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Mike Sanchez Cinema 2 Michelle Cartier 11-28-11

Space Jam: One small step for Hollywood, One giant arm stretching dunk for film making.
In the spring of 1994 Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time retires from the NBA after the tragic murder of his father. Jordan leaves the NBA to pursue a career in the MLB, citing his fathers dream of seeing MJ play baseball as his reasoning. The producers of Ghostbusters couldnt pass up on making a biographical sports film based on Michael Jordan but, how to get the most marketable man in sports to make a biographical film? Combine him with some of the most beloved and recognizable characters on the planet; The Looney Toons. The marriage of these two icons is what led to possibly the greatest sports film, if not the greatest film ever to be created. The first step was finding a director worthy of such cinematic greatness. Since it was a film featuring cartoon characters, naturally one would expect Robert Zemeckis, as he was the director of Who Framed Roger Rabbit; A film which is noted for its wonderful use of combing animation with live action acting. Perhaps the money wasnt there to land Zemeckis or just a lack of interest from the director. Enter director Joe Pytka, a man who is legendary is his own field. Pytka is the three time award winning director that brought such great commercials to our television sets. Commercials like Nikes Bo Knows and Ads for Henry Weinhard old timey root beer. Pytka is mostly known for his work in 80s and 90s sport commercials, so clearly it

was his time to ascend to the ranks of Hollywoods elite film makers. The film also has a star studded cast, with the likes of Danny DeVito, Bill Murray and who could forget Wayne Knight. All actors that are associated with Ivan Reitman, producer or instant classics like Twins and Kindergarten Cop. Making their additions to the movie perhaps owed favors, although who would pass up a movie like this? Lastly the movie was written by Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick, masters of Holiday Films such as The Santa Claus and The Santa Claus 2. Space Jam was also to be the first film using entirely digital animation. With all the amassed talent and a Hollywood big budget now on board, this film was fail proof; like the Titanic. What Joe Pytka does with the film from here on out is tableau of Michael Jordans life and his struggles with his future. The movie begins with Michael Jordan as a child, in a very common flashback style scene. The movie then begins to draw upon the emotional connection between MJ and his father. This is a key aspect to the story as it sets up the rest of the movies events. Next is the introduction of the Aliens who plan to enslave the Loony Toons by winning a game of basketball for their theme park. They intend to win the game by stealing the talents of other NBA basketball players. Pytka is a master of hiding his true, deeper messages within his films as this is clearly a metaphor for slavery in American sport institutions and perhaps America in general. A common and reoccurring topic in American sports is the use of amateur athletes as indentured servants. Although, the film uses professional basketball players due to their notoriety the point is still there, that the rich owners of these schools and pro sport teams rake in the profits while the athletes are used and then cast a side when their physical attributes are no longer needed. The Looney Toons also point out they arent given any royalties from the merchandise they sell. Moreover, the depiction of slavery by the Looney Toons is that they will be forced to be entertainers the rest of their lives an old stereotype for African Americans. In one scene Bugs

Bunny is shown with chains around his ankles as he performs on a stage, dancing and telling jokes. Pytka even manages to depict the alien played by Danny DeVito as a fat cat style business owner, with his lackeys entitled Nerdlucks. The name is given to them because of their short stature and lack of athletic abilities again forcing another stereotype. Early on in Space Jam the Nerdlucks are typecast as nerdy and un-athletic however, an odd part to mention is how the Nerdlucks go from being little white sounding nerds, to sounding like jive talking 70s stereotypes. This is one of the few negative aspects of the movie that is largely over looked by most audiences. The Looney Toons recruit Michael Jordan to help them to victory over the Monstars. They are asking Jordan to save them from their fate as slaves but, it is truly them who are rescuing Jordan from his dismal baseball career. The story behind the story is Jordans struggle to become the greatest baseball player ever. A man who is well known for being the most competitive athlete ever, beings to realize that his true talent lies in basketball but, his overwhelming pride will not allow him to back down. Very quickly in the movie Jordan begins to doubt his choice to leave the NBA and it appears to weigh heavily on him. In a critical scene where Jordans young children are watching a sports caster rip into Jordans baseball highlights Michael Jordan changes the channel saying dont what this stuff, its bad for you as he changes it to Looney Toons. This instantly becomes a turning point in the film. This is where Jordans psychosis begins to kick in, as the Looney Toons are able to breach into our reality seemly able to take Jordan into their world. The only other person who ventures with Jordan into the realm of Toons is his chubby assistant Stan Podolak, who may or may not also be a figment of Jordans imagination. In fact the first time he appears to Jordan it is in a very comical cartoon like fashion as he drops into a dug out, to which none of the other players react to at all. Again when Michael

