There are few constants in life, but we know this: water is wet, the sky is blue, and Space Jam rules. Spinning out of a series of successful Nike commercial teaming MJ with Bugs Bunny, Space Jam served as a revitalization of the long dormant Looney Tunes franchise, and would become a cinematic touchstone of the ’90s. The film has amassed a legion of slavishly dedicated fans over the year, who rock Tune Squad jerseys, quote the film like scripture, and remember every word to “I Believe I Can Fly.” Sure, the movie has its share of diehard fans, but there is plenty about Space Jam that we bet even the most dedicated fans don’t know.
When Space Jam released in 1996, the film was an immediate smash hit, becoming required viewing among youngsters, the MJ dedicated, and longtime Looney Tunes fans. Like any mega-popular movie, super-fans have spent 22 years learning everything there is to know about their favorite film. But there is plenty about Space Jam you don’t know. From easily missed easter eggs to casting decisions that almost were, these are the facts about Space Jam that even your friend that regularly rocks that throwback ’90s Looney Tunes-in-street wear shirt won’t know.
15. JASON ALEXANDER AND CHEVY CHASE TURNED IT DOWN
Space Jam may have been about Michael Jordan and his Looney Tunes pals jamming in space, but the film wasn’t all about world famous basketball stars and beloved cartoon characters; the film also featured a prominent side character in MJ’s bumbling personal assistant, Stan Podolak, portrayed by Wayne Knight. While Knight garnered plenty of yuks as the boot licking assistant, he wasn’t the original pick for the role.
According to director Joe Pytka, producers originally eyed actors Jason Alexander and Chevy Chase for the character. With Alexander rocketing to fame as George Costanza on Seinfeld, and Chevy Chase making his mark as a bonafide comedy superstar, casting these actors would have brought some serious star power to the role. But when Alexander and Chase both turned the part town, Knight ultimately landed the role, and the rest is history.
14. MICHAEL JORDAN AND GREEN SCREENS
Michael Jordan is a lot of things: one of the greatest basketball players to ever live, a shrewd businessman, and a titan in the world of sports. But an actor he is not. So casting the man in a movie involving interacting with cartoon characters proved challenging. Hell, even some of the most accomplished actors would struggle to make a scene believable when trading lines with a character that isn’t even there. So a solution was devised.
MJ’s scenes involving the toons were shot on a green screen, with a troupe of comedic actors outfitted in head-to-toe green body suits subbing in to represent the cartoon characters. Director Joe Pytka even had the green-suited actors run around on their knees to simulate the height of the toons, ensuring Jordan would be able to interact believably with his cartoon pals. Jordan’s performance didn’t win him any awards, but with this workaround, MJ’s interactions with the Looney Tunes at least looked convincing.
13. THE MONSTARS HAVE NAMES
The colossal kings of the court known as The Monstars were genetically designed to dominate basketball; with their massive muscles, imposing height, and pilfered b-ball skills, The Monstars were built from the ground up to rule the paint. But, oddly enough, despite serving as one of the primary antagonists in the film, the imposing multi-colored ballers are never actually given names. Turns out, they do have names which are simply never mentioned in the film.
The diminutive aliens, hailing from the Nerdluck race (another tidbit never mentioned in the film) arrive in Tune Land and kick off the film’s plot, but the group never identifies themselves. Thankfully, the debate over who these little fiends are can finally be put to bed: as revealed in the tie-in Space Jam video game, the Monstars names are as follows: Bang (green), Pound (orange), Bupkus (purple), Nawt (red), and Blanko (blue).
12. “HONEY BUNNY”
With Space Jam, Lola Bunny was introduced into the Looney Tunes, giving rise to plenty to confusing thoughts about the girl bunny from young viewers. Lola used her beauty and quick thinking to rule the court, helping the Tune Squad to win over the villainous Monstars. Lola would go on to become a regular member of the Tunes, appearing on The Looney Tunes Show and Baby Looney Tunes. But Lola almost didn’t appear in Space Jam; rather, an obscure Tunes character named Honey Bunny was planned to make her theatrical debut.
