Is Space Jam so Bad it’s Actually Good? – Animation Scoop

Is Space Jam so Bad it’s Actually Good?

Space Jam occupies an unusual place in the lexicon of hybrid animated/live-action films. Not nearly as expensive (or as polished) as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, it nonetheless became massively successful thanks mainly to its animated cast. As a kid, Space Jam was downright awesome for many reasons, yet as an adult (and fan of animation,) it’s borderline unwatchable. Yet it’s so hard to ignore Space Jam despite its flaws. Since it’s being shown in theatres again in November, in honor of its 20th anniversary, it’s time to consider whether the film really is so bad, it’s good.

Space Jam is a complicated movie to analyse. Especially when it holds a certain amount of nostalgia for many people (including this writer) who were a certain age when it came out, and who also thought it was the ‘bestest movie ever’ after seeing it on the big screen. Paradoxically, to kids, Space Jam is a great movie. It’s got aliens, humour, cartoon characters, some big dummy called Michael Jordan, and an overall concept is easy for a kid to grasp. All these reasons combined to make it a hit film in 1996 and have kept it simmering in the public’s subconscious ever since, including going so far as to create satircal oral histories.

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When viewed as an adult though, Space Jam is a different movie entirely. The crass commercialism is obvious, and the blatant self-promotion of Michael Jordan himself is kinda repulsive when you think about how it exploits the Looney Tunes for that reason. You don’t even need to watch the Nostalgia Critic’s rant to know this either. To say the film hasn’t aged well is being kind. Firmly rooted in the 1990s in just about every way, it’s about as relevant today as it’s still-online website is.

Yet for all it’s flaws, Space Jam is watchable. Big screen outings for characters from Hollywood’s original theatrical shorts are quite rare, even today. Space Jam may not be a great film, but it is a decent popcorn flick. It was also released in a different era when animated films didn’t necessarily need to take themselves as seriously as they do today. It knows it’s out to have fun, and it does.

From the animation fan’s standpoint though, Space Jam is a travesty. The Looney Tunes are the epitome of an acting troupe that is self-supporting and self-reinforcing thanks to its delicate mix of characters. Space Jam actually does the reverse by simplifying the Looney Tunes to a point where they could be substituted for original characters and nobody would have been any the wiser. There are homages to the original shorts, but the distance between them and this film are almost too great to overcome. Despite being confined to shorts during their heyday, the Looney Tunes could easily have carried an entire film by themselves if they needed to. Their robust yet flexible characters convey a depth that yearns to be explored further. Maybe not in the same way as the indie comic Boy’s Night explores Mickey and Goofy’s off-screen ‘lives’ and personas, but something that gives the characters something more to play to.

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Further warping our view today is the movie that came after Space Jam.

Looney Tunes: Back in Action illustrates just what a bad film looks like and led to, for all intents and purposes, the death of the Looney Tunes as contemporary cultural influences. That isn’t to say they are prevented from becoming so again, but rather that Warner Bros. thought they had a recipe for the character’s success that didn’t pan out. At a time when outlandish characters saying and doing things with the explicit goal of keeping their names in the public’s consciousness, there ought to be a place for the Looney Tunes to carve out a niche.

For all its flaws, Space Jam lives on as a curio that attempted to drag classic cartoon characters into the modern day. It’s success may be a hollow victory, but it arguably made the Looney Tunes relevant for a critical number of years. Ironically, we could use a Space Jam today given the lack of classic cartoons in many youngster’s media diets. For that alone, Space Jam is good enough.

Charles Kenny

Charles Kenny

Being tall, Irish and a civil engineer by trade, Charles stands out in the animation crowd, hence his position as the Animation Anomaly.
Charles Kenny
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  • Tony

    My favorite scene from Space Jam was when Daffy kissed the WB logo on his butt. It had the cheeky irreverence of a classic Bob Clampett short, and the animator even achieved a reasonable facsimile of a Rod Scribner animation. For one brief fleeting moment, the old spark was back.

  • Matthew

    AOL Time Warner has been the death of everything it touches. Since that misbegotten merger (which happened between SJ and LT:BIA), they all but killed the Looney Tunes, it forced MAD Magazine to sell ad space, and now the whole film division is having problems manifesting themselves in a string of artificially grimdarkened, needlessly expensive and inexplicably incoherent DC movies. And don’t get me started on Time Warner Cable. They’re why I never bothered to get cable when I first got my own place away from my parents.

    They’re going to need to do a massive house cleaning if they ever want to change things for the better.