5 Ways Space Jam Was Secretly the Original Movie to Ruin Childhood
Updated: Apr 27, 2019
An unpublished article Trevor wrote for Cracked during the production of his review, "Space Jam Stinks!"
The following article was written by Trevor with the intention of being published for Cracked. It was conceived as a way to get more eyes on the YouTube channel, but the article was lost during production of the 'Space Jam Stinks!' reviews. Dug up recently while searching old hard drives, here now is an article that is roughly two or three years old.
5 Ways Space Jam Was Secretly the Original Movie to Ruin Childhood
by Trevor Thompson (aka 'The Looney Tunes Critic')
Alright, I know I'm not in good company with that title, and also where I'm articling. A lot of the staff on Cracked, not the least of which is the whip smart 'Memorized The Manuel' Daniel O'Brien, who despite probably hating this new nickname I'm forcing on this man who I do not know, is a respected authority on most aspects of modern pop culture. Even a great many of Cracked's readership is of the smart whip variety, in some ways due to the writings of Mr. O'Brien himself, and I am aware of all of your respective brilliances, people. That being said, if ever there were a place where opinion can be championed as fact, it's the internet, and Cracked is no stranger to stating opinion as fact (and no stranger to the internet, at least not after 2005). What I like about Cracked is that all opinions appear in a listicle format wherein they back up them up with facts, which is why, with great respect and in a format you can appreciate -- because by most accounts you invented it-- I submit that those of you Cracked fans and writers who love Space Jam are wrong.
A lot of you have nostalgia for this movie, and the rationale for still liking it cannot exist beyond the film's hour and a half length which allows you sufficient time to remember the good old days, and that's fine. Some of you even acknowledge it. However, others have intellectualized it to ridiculous levels (what, on the internet?) and if you want intellect applied to the nostalgia aspect of this movie, you need my expertise. I was 16 when the movie came out, and have been a fan of the Looney Tunes since I was old enough to hold a pencil and draw Bugs Bunny all over my schoolbooks. I'd also read four books on the Warner Bros. cartoons by the time 'Jam' came out. When you young snappers of whips (presumably the smart kind) talk of some big studio doing a blockbuster of something the kid version of you loved as 'ruining my childhood,' I just have to laugh. Contractually, I have to laugh out loud at several oddly specific and random things (two of which involve pith helmets), don't ask. I lost a bet to a guy with a hyena farm. But when laughing at millennials who say a movie ruined their childhood, I'm at least relieved because in the myriad things I must LOL at in my eternal debt to Hyenas and High Colonics, it's one of two things that I actually do find funny. The other thing is Monty Python's Fish Slapping Dance. The first thing is funny because a lot of these same millennials loved Space Jam, and this is ironic to us older folks because it's the original movie that ruined a childhood... specifically, mine. The second thing is funny because John Cleese and Michael Palin are comedy geniuses.
Over the years, I've gained a great amount of wisdom and weight, and having made a movie -- not to mention several calls for pizza delivery -- I can spot real weakness in a film, regardless of what genre it is and how much randomness and absurdity the tone calls for. I knew when it came out that it was bad, I know now why. Having watched Space Jam again for the 20th Anniversary, the formula for failure revealed itself. Lucky for you youngins, I took notes! Here's the five ways the Space Jam movie was the original childhood ruiner.
5. The Movie Exists in the World of Commercials, Not the World Depicted in the Classic WB Shorts
In case you don't remember, Space Jam came about because Nike had a new shoe endorsed by Michael Jordan called the 'Hare Jordan.' The commercials for these shoes debuted on The Super Bowl in 1993 and featured Bugs Bunny and MJ on the court. However, two years before that, a bunch of t-shirts (which may or may not have been officially licensed) depicting the Looney Tunes characters in hip hop gear of the time had suddenly made a lot of money in malls all across America, so much so that it led to Nike making the Hare Jordans. So it's a movie for an ad campaign that was inspired by another ad campaign? Barely qualifies as a basis for a movie, right? That's like if, instead of a book, an author sent his publisher a painting of a photo of a story outline.
The point is, this movie is a two hour commercial, and kids, I've forgotten more than most of you know about the cartoons produced for and by Warner Bros. from the late 30s to the early 60s that history lovingly, if not incorrectly, refer to as The Looney Tunes. So before you start writing your response, understand, I know the early cartoons and characters are commercials themselves in a way. Seriously, I fucking know... but maybe you didn't? TONE SWITCH!
Yes, before Bugs and the gang, the cartoons starred characters like Bosko and Buddy and their sole purpose was to provide a visual for the music in the WB catalog. These cartoons don't have nearly the same entertainment value as the ones you watched as a kid, and that's because they weren't meant to have things like dialogue, jokes or dignity. Hell, most of them didn't even have color! You could have music, you could have racism, you could have ladies dropping their panties, but that was all. Yes, the last thing happened in a Bosko cartoon when he called his girlfriend from outside a window.