Honey Bunny never actually appeared in a single Looney Tunes cartoon, but the character regularly appeared in the Bugs Bunny comic as the love interest of Bugs Bunny. While planning Space Jam, designs were made for Honey Bunny, with plans to include the character in Lola’s role, but this idea was scrapped and a new character was designed, leading to the creation of Lola.
11. THE ORIGINAL WB CARTOON CAMEO
Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes have become synonymous with Warner Brothers, helping WB to establish themselves as one of the most important companies in animation. But, like many things in life, Warner Bros. didn’t stumble into success on its first try; in fact, Warner Bros. had a star that predated Bugs Bunny, and the character made a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in Space Jam.
In 1929, Warner Brothers introduced the world to Bosko, a rambunctious little boy modeled after the main character from Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer. Bosko was a hit when he debuted, but the character’s racial insensitivity made the toon a product of his time. While Bosko has fallen into obscurity, Space Jam paid homage to the toon that came before by having a framed picture of the character appear in the film. It’s an easily missed cameo, but it shows that the Looney Tuns never forgot their roots.
10. JORDAN HAD HIS OWN BASKETBALL COURT ON SET
Michael Jordan is a man that loves basketball. The man loves basketball so much that he included the legendary “Love Of The Game” clause in his contract, which ensured that His Airness could play basketball whenever and wherever he wanted. So what do you when the star of your major motion picture really loves basketball? Easy: you build him his very own basketball court.
Wanting to keep its star happy, Warner Brothers had a court built on the studio backlot for Jordan to use. Dubbed the “Jordan Dome,” it included a regulation size basketball court, along with an adjacent private gym. To stay in shape, MJ would invite his NBA friends to play pick-up, ending every day of shooting with a 90-minute game. Thanks to this studio gift, MJ was in playing shape when shooting wrapped, and Warner Brothers got one happy star.
9. JORDAN VS. RODMAN
Friendships tend to develop during the shooting of a movie; after all, when you’re working with the same handful of people for 12 hours everyday, you either learn to love and hate the people you’re with. In Michael Jordan’s case, the basketball mega-star grew close to Joe Pytka, the director of Space Jam. In fact, according to Pytka, the pair grew so close that it was Pytka who convinced MJ to play nice with basketball bad boy Dennis Rodman.
In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Pytka revealed that he approached MJ during shooting and broached the topic of Rodman, who the Bulls were considering signing. When Jordan stated he didn’t want to play with Rodman, Pytka shot back “Are you an idiot? All he does is play defense and rebound. You need somebody else to shoot?” When Rodman was signed, Pytka claims MJ would call and refer to the new teammate as “your boy.”
8. WAYNE KNIGHT REFUSED TO TOUCH A BASKETBALL
Everyone has something they excel at; for Michael Jordan, it was basketball, but not acting. For Wayne Knight, it was acting, and definitely not basketball. So when the comedic actor found himself acting alongside some of the biggest basketball stars in the world, Knight decided to stick with what he knows and leave basketball to the pros.
According to Knight, the actor was blown away by MJ, stating in an interview with Vice, “as a physical specimen, I thought that he was the most incredible human being I’d ever seen.” So when MJ and his NBA pals would hit the court during downtime, Knight refused to play along, not wanting to embarrass himself. When passed the ball, Knight would simply drop it and walk away, opting to leave the balling to the professionals.
7. MJ’S CUSTOM SHOES WERE HUGE WITH SNEAKERHEADS
When Michael Jordan wasn’t busy breaking ankles on the court, he found the time to be the face of Air Jordan, one of the most popular shoe brands in the world. Never one to miss an opportunity to promote his brand, Jordan rocked a pair of Air Jordan’s in Space Jam, cementing the shoes’ cult status among sneakerheads around the world.
Dubbed the “Air Jordan 11,” the shoes were initially crafted to be worn in the 1995 NBA Playoffs. MJ took a shine to the black-and-purple dunks and would go on to wear the shoes in Space Jam, cementing the shoes’ legacy. Originally made exclusively for Jordan, Nike would later release the shoe as the Air Jordan 11 “Space Jam.” The Space Jam Air Jordan now fetches over $450 on the second-hand market, and remains highly sought after among Air Jordan fans to this day.
