Alright everybody shut up. We’re watching Space Jam today and I need everyone reading this to be on board for something built out of whimsy, nostalgia, and the juggernaut charisma of the finest basketball player-turned-underwear-salesman to ever set foot on this undeserving planet. But we’re gonna watch it with a twist.
(I love Space Jam more than I love most of my family (sorry Florida cousins) so I will, throughout this essay, lose my shit. I will indicate these moments by informing you how much shit I have left. Let’s say I have a ton of shit. Every time I indicate that I’ve lost some, it simply means that I was writing, got too into the Jam, collected myself, and continued writing. Fuck, I love this movie)
(2,000 lbs. Feelin’ good, steady as a rock)
If you have the Space Jam DVD, throw it in your DVD player or whatever you got and turn on the commentary track with the film’s director Joe Pytka, actors Billy West and Dee Bradley Baker, and stars Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. What follows is a lot of goodness and fun that can be summed up in one sweet word: childhood.
I grew up on Looney Tunes like a lot of folks. Though, not gonna lie, Bugs and Daffy were never my favorite (I was always drawn to intellect and hubris and inevitable tragedy of Wiley Coyote and Marvin the Martian). But, it’s also an undeniable fact of Looney Tunes that Bugs is king, and Daffy is the capricious and hedonistic god. So to hear these two actors doing their best to bring the magic of Mel Blanc (the original voice of almost every goddam Looney Tune) back to Earth, what’s not to love?
(1,750 lbs. oh shit, just thinking about Mel Blanc and I’ve lost enough of my shit to fill a Florida kiddie pool)
The pair are also, as always, aware of their place in culture and have some understandings of the movie biz. They complain about the shoot, about the director, about each other. They praise Michael Jordan for both his acting and his undeniable game. It’s a treat to hear two talented men speak and react like an entire generation’s introduction to humor. And, of course, any opportunity to hear the pillars upon which the whole temple of modern humor was held up is not one to be missed. Especially, mind you, when the opportunity is to hear them discuss something as glorious and bizarre as Space Jam. (1,300 lbs. I’m losing shit like I invested it in Mortgages ’08 style)
This movie’s first script was probably written on cocktail napkins, soaked in alcohol. Somebody at Warner Brothers lifted his head from a Scarfacian mountain of cocaine and yelled to an empty strip club, “I’VE DONE IT. BASKETBALLS!” before scribbling the idea down and promptly dying of a mix of heart failure and the kind of genius that simply doesn’t last long on this planet. It takes a quick burning candle like that to take Chicago Bulls star player and certified basketball God, Michael Jordan, (920 lbs. Any mention of the tongue-out-slam-dunk Legend and my shit is so lost it needs a compass and Seal Team 6) and put him with a buncha cartoons.
Space Jam is still the perfect kids movie. It knows its audience and goes after them with Wiley Coyote levels of intensity. Here’s a run down of things kids love (in my experience) and a lite debriefing about why Space Jam is all those without exception:
Noise: Kids love pots and pans. Kids love fireworks. Kids love the impossible shrieking train whistles of their own bodies. Kids love noise. And this movie has more gun shot sounds (thanks, Yosemite Sam), explosions, yelling, crashes, slams, and swells of dramatic music than the Transformers quadrilogy. This is a loud, zany movie and it doesn’t let up or apologize at any step of its journey.
(850 lbs. I’m just remembering the part where they clean up the gym…classic)
Violence: People get fucked UP in Space Jam. People get burned. People get iron lunged. People get smacked so hard they go from 3-D to 2-D like bone accordions. Space Jam is unforgiving in its violence the way every classic Looney Tunes cartoon is. In Looney Tune Land there is one god, and that god is pain. And kids love pain.
(550 lbs. I’m losing shit like friends after high school)
Aliens: If I had a nickel for every time a freckle faced disease factory of a child told me they wanted to be a spaceman (even the girls and children of non-binary identity say ‘spaceman’ because A) we live in a sexist patriarchy and B) Spaceman is the coolest sound you can make with your mouth besides whispering the word “bubble tea” quietly enough so that the soft Bs in bubble make little popping sounds) when they grew up, I’d probably have $2.00. For the record that’s 40 kids. Considering the fact that I hate kids and meet most of them by accident, that’s a lot of aspiring space travelers. And they all want to go to space because they all want to meet aliens. And they all want to meet aliens because of the cute lil’ alien guys in Space Jam. It’s the circle of annoying goddam children and space travel. Even when the cute lil’ aliens absorb the talent of basketball players and become pure nightmares of muscle and teeth, it doesn’t frighten children but instead ignites the other part of a child’s brain: the part that says “awesome.”
Danny Devito: (350lbs. Any time a sweaty ol’ grosso like Danny Devito shows up in some kid stuff I turn into the Shitloser 5,000, that’s a robot built for one purpose: to lose its shit) Oh, what, that shocks you? Why would kids get knee deep in the Veeto? I’ll tell you why: Hercules. That’s right. Remember that shit now? Phil, the hero trainer? Loved by all? Voiced by the Veet. Don’t get it twisted. Any actor in Hercules can become a kid favorite. That’s why all kids love Videodrome, because they love James Woods. I know what the kids are into.
Michael Jordan: Y’all know that kids love Michael and it’s not even a joke. Michael Jordan is the best athlete alive (RIP Muhammad Ali) and kids believe, in their infinite kid-hope, that they will grow up to be best of their era. They won’t, obviously, but children are creature of “maybe” and “possibly.” They love Michael, since the first scene of the movie when they see little kid Michael shooting hoops at 4 in the morning, because one day they could be him.
The existential crises of basketball players losing the skills they’ve worked their entire life for: The now, surely, infamous and ought-to-be iconic “Basketball Jones” shows the basketball players in the film after the aliens steal their talent. Charles Barkley (100 lbs. This is legitimately my favorite scene in the movie. I’m filing a missing persons report for my shit by now) is yelled at by a child because he can’t play ball (in a scene that gives all the power and gravitas of a cancer diagnosis to a child’s use of the word “Wannabe”). The other players deal with disappointed coaches, hack psychics, Freudian therapists all bedevil the ballers as they deal with the fact that an unknown disease or accident snatched away their lifeblood and the courts they built their entire sense of self around no longer feel like home. Kids love that shit.
This movie is perfect. It has all your favorite cartoon characters and even new ones like Lola Bunny and Bill Murray. It has Wayne Knight in his best non-embryo-stealing role. It has Seal, a pre-yuckiness R. Kelly, Busta motherfucking Rhymes, and the kind of soundtrack that makes Batman Forever send a drunk 3AM thirst-text.
The DVD commentary takes a movie you already love (don’t lie, it’s gross) and adds a new layer of irony, of self-awareness, of nostalgic delight. It allows you to watch your favorite moments and finally hear what the icons of your youth have to say about it. It puts you next to them and lets you watch the movie together. It’s magic. Furthermore, the movie itself is flawless, honestly. I can’t think of anything wrong with it. Hell, it even has the finest slam on Larry Bird ever recorded.
During the film’s golf scene Bill Murray whines to Michael that he’ll never be a pro basketball player because he’s white. Jordan points out that Celtics legend and honest candidate for GOAT white player Larry Bird is white, and Bill Murray says,
“Larry is not white. Larry is clear.”
That’s a fantastic burn, largely because it makes as much sense as this rambling tin foil hat endorsement of Space Jam.
Come on and slam, my friends.
Welcome to the Jam.
(I’m officially out of shit, so in the words of a great man, “That’s all folks!”)