Bill Murray, Bugs Bunny, and Michael Jordan (Space Jam)

I wish I was a little bit taller

Space Jam came out in 1996, back when Michael Jordan was at the height of his sports career, playing for the Chicago Bulls. His online NBA biography opens with ‘By acclamation, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time.’ That sentence is probably true.

Michael Jordan played for the Bulls under number 23 and wore a really long, really red jersey. On my tenth birthday I received an ultra-mega-special basketball, made of complex layered rubber, with a copy of Jordan’s signature buried under the see-through surface. At that point I was already the same height as my mum, and basketball seemed like the logical and inevitable consequence of the growth spurt. (I would play defence for my school team four years later.)

Poster for Space Jam
POSTER FOR SPACE JAM. 1996. AUTHOR UNKNOWN / BLOOPERMAN

The legend of Michael Jordan was such, that putting him in the same world with Daffy Duck, Tasmanian Devil, and bugs from the outer space made sense: that was an eclectic collection of otherworldly beings. As far as live-action animated films go, Space Jam is not nearly as sophisticated as Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), but the mixture of cartoon characters and big sports stars worked for the narrative. After all, both anthropomorphic rabbits and Olympic champions appear on cereal boxes.

The plot is based on a conflict between the Looney Tunes and a group of Nerdluck (colourful bugs which look related to Pain and Panic from Disney’s Hercules, or to Rasputin’s minions from Fox’s Anastasia — depending on your studio of choice). The Nerdlucks threaten to capture Bugs Bunny and Co. for an intergalactic amusement park. Since the Looney Tunes are already signed with Parque Warner for the rest of eternity, Bugs suggests they should win their freedom back in a game of basketball. With the aliens being the size of a teenager’s self-esteem, that seems like an easy option.

Spoiler alert: it is not.

The Tune Squad (Space Jam)
THE TUNE SQUAD (SPACE JAM). 1996. JOE PYTKA & WARNER BROS. / ONE PERFECT SHOT

The plot is further complicated by the events ‘in the real world’ where Michael Jordan has decided to quit basketball to pursue a career in baseball. He is not a good baseball player, but everyone is very nice to him nevertheless. That seems like a bizarre and far-fetched twist you could blame on lazy scriptwriters — if it were not for the fact that Michael Jordan actually did quit basketball in 1993, and actually had a short-lived baseball career with a minor league.

Space Jam suggests a certain crucial moment influences Jordan’s later decision to rejoin the Chicago Bulls. That crucial moment occurs in the company of the Tune Squad, Bill Murray, and that guy from Jurassic Park who ruined everything.

Stan Podolak (Space Jam)
STAN PODOLAK (SPACE JAM). 1996. JOE PYTKA & WARNER BROS. / SEVEN INCHES OF YOUR TIME

Yes, I am talking about you, Wayne Knight.

Space Jam built its popularity by using pop culture figures who already were immensely popular when the film came out. Apart from Jordan, there is a number of other basketball stars involved. Apart from Bugs Bunny, Space Jam employs the rest of the Looney Tunes and even introduces a new character: Lola Bunny. Her name is no accident, and her appeal rivals that of Gadget Hackwrench. Just ask furries.

There is also Billy Murray as himself, a trick later repeated by Zombieland. Bill Murray wears a pink umbrella-hat, looks like a mildly upset bassethound, and delivers a thoroughly enjoyable performance. Michael Jordan, on the other hand, is only okay at being Michael Jordan, and the animated universe within the film is rather ugly. The colours bleed acid and each character exists in separation from the rest.

It is the pacing that keeps the film going. That, and the pure joy of mixing the rules of a cartoon world with classical mechanics (cf. Bonkers). Watching Space Jam is not unlike having Lucky Charms for dinner: the nutritional value might be low, but now I am high on sugar and have got superpowers. Watch me do that slam dunk.

The Nerdlucks (Space Jam)
THE NERDLUCKS (SPACE JAM). 1996. JOE PYTKA & WARNER BROS. / WARNER BROS. ANIMATION WIKI

The Nerdlucks, armed and dangerous bugs in bowties. They look like assorted Stabilo pens, or half a rainbow, or depressed Skittles. Mmmm.

Filmography: Jurassic Park, directed by Steven Spielberg. United States, 1993. (IMDb)

*          *          *

Not a Day Without an Adventure. July 4th, Day Thirty-Four: Re-potting the roses.

For a while I have had a vision: I wake up, open the bedroom curtains, and there are potted cream roses waiting on the window-sill. The roses are white with a tint of buttery-yellow in the middle, fragrant yet not overpowering.

I am not entirely sure where that comes from; Kai and Gerda’s window-box garden, most likely. Andersen’s characters had rose-trees with long branches and would sit and play under those arches of leaves and flowers. That is, of course, until Tilda Swinton appeared in her great white sledge and took Kai away, having promised him no homework for all of eternity and more Turkish delight than he could eat.

As one of the joys of being a grown-up is indulging your own fantasies, in May I went to a flower shop in Jericho and brought home three blooming rose plants. Which I then promptly neglected for a month and half, bar occasional watering. Despite their reputation of being capricious and demanding (thank you, Little Prince), the roses held up well.

I have now finally re-potted the plants, placing them into round terracotta flowerpots of an appropriate size. That involved some kneeling in the garden, some soil, some trimming, and a lot more water. With Sam’s help, I then took the plants to the bedroom and placed them onto the window-sill — as had been predicted by the ancients.

One of the roses has got a tiny bud at the top. I wonder if it’s going to be cream white, with a tint of buttery-yellow in the middle.


Current album: Marina and the Diamonds, Electra Heart
Current book: Don DeLillo, Zero K
Current TV series: Scream Queens, Series 1 (2015)

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