Space Jam stands awkwardly on the shoulders of Bugs Bunny’s 56-year reputation. The film combines live action and animation as the Looney Tunes recruit Michael Jordan to help them win an intergalactic basketball game. While not deeply offensive, this PG-rated feature takes the franchise in a direction most long-time fans of Tweety, Daffy and Taz wouldn’t expect … or appreciate.
Warner Bros. has always drawn fire from critics opposed to the comical shootings, explosions and falling anvils used by Wile E. Coyote and company to generate laughs. There’s more of the same in Space Jam. But the greater disappointment with this movie lies in off-color remarks, mild profanity and a “sexy” new female bunny that make Space Jam less innocent than the cartoons that inspired it.
“We gotta get new agents,” a disgusted Daffy Duck tells Bugs, “We’re gettin’ screwed.” Screwed? Now that’s dithsssspicable. Elsewhere, Porky Pig shyly admits to wetting himself. Lola Bunny turns heads in her short shorts, causing Tweety to exclaim, “She’s hot!” An alien loses his pants, and Lola jeers, “Nice butt!” A gun-toting, shades wearing Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam appear in a parodic reference to the violent film Pulp Fiction. Though far from obscene, such moments reflect a changing attitude in Toon Land.
More disturbing than the movie itself is the soundtrack album. Only a few cuts are inherently problematic, but this disc is destined to introduce young listeners to hip-hop artists famous for recording explicit material. Bugs Bunny has no business rapping beside R. Kelly (best known for the sexual anthem “Bump ‘N’ Grind”), LL Cool J (an advocate of gangsta violence), Salt-N-Pepa (three women whose lyrics promote gunplay, prostitution and masturbation), Coolio (an obscene gangsta rapper who distributes scores of condoms from stage) and the drug- and alcohol-advocating Spin Doctors.
Space Jam is full of familiar characters that earned our trust and affection decades ago. Now we all have to decide if they’re still worth introducing to our children.