is sucked down a golf hole no one really seems to be concerned with what just happened and, only Podolak returns to rescue Jordan where he is then also trapped in the cartoon world as well. Michael Jordan is seemly acting out his inner fears and using the cartoon characters vessels to inspire his comeback. In one scene where Jordan is arguing with Bugs Bunny, Jordan proclaims Im a baseball player to which he is laughed at and mocked by cartoon characters. The Looney Toons see Jordan for what he really is, unlike when Jordan is still in our world being told he is doing okay as a baseball player. This becomes the first struggle for Jordan if he wishes to return home again to his family. He must surrender the goal of becoming a pro baseball player and become the greatest basketball player again. Podolak represents Jordans desire to remain a baseball player as Podolak only follows Jordan into Toon land so that he may return him to the minor league baseball team which owns Jordan. The Looney Toons introduce a new character as the femme fatal in Lola Bunny, a sexy female version of Bugs Bunny. Bugs Bunny begins to mirror Jordans psychosis but instead of a lack of sports identity, Bugs is faced with gender identity. For a long time Looney Toon episodes featured Bugs Bunny playing tricks on his opponents, one of these tricks was disguising himself as a female to send Elmer Fudd in the wrong direction. Director Joe Pytka and the writers are playing with this concept and, just as Jordan is disillusioned about his baseball career, Bugs is confused on his sexual identity. No other Loony Toons apart from Bugs are affected by the arrival of Lola Bunny, similar to the way none of the people on Earth were aware of Stan Podolak except for Jordan. Joe Pytka suddenly turns this film into a psychological thriller without anyone even noticing. Lola Bunny mainly has negative effects on Bugs Bunny, such as making his eyes bulge out in the shape of hearts and making it difficult for Bugs to focus on

basketball. Now the struggle within Jordans mind goes deeper than himself and he truly must solve the Looney Toons problems to save himself. Hiding beneath the surface of a quirky, family sports movie lays the directors dream film. Pytka has been waiting his career to make a movie like Space Jam, although his career might not reflect it. Perhaps this deeper psychological aspect of the film is really a look into what Pytka has really been striving for. When asked in an interview what it was like to work with celebrities he states celebrities are fragile. Most of the time they are in control in their environment and when they come on your set they are uneasy, because they are not in control of their environment anymore(Oreamuno) This seems to be his take on Jordans struggle with being unable to control the fact that he isnt meant to be a baseball player. It takes the challenge of make believe cartoon characters to force Jordan back into basketball. Meanwhile, all the other NBA stars are missing their talents, forcing them to be conduct medical tests and visits to the therapist. This is all a clever way of them missing their main competition in Michael Jordan. Without Jordans unbelievable talent all the other NBA stars seem so much weaker without Jordan to compete against. Again reality is questioned in a scene where Charles Barkley describes another scene to his therapist, in which a little girl invites Charles to play pick up ball with her friends. Barkley is unable to play at all. The small girl passes the ball to Barkley and as he goes up for the shot it is blocked by the small girl. The scene then returns to the therapists office, the doctor ask so how long have you been having this dream? To which Barkley responds it wasnt a dream! This again alludes to the fact that is all a part of Jordans psychosis. In a larger way, it is Jordans conceited way of thinking the NBA and its other stars needs him back to survive. The rest of the film is a clinic on how to dunk a basketball and cartoon hilarity. Various montages of Jordan slamming balls into hoops while Seal plays in the background. Most of the

shots are like something out of Joe Pytka award winning commercials. However, the digital animation done in the movie for the time is really well executed. Scenes blend in seamlessly the live action in with the cartoon characters. Not only do the actors appear in a fully animated world, but also in reverse showing the Looney Toons in our world as well. The big game between the aliens and the Toons is the ultimate battle in Michael Jordans mind. The court symbolizes the NBA, as it is watched over by the Alien who wishes to enslave the Toons. The symbolism for the entire game is incredibly deep, from the unfair officiating from Marvin the Martian, who may or not be pulling for the aliens to win as he is an alien himself, to the uncanny resemblance of the real life stolen powers from the other NBA stars; Shawn Bradley doesnt make a single field goal. according to stats from Andrew Mooney of Harvard Sports Analysis(2) The key turning point in the game and ultimately the story happens during a timeout for the alien team is asked why they didnt steal Jordans powers, to which they respond with because hes a baseball player. This is when Jordan becomes himself again. Instantly returning to his well-known gambling addiction, he decides to put himself up as a slave if he loses the game. However, if he wins the NBA players get their talents back. Not only does the gambling return but, also Jordans desire to play basketball again. The stipulation of returning the talents to his NBA rivals is the symbolic nature of his return to competitive basketball. The basketball game is won in ridiculous cartoon action as normal. Even with another cameo from Bill Murray, who hilariously breaks the fourth wall when he tells the audience that he got into the game (and the movie) because he knows the producers (from his work in Ghostbusters) With the game won, the Monstar aliens decide theyve had enough from their fat cat boss and decide to launch him away in a rocket, symbolizing the players disliking of David Stern, commissioner of the NBA.

With the NBA stars talents returned and Jordan back on Earth, it is time for his psychosis to end. Jordan brings a magic basketball filled with the talents of the players and returns them to their normal state. The players insist Jordan come back to basketball as the game is not the same without him. Finally Jordan finds inner peace and also another 3 NBA championship in the process. Forever linked to this work of art, is a sample in the life of Michael Jordan. Without the tireless efforts of Joe Pytka and not to mention a six time platinum soundtrack (RIAA, 1) this movie would not be what it is today. Truly this is one of the few cinematic gems of the mid-90s.

Works Cited 1. http://www.riaa.com/goldandplatinumdata.php?content_selector=gold-platinumsearchable-database#. Accessed 11/26/2011 2. http://harvardsportsanalysis.wordpress.com/2011/03/22/regressing-compiling-the-absurdbox-score-for-space-jam/ Mooney, Andrew, accessed 11/26/11

3. Oreamuno, Ignacio. Ihaveanidea.org


http://ihaveanidea.org/creatives/2005/03/14/joe-pytka/