Space Jam

(Joe Pytka, USA, 1996)


One of this century's loveliest collisions between high modernist art and popular culture took place when Warner Bros. cartoons started becoming self-reflexive. Familiar characters began talking back to their creators, or found themselves bleeding over into the real world.


These days, in the era of Michael Jackson's Moonwalker (1988) and Yahoo Serious' Reckless Kelly (1993), such pop modernist conceits have a bizarrely inward quality. They are self-congratulatory allegories about celebrity, mass production and, above all, the eager audience of paying consumers.


Space Jam is an odd little number. Listlessly aping Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), it creates a surreal universe in which American sports star Michael Jordan can interact with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. The plot is inane: Jordan becomes a mediocre baseball player, and Bugs & co. must coax him back to the basketball court for a play-off against big, nasty, cartoon aliens.


For all the elaborate effects work, it is an unexciting and unfunny mélange. Most of the idolatrous references to American sporting culture were lost on the Australian children with whom I saw it, and their parents were tickled only by an amusing split-second homage to Pulp Fiction (1994).


One could be forgiven for thinking that the hero of this film is neither Jordan nor Bugs, but Warner Bros. The company name is mentioned and flaunted repeatedly, as if in a hypnotic incantation.


Indeed, Space Jam sums itself up perfectly when it has Daffy impulsively kiss the Warner Bros. logo imprinted on his own backside.

© Adrian Martin December 1996

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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