6. SPIKE LEE OFFERED TO REWRITE THE SCRIPT
Let’s not kid ourselves: While Space Jam may be a great movie, it is far from a good movie. After all, the story of Michael Jordan teaming up with Bugs Bunny to play basketball isn’t exactly high art. Thus, while Space Jam certainly wasn’t lacking in fun, it wasn’t exactly overflowing with artistic merit. What is especially surprising is that socially conscious and politically outspoken director Spike Lee was drawn to the script.
The script for Space Jam went through several revisions, initially from the writing team responsible for The Santa Clause, before being handed off to the writing team responsible for Kindergarten Cop. Spike Lee entered the picture late in the writing process, offering to polish up the script before it was finalized. While Lee’s involvement could have proven interesting, Warner Brothers executives ultimately shot the idea down.
5. ROAD RUNNER > BILL MURRAY
Space Jam practically oozes star power; after all, this is a movie composed of some of the biggest NBA stars in the world, and, most importantly, Bill Murray. Despite being a side character, Murray proves instrumental to the finale of the film, popping up unexpectedly to sub in as the fifth member of the Tune Squad, allowing MJ and the Tunes to win the game. But when the junior novelization of the movie hit shelves, Murray was nowhere to be seen. Instead, he was replaced by the Road Runner.
Perhaps realizing that children didn’t want to read about a comedy star from the ’80s saving the day, the novelization drops Murray entirely. When the Tune Squad is down a member and unable to continue playing, Road Runner subs in and helps the Tune Squad win. A Murray-less Space Jam might sound awful, but it happened thanks to the junior novel.
4. THE GYM’S NAME
While the Looney Tunes had ruled cartoons for a time, the franchise was in a state of dormancy by the time the ’90s rolled around. But Space Jam served as a revitalization for the series, bringing Bugs, Daffy, Porky and the gang squarely into the ’90s spotlight, all while acknowledging the history of the Tunes And thanks to an easily missed easter egg, Space Jam managed to pay homage to one of the most important members of Looney Tunes history.
In the film, the Tunes gather at a gym in Looney Tunes Land to practice their b-ball skills. There is a quick shot of the exterior, which shows a sign labeling the building as the Schlesinger Gym. This is a sly nod to Leon Schlesinger, who served as an early producer for the Looney Tunes cartoons, and was instrumental in making the Tunes as popular as they are today.
3. THE IDEA CAME FROM MICHAEL JORDAN’S AGENT
Any Space Jam fan worth their salt can tell you that the film was spawned thanks to a series of popular Nike ads that paired Bugs Bunny with Michael Jordan. But when the ads were originally created, Nike had no further plans for the campaign, planning to air a series of ads and call it a day. But Jordan’s agent saw bigger potential from the Looney Tunes and MJ crossover.
David Falk, Jordan’s agent, believed a movie bringing His Airness together with His Hareness would mean big money, and Falk approached Warner Bros. about the possibility of creating a film, citing high returns and the potential for an avalanche of merchandise. Warner Brothers, interested in reviving the Looney Tunes brand, agreed, and Space Jam was born.
2. FAILED PAYMENTS
Few names are as synonymous with Looney Tunes as Mel Blanc. Dubbed the “Man Of A Thousand Voices,” this veteran voice actor provided the voices of the likes of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, and many more over his 60-year career. Mel’s son, Noel, would follow in his father’s footsteps, taking over the voices of Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig among others after the passing of his father. Noel almost brought his vocal talents to the big screen for Space Jam, only for negotiations to fall apart.
Warner Brothers executives were keen to have Noel voice all of the male Looney Tunes characters for the film, but a contractual agreement over pay could not be reached, and negotiations stalled. The studio would opt to forgo Blanc and recast the characters with new voice actors, and Noel would never get to voice the Looney Tunes characters in a theatrical film before he retired.
1. CHUCK JONES HATED THE MOVIE
While Mel Blanc may have given the Looney Tunes their voices, it was Chuck Jones that gave them life. A veteran in the world of animation, Jones personally wrote and directed many of the classic Looney Tunes shorts, cementing his legacy as one of the most important directors in animation of all time. So Jones’ opinion carries a lot of clout in the animation world. And boy did