Eventually, audiences got wise to this, especially the panty-free stuff (this is why around this time Betty Bop's cartoons stopped having her in skimpy outfits in nightclubs and started putting her in dresses and suburban settings). So Leon Schlesinger, the producer who made the early cartoons for Warner Bros., told his animators to start making the cartoons funny and our favorite characters were eventually created. So yes, if I'm going to complain about Space Jam being the product of commercials, I should probably know that the WB cartoons were originally commercials for music, right? Well, I do. And I still don't care.
I'm sorry to be so caustic, here, come back, sit down, you look nice, I like that skirt. Pleated, which is a surprise, you don't see a lot of guys wearing them now. I was a bit harsh, I just want you to understand that I've done my research, not just with the history of pleated skirts, but theatrical animation in general. The old cartoons, in the very early days, were commercials in their own right, but there was a purity in the majority of them that you don't get in stuff that is produced blatantly to sell products.
Also, not only does the movie take place in the same universe as the Hare Jordan commercials, but there are several references in the movie to other commercials of the day. One example is when Jordan gives the players back their talent and Larry Johnson makes a comment about his grandmother being able to beat him. This is a reference to a deal Johnson had with Converse where, in the commercials, he dressed like an old lady (before Tyler Perry). A Larry by another mother, Mr. Byrd, has a cameo in the scene where Bill Murray and Jordan are playing golf. Larry Byrd refers to himself as Jordan's golf buddy, which is a joke about a different ad campaign the two did together.
Cartoon fun, am I right? Yyyech.
4. Millennials Don't Get It
Look, the last four or five generations have grown up with the gang, so it's not like I can make the argument that a lot of us older folks made about the Transformers movies. If a younger generation likes Michael Bay's monument to metallic clutter porn, part of the reason is that they didn't grow up with the original (that's not a solid argument, but one that gets made often). But we ALL grew up with Bugs and Daffy. However, millennials grew up with them AND Space Jam, and I remember when I was a kid if something was associated with something else, very often they would get lumped together. Like, a few months after Mark David Chapman killed John Lennon, John Hinckley Jr. attempted to kill President Regan. The fact that these two events happened so close together, combined with the fact that Chapman looks like Hinckley Jr. if he let himself go, I very often got the two confused. I think that's what's happening with millennials. They grew up with the cartoons AND Space Jam, and because they look similar, they got lumped together.
Yes millennials. I just compared your understanding of The Looney Tunes and Space Jam with my childhood confusion of two murderous marauders. Sorry, I forgot you pansies need trigger warnings for everything nowadays.
Now, it's very easy to look back at something you liked when you were young with fondness, but watch it again. Whatever it is. This is the process of determining whether or not something holds up. I still watch the LT cartoons, along with The Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello and Monty Python not because I'm nostalgic for my youth, but because when I do, it still makes me laugh. I will also look up things like Square One, The Real Ghostbusters or a Howie Mandel standup special and realize less than five minutes in that the fun of being nostalgic is over and the entertainment value relies solely on that thing's own merit. I'm often suspicious of the good memories that nostalgia evokes, and this is why I often subject things I used to love as a boy to this test.
I submit that if you watch three or four Looney Tunes theatrical shorts and then pop in Space Jam, you'll have the same reaction. You'll remember the good times in 1995, and then, before the scene where Michael Jordan announces his retirement, you'll be good. Hell, you might even seek out another Looney Tunes short just to get the taste out of your mouth.
3. Bugs Doesn't Need The Other Looney Tunes' Help
The core inspiration for this article is the above mentioned millennials, and the fact that so many of them loved Space Jam, a movie that did for my generation what the Ninja Turtles and the Child's Play reboot will be doing for twenty and early thirty somethings: that being, pissed us off to no end.
But at least, in most cases, the reboots get the characters right, and for all my bellyaching about the commercial world and the movie being a cynical cash grab, if the movie had at least respected the characters, I could be fine with it. Hell, I'm fine with Looney Tunes: Back in Action for that very reason. In some cases, the characters are pale imitations of the originals, and as someone who has watched every bad Looney Tunes network TV special, I can tell you, I'm very familiar with pale imitations. In fact, before Space Jam, pale imitations of the originals were so common that they addressed it in a cartoon that came out just before 'Jam' called 'Invasion of the Bunny Snatchers.' In it, aliens try to take over the characters creating doppelgängers and Bugs must restore the originals in a brilliant cartoon that is as close to satire as anything in the entire Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies catalogue.
So even if they weren't ACTUAL Looney Tunes (which, BTW, is only a name for these characters because of marketing in the 70s, the name comes from two separate series of cartoons produced by Leon Schlesinger independently and then sold to WB pre-1946), it would've been acceptable if they were merely pale imitations... but they weren't even that.
Bugs Bunny doesn't need anyone. In fact, that's true of almost all the other characters. They're loners. They're not The Muppets. They're not Star Wars, and this is NOT about family.
