Excited to watch LeBron James and Bugs Bunny in Space Jam 2: A New Legacy? Well, maybe it’s time to rewatch the original first — after all, it’s been 25 years since the original Space Jam (1996) hit theaters.
As you’ll likely recall, the original Space Jam saw NBA legend Michael Jordan teaming up with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and the rest of the Looney Tunes’ Tune Squad to take on the nefarious Monstars, a group of aliens who plan to force Bugs and co. to work at their unhinged theme park — should they lose a contest. Yup, the very fate of the Looney Tunes characters rested on the outcome of an epic basketball game — hence why they draft Jordan into their ranks.
Now, with the release of Space Jam 2: A New Legacy, a whole new generation will fall in love with the Looney Tunes. But it’s the original movie that laid the groundwork — and made all of us envious of Jordan’s time shooting hoops with cartoon characters. Don’t believe us? The numbers speak for themselves: Space Jam grossed over $250 million worldwide, which is pretty solid for a film with an $80 million budget.
Needless to say, Space Jam was a ’90s staple, so we’re going behind the scenes and delving into how this bizarre — yet undeniably iconic — movie came to be. What we’re saying is: everybody get up — it’s time to slam now.
“Space Jam” Was in a Casting… Jam
Another issue? Casting. While it wasn’t hard to get other NBA players onboard, Pytka struggled when it came to casting minor roles. After all, Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny were the stars — and what comedian or Hollywood hotshot wants to go up against them? Originally, the character of Stan — Jordan’s onscreen bumbling assistant of sorts — was meant to be played by Michael J. Fox. After Warner Bros. execs disagreed with this choice, they suggested Chevy Chase, but, ultimately, Seinfeld‘s Wayne Knight secured the iconic role.
Why Basketball — and Why Michael Jordan?
As you may have re-experienced (or realized for the first time) in the wake of ESPN’s docuseries The Last Dance (one of our favorites in 2020), Michael Jordan was everywhere during the ’90s. From his ever-popular Air Jordans to high-profile endorsements with McDonald’s and Gatorade, Jordan was the biggest figure in pop culture for a time.
When it comes to Space Jam, however, Jordan’s agent, David Falk, pitched him to Warner Bros. after the NBA legend appeared alongside Bugs Bunny in a 1992 Nike commercial. In fact, Falk wanted to turn that ad into a whole feature-length movie, going so far as to say that the movie would be successful “as much for its merchandising potential as for its box-office appeal.” (And, yes, Space Jam did showcase Nike’s Air Jordans.)
So, the short answer? Jordan got involved because of money. In addition to impressive box office numbers, the movie made $1.2 billion off of merchandise. Reportedly, Jordan wasn’t a huge fan of the six-week filming process, due mainly to the entourages PR folks brought to the shoot. In fact, Falk noted that it’s hard to say whether or not Jordan had any fun at all. Yeah, it’s hard to believe that a Looney Tunes project is anything but fun, but, then again, Jordan had to deal with all of that prying press and fans — and act opposite people in green spandex — so who could blame him?
How Does Acting With Cartoon Characters Work?
What many movie-goers may not realize is that combining live-action and animation has been around since the earliest days of film. From Winsor McCay’s Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) and Max Fleischer’s Out of the Inkwell (1918-1929) to one of Walt Disney’s earliest projects, the Alice Comedies series (1923-1927). Even though the process of combining live-action settings and actors with animated characters and objects has seen many technological advancements since the early 1900s, that didn’t make the acting process in Space Jam any easier.
So, how did the filmmakers handle this challenge? The team recruited performers from the Groundlings improv comedy troupe, dressed them in green spandex suits, and had them play animated characters opposite Jordan. This gave Jordan a chance to act against real people and make the whole experience less stressful — and, in the end, much more grounded. Or, you know, as grounded as it gets with the Looney Tunes.
A Defining Moment in Bill Murray’s Career
As fans of the film know, Bill Murray doesn’t play defense — he attacks. And when he attacks, he gives it his all. Playing yourself in a movie is always a huge accomplishment, and, since appearing in Space Jam, Murray was able to do that more and more. Not to mention, the role introduced the comedic great to a whole new generation.
One of the most interesting pieces of Space Jam trivia is actually tied to Murray’s cameo. In the movie, Murray shows up at the last moment, and when Jordan asked him how he got there, Murray explains that he’s a friend of the producer. This is where things get meta. Murray starred in Ghostbusters (1984), which was directed by Ivan Reitman — the producer of Space Jam. Not quite breaking the fourth wall, but we love this fun fact.
The Origins of a Theme Song We All Know and Love
The now-iconic Space Jam theme song was created by Quad City DJ’s. The group didn’t really get a full idea of what the movie would look like when it was finished. In fact, they only had access to a few of the movie’s outtakes, so they just saw a lot of Jordan talking to improv actors in spandex. Real inspiring stuff, right?
But Quad City DJ’s (Jay Ski, C.C. Lemonhead, and JeLana LaFleur) worked their magic, despite the limited access. In the end, the group created the iconic theme song in just two weeks. They admitted that their expectations were fairly low, but “Space Jam” has endured, cementing its place as one of the best hype songs ever created.
In addition to spawning a dedicated subreddit and becoming the standout number on a generation of athletes’ “getting pumped” playlists, the theme song is moving into the world of digital art. These days, there’s a new meaning behind “here’s your chance, do your dance” insofar as you now have the chance to purchase the original “Space Jam” song as an NFT on July 16. According to HypeBeast, “The offering marks the first NFT of a major motion picture theme song.”
The “Space Jam” Legacy Continues
After years and years of sequel rumors, the classic lives on in Space Jam 2: A New Legacy. Directed by Malcolm D. Lee, the film stars four-time NBA champ LeBron James. Through a series of wild events, LeBron and his son, wannabe video game developer Dom (Cedric Joe), find themselves trapped in a virtual world, which is ruled by the villainous A.I. Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle). In order to escape the virtual world, LeBron has to lead the Toon Squad in a fateful game of basketball against Al-G Rhythm’s super-powered Goon Squad, a team of avatars based on pro basketball stars.
In addition to the stars mentioned above, Space Jam 2: A New Legacy features an incredible supporting cast, with actors like Zendaya, Sonequa Martin-Green, Jim Cummings, and Gabriel Iglesias all joining in on the fun. Although the Looney Tunes may not be as popular as they were when Space Jam was released 25 years ago, there’s no doubt that this sequel will introduce these characters to a new generation, all while reminding us of what makes them so classic.