20 years later, ‘Space Jam’ still flying high

20 years later, ‘Space Jam’ still flying high

Jordan. Bunny. Together they might just save the world.

If that movie tagline doesn’t make you want to rush to the theaters, nothing will. The now-classic live-action animated sports comedy starring basketball legend Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Looney Tunes gang turns 20 today. I used to think 20 years ago was 1985, it’s hard to believe two decades in the past now means we’re talking about 1996.

In 1996, I was a sophomore in high school and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” was — and remains — one of my favorite movies, so I was onboard with another movie that integrated cartoon characters into the real world and vice versa.

In 1993, Jordan who was the most famous athlete in the world, stunned everyone when he announced his retirement from basketball. He added to the shock by signing a contract with the Chicago White Sox’ minor league baseball team. The Chicago Bulls retired his famed No. 23 jersey and erected a statue in his honor. However, the departure didn’t last long and Jordan was back on the court with the Bulls in the 1995-96 season.

This is where “Space Jam” picks up.

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WARNER BROS. Air Jordan meets Hare Jordan.

Jordan’s prowess with a basketball doesn’t translate as well in the world of baseball and he’s assigned a publicist Stan (Wayne Knight aka Newman from “Seinfeld”) to ease the transition. Meanwhile, Mr. Swackhammer (Danny DeVito), owner of Moron Mountain, an intergalactic theme park, sends his space minions, the Nerdlucks, to capture the Looney Tunes for new entertainment. Seeing their diminutive size, Bugs and the gang challenge them to a basketball game, thinking they can easily beat the tiny space aliens. But, the Nerdlucks steal the talent of several NBA stars — Charles Barkley, Shawn Bradley, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson and Muggsy Bogues. The Nerdlucks are transformed in the Monstars and the Looney Tunes realize they’re in a world of trouble and need help — and fast! So, Bugs goes to recruit Jordan, sucks him down a golf hole and the Tune Squad — including newcomer and Bugs’ love interest Lola Bunny — takes on the Monstars. After a few setbacks — and help from Bill Murray because why not — the Tunes are successful and the game prompts Jordan’s return to the NBA.

WARNER BROS. Michael Jordan tries to rally the Looney Tunes gang.

WARNER BROS.
Michael Jordan tries to rally the Looney Tunes gang.

Of course, Jordan and the rest of the NBA players weren’t known for their acting chops, but that’s part of what makes “Space Jam” so endearing. Maybe it was the ’90s, maybe it’s because it’s “His Airness,” himself, but Jordan’s deadpan mixed with the Tunes’ one-liners and crazy antics just works. Plus, the soundtrack has not one, but two songs about flying — “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly and “Fly Like An Eagle” by Seal.

If you’re just jonesing for some ’90s nostalgia or just need to grab that soundtrack on cassette, the “Space Jam” promotional website is still archived and functional. Also, if you’ve worn out your VHS tape, the movie hits select theaters tomorrow (Nov. 16) for special anniversary screenings. Check www.fandango.com for showtimes in your area. Pump up the jam, everyone.

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