Every character in the old Warners shorts is pretty much in their own world. How many times, when Elmer came shooting, did Bugs call the other characters for help? In fact, they attempted to show that this was the case in Space Jam because the first time we see Bugs, he's dealing (alone) with Elmer and then the aliens show up. Once they fire a space laser at him, Bugs realizes he needs help... but why, though? He looks scared, but later, at the zero hour, he tells Michael Jordan not to worry because, as Daffy says while Bugs stretches his neck out, choking him, "This... is Looney Tune Land!" So there's not even a threat!
Look, Bugs will always outsmart those who would subdue him, but the idea of cartoons not being able to perish, well... it kind of removes the stakes, doesn't it?
The argument that Bugs wouldn't need the other WB characters' help because he would normally just make short order of the aliens in less than seven minutes is an old one, but the part that's poignant, is who said it first, and that would be Chuck Jones, the legendary animation director who supervised and laid out several of the most famous Bugs Bunny shorts. Which leads us nicely into the next point.
2. The Last Living Looney Tunes Director Hated It
"Oh, I thought it was terrible." This is what Mr. Jones said to me personally when I was lucky enough to meet him, on the phone, and just a few years after Space Jam came out. I was there with my best friend Shawn (an equally big Chuck Jones enthusiast) and he said to us, "gentlemen, I've worked with Porky Pig for over 50 years. I can assure you, he would never say, 'I think I wet myself.'"
Well, it doesn't stop there. It was immediately after this phone call with Mr. Jones that we learned of probably the biggest insult Warner Bros. could've made to him. Right after the release of the movie, there was a dinner on the lot, a self-congratulatory patting on the back, and they held it at the animation department. Mere feet from where Chuck, along with Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, Robert McKimson and countless others decades prior had created the legacy that this movie was shitting all over. Well, what could be more insulting you ask? How 'bout asking Chuck to come speak and praise the film?
Oh yeah, they did that shit. Well, you don't do that to Bugs Bunny's last living father. "Of course you know, this means war!"
Chuck got in front of that mic and was brutally honest. What did they think was going to happen? Every five to ten years at Warners (or indeed any Hollywood studio) there are a new crop of executives who think the sun shines right out of their asses and who will also be gone soon. Executives, despite their ridiculous salaries, are a dime a dozen, and worth precisely that. They all think they know best and that the rest of the world are simpering little guppies just eager to get some time in the limelight; they must've thought they were doing Chuck a big favor by asking him to be a part of this shit show. They certainly weren't prepared for what actually happened, as Chuck was escorted off the lot -- mid sentence -- and asked not to come back. Think about that. The very same studio that he and his compatriots made famous with their unique brand of humor was now kicking him out for not going along with the ruining of said legacy.
It's like.... it's like they're only in it for the money.
1. They Only Did It To Sell Basketball Shoes
Oh wait.... that's right, they are only in it for the money.
Now, I'm no rube. I know studios are businesses and that it's all about making money anyway, I get that. It's just, I don't understand why WB couldn't be satisfied with merely selling tickets. Why'd it have to be a theatrical, two hour ad campaign for Hare Jordans?
I gotta be honest, I didn't hate those Hare Jordans and I didn't hate the Hare Jordan ads. Oh, no. In the early 90s, I wore Jordans. I was big into hip hop and I wanted to play basketball (I sucked of course, but that's as may be). In fact, that's how I knew about the hip hop Looney Tunes shirts, you better believe my little wigger ass wore the shit out of them.
I don't need to go on anymore about how the movie was an extension of the campaign, as I've done that to my satisfaction already. However, I will say that this movie/campaign is a prime example of 'gotta spend in order to make.' In my video, 'Space Jam Stinks!' (link above) I mentioned that the movie was not a financial success, and that is technically true, despite what supporters of the movie (both on my channel and here at Cracked) have said... with their 'facts' and 'actual numbers.' The truth is, the movie made a profit, but what a lot of people don't realize is that it was considered a flop at Warner Bros. because of all the tie-ins and promotions that were going along with the release of the movie. In other words, Space Jam had so many other ad campaigns (McDonald's, Nike, etc.,) that the movie needed to do as well as, say, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, in order to make a considerable profit.
This is why the next Looney Tunes animation/live action hybrid film, 'Back in Action,' wasn't given as much leeway or budget; they didn't want to get burned again. Except, remember what I said about executives? There were a number of execs working on it who had no involvement with 'Jam,' and so, there was no one around, from a place of experience, to say, based on what had previously not worked, what not to do, so the proposed answer was to just be less helpful all around.
So if there is going to be a sequel starring Blake Griffin, let's try and incorporate in the new film what made the original film great: nothing. And instead, let's try and remember what made the original cartoons great, because no one working on the original Space Jam ever attempted to do so, and if they did, they forgot to apply it during production.
Well, that's all he wrote! They say to write what you know, and when it comes to bitching about Space Jam, Trevor is a know-it-most. Anyway, he was hoping to publish this with Cracked and get paid, but now, he can do it for free and get it seen by waaay less people! The power of Space Jam, I tells ya. - FERRIS WHEELHOUSE STAFF