Twenty years ago today, society was welcomed to the jam with the release of the iconic movie Space Jam. Starring Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny, it follows the Tune Squad’s preparation and showdown against the Monstars in a high-stakes game of basketball.
In many ways, the film is the ultimate crossover. You get a legend of the basketball court and a legend of the animation world. But in a broader sense, Space Jam is the perfect blend of elements that sums up the culture of an entire decade – the 1990s.
His Airness Joins the Squad
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 20 years, you know that Michael Jordan is considered the greatest basketball player of all time. His prowess on the court with the Chicago Bulls throughout the ’90s lead to him becoming a pop culture sensation. Everyone wore his jersey and wanted to “be like Mike.”
Space Jam capitalized on this success and then some. It celebrated Jordan’s career in an inclusive way before adding its own spin to his retirement from the game. By making him the star of the Tune Squad, the film highlights his dominance and leadership on the court. And in its own way, it provided a glimpse into the man he was off the court to complete the picture.
Eh, What’s New, Doc?
There’s plenty of other cartoons that represent the ’90s themselves better, but the Looney Tunes characters in Space Jam represent a transitional phase of the decade. Looney Tunes has been around since the 1930s, and many generations have grown up with reruns of it, including ’90s kids like me. The show was like a rite of passage. It was the Saturday morning calm before the storm of new cartoons like SpongeBob SquarePants.
Of course, with Space Jam, the production staff couldn’t make the Looney Tunes be like those of the past. Their style would be outdated. So instead, the characters were given a contemporary update that paid homage to the originals but were now fresh and looser in their behavior. In the movie, they’re aware of the times, including knowing the importance of Michael Jordan.
Come On and SLAM!
The music for Space Jam is legendary and definitely a reflection of the ’90s. The hip-hop/pop soundtrack is full of crowd-pumping beats as well as more relaxed songs like R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.” But there’s one song that ties the movie, the decade, and pop culture together more than any other song, and that’s the title theme, “Space Jam” by Quad City DJ’s.
“Space Jam” is used during the opening credits over footage of Jordan’s basketball career, and it instantly makes the film. It’s so catchy and energetic that you can’t help but get excited for what comes next. And not only did it help bring the ’90s to the movie, but the song became a cultural phenomenon itself that has stood the test of time. Even today, it’s still used in everything from hilarious vines to Zach LaVine’s NBA dunk contest intro.
There may be a sequel on the way, but when it comes down to it, the charm of the original Space Jam cannot be replicated. For ’90s kids like me, it’s a trove of nostalgia for a simpler time of vibrant wacky colors and having fun without technology. Space Jam, in a way, defines more than a decade – it defines a generation.
And to that I say, may we never stop slammin’ and jammin’.