Film: ``Space Jam''
Stars: Michael Jordan, Theresa Randle and Bugs Bunny
Studio: Warner Bros.
Quality: three stars (on a scale of zero to four stars)
In the legendary Looney Tunes animated shorts of yore, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and pals were an indelicate -- and often politically incorrect -- bunch of comic cut-ups always tweaking the proper noses of the American establishment.
Through the Depression, the Second World War and on up into the bland '50s, this sarcastic menagerie of Warner Bros. contract players romped through scores of cartoon shorts with their slyly subversive array of puns, parodies, satirical barbs and slapstick shtick. Usually, their antics latched onto and made fun of whatever was floating in the mainstream of American popular culture at the time.
So it's no great surprise that Bugs and the boys make their full-length feature film debut in ``Space Jam'' a sports-hype hybrid that also features the human presence of America's most revered athletic icon-of-the-moment, Chicago Bulls hoopster Michael Jordan.
No doubt, this teaming of Warners cartoons, sci-fi silliness and live-action NBA razzle-dazzle has resulted in a movie that's every pre-adolescent boy's dream. (And every marketing hypster's pot of gold.)
``Space Jam'' follows in the trailblazing sneaker steps of ``Who Framed Roger Rabbit,'' with a cutting-edge fusion of animation and live-action cinematography. Magically, it delivers a seamless intermingling of shenanigans by Bugs, Daffy, Porky Pig, Yosemite Sam, the Tasmanian Devil and Wile E. Coyote with athletic feats of NBA stars Jordan, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Muggsey Bogues, Larry Johnson and Shawn Bradley.
Yet, for all its amazing technical polish, it's largely a kid's movie. Parents hoping to detect some of the entertaining adult undercurrent and astute subtext that marked the writing of old animation masters Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng and others won't find much of that here.
The story itself is cartoonishly simple. A grouchy gang of tiny aliens called Nerdlucks lands on Earth intent on kidnapping the Looney Tunes folks. The alien boss, a belligerent thug named Swackhammer (voiced by Danny DeVito), plans to put Bugs and the gang on display at his faltering theme park, Moron Mountain (guess which entertainment rival that's poking fun at).
Anyway, Bug challenges the aliens to a basketball tournament. If the Looney Tunes win, they'll stay on Earth; if they lose, they'll be sentenced to a cel in amusement-park limbo.
Most of the action focuses on the resulting game, where the Nerdlucks have ``absorbed'' the skills of several NBA stars and field a team of outer-space giants called the Monstars. Bugs and his pals have to rely on the balletic basketball skills of Jordan, who's just strolling off the diamond after a less-than-stellar baseball career, to mold the Looney Tunes into a tight team.
``Space Jam'' delivers lots of nifty sports action, with Jordan soaring and dunking with ease, and lots of classic 'toon characterizations, with the familiar voices of the Warner Bros. characters lovingly re-created by a team of vocal artists standing in for the late Mel Blanc, the prolific one-man voice machine of the original cartoons.
The animation is eye-popping. And the co-mingling of 'toons and people (Jordan is joined by Theresa Randle as the star's wife, Bill Murray as a goofy golfing partner and ``Seinfeld's'' Wayne Knight as a hyperbolic publicist) is dazzling.
As a holiday entertainment for the kids, ``Space Jam'' is a slam-dunk. But again, grown-ups who accompany the youngsters to this cartoon sports fest will be largely relegated to wallet-carrying duty. A wide, pricey array of ``Space Jam'' merchandise is certain to follow.