a year before Space Jam was released, during Bugs Bunny's 50th anniversary. He said that having a permanent girlfriend (Daisy Lou was a one-timer) would spoil Bugs' reputation as a troublemaker, as he would have to "stay out of trouble". I'm not one for spoiling movies like many of the modern reviewers who have seen Doug Phunny's review of Space Jam, but when we last see Lola, MJ reminds Bugs to "stay out of trouble". Bugs replies, "You know I will," and kisses Lola on the lips. Still think Space Jam is cool?
Minutes before that happens, Wayne Knight finds Bugs and Daffy snooping around in the real world, and goes through the hole (God knows how) to re-unite with MJ. The Tune Squad gears up that evening and the crowd is already cheering, though we'll go into more detail about that later. Predictably they suck at first, with Granny taking the abuse because she's old unlike Lola who's the only one to score because feminism and Sniffles getting his like-or-dislikable ass handed to him.
In the next round, they strive to win the game by shoehorning in as much cartoon slapstick as possible. Yosemite Sam and Elmer Fudd spoof Tarantino by shooting a Monstar's teeth off, Witch Hazel appears out of nowhere, Granny gets abused again, the audience sits where they're bound to get hurt and Lola Bunny tries to be funny by calling out "Nice butt" in front of a Monster whose shorts have fallen down, but fails miserably. The same Monstar gets his butt painted red by Daffy and painfully lifted into the air by Toro because that Monstar is FAT ROFLMAO. Earlier in the movie Taz's face gets a close-up, which are done like crazy, and snot is dripping from his nose. Warner Bros. may have animated butts before Ren & Stimpy made them cool, but unfortunately this was the decade where cartoons began to rip off Ren & Stimpy, and doing it to a cartoon that never meant to be gross in any way is a step too far. Anyway, Lola almost gets squished, Wayne Knight definitely gets squished, Bill Murray goes down the hole to help the Tune Squad, Danny DeVito breaks the fourth wall by confusing him for Dan Aykroyd and that's all I have to say about this ridiculous plot.
The animation isn't too bad, involving such talent as Roger Rabbit animators Chuck Gammage, Uli Meyer, Gary Dunn and Richard Williams veteran Neil Boyle, but at times doesn't look convincing enough. It doesn't help that the shading is overdone and misused - why do the Looney Tunes need to be CG-shaded in their own painted world? Don't get me wrong, it also happened in Roger Rabbit but at least it was used wisely.
There's hardly any shot of Michael in the Tune world that isn't accompanied by any Looney Tunes or at least another character; it's as if they're trying to grab kids' attention by cramming as many of them into each shot as possible when they could be taking roles of their own. After all, the Looney Tunes weren't always meant to be the same but this is ridiculous.
Another gripe I have with the animation is the crowd during the big game. I understand this was completed in 1996, but the crowd just looks so rushed. It consists of "ORIGINAL CHARACTER DO NOT STEAL" versions of well-known Looney Tunes characters, such as Claude the Cat, Penelope, Pete Puma, the Three Bears, Hippity Hopper, Playboy Penguin and Egghead Jr., who are stretched and squashed to ludicrous sizes, coloured in turquoise and purple, occasionally face-swapped, clearly pixelated when seen on Blu-Ray, apparently ghosts, never in the same position in each shot, always happy no matter who wins and at the same visible speed even in slow-motion. Forget the background pony "clones", this is something to complain about.
As for the rest, there are many close-ups in this film that are so extreme that they make the shots in Tom Hooper's Les Miserables look distant. The music from James Newton Howard is fine enough, and the songs are catchy and memorable (unless you aren't into rap, like me). There are also plot holes by the dozen, like Michael Jordan forgetting what happened to him earlier when he asked "How did he do that", and the crowd gasping with shock when Bugs Bunny gets squished when there were more brutal things happening to the other players. Dee Bradley Baker's Daffy, who is a mixture of both his wacky and jerky personalities, and Billy West's Bugs sound a lot younger than they're supposed to be, but that doesn't mean to say they're bad at all. Kath Soucie does a cute voice for Lola, who only gets, like, several lines. However, I feel that Danny DeVito could've given off a better performance as his character, Mr. Swackhammer. Even worse, Michael Jordan isn't as good at acting as he was at basketball. No wonder there's so much Looney Tunes characters around him.
Not even classic Looney Tunes veteran Chuck Jones approved of Space Jam, saying Lola Bunny is "worthless", and neither did his friend Joe Dante, who responded by making Looney Tunes: Back in Action years later. This film, unlike Space Jam, tanked at the box office but did better with critics, but that doesn't mean to say it can be considered Fresh. For many of its flaws, it's still not a bad movie. Sure it's a little too cynical, it breaks the fourth wall too many times for its own good and Taz's fart joke is worse than any of the attempts at Ren & Stimpy humour in Space Jam, but it remains satirical and silly, with a better understanding of the Looney Tunes than Joe Pytka's vision (except for the fart joke, of course).
It was designed as the "anti-Space Jam", and it makes fun of excessive product placement by slapping a Wal-Mart into the desert, whereas Space Jam was nothing but an advertisement, and the bad acting from its human actors fits well unlike Michael Jordan's bad acting (he makes a brief cameo). And although Lola makes an appearance on a blurry poster if you look closely, her existence is poked fun at by Jenna Elfman, who clearly wants to make Space Jam all over again. The Looneys are CG-shaded all the time in the live-action world, but thankfully they do the fully animated sequences the old-fashioned way, without any out-of-place shading.
Chuck Jones may have said Lola Bunny has no future, and I think he'd puke if he ever saw The Looney Tunes Show, which like Space Jam changes the Looney Tunes' personalities, as Bugs, Daffy and Porky are now the Aqua Teens, gives them an interest in basketball, uses CGI, usually isn't that funny and adds in Lola Bunny. But you know what? This Lola makes the show watchable in every episode. Not because of sexual appeal, but that she's the exact opposite of tomboyish Lola - a dumb blonde voiced by Kristen Wiig who's a lot loonier than you'd expect from those traits. And I love her.
She may not appeal to everyone, as people may find her annoying (which is the whole point), clichéd or just not as attractive as the original. I respect that, but if you complain that she's not a role model than I urge you to go and pick up the Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVDs and see how much you've been missing. That's right, as strange as it sounds I think a modern update on Looney Tunes where the Looney Tunes live in the suburbs ain't as bad as people think, and at the same time know everything about the Looney Tunes from watching hundreds of classic cartoons. And that's why Space Jam is so mediocre.
All in all, Space Jam may not be terrible, at it's easy to understand why it became such a cult classic in the first place, but it's the worst thing to happen to the Looney Tunes since the 60's. It's evidence that Warner Bros. doesn't treat their most iconic cartoon characters as well as Disney treats Mickey Mouse (even Mickey Mouse Clubhouse was faithful!). Obviously they weren't aiming for a movie as good as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, they were going more for a more kid-friendly film, but that's the problem with kid-friendly films - they need to at least please the parents as well, because many Looney Tunes cartoons were made for adults in the first place. Space Jam may be sweet and tasty for kids and nostalgia brats, but for Looney Tunes know-it-alls and snobs like me, it's more than just cartoons and basketball. And that's not really a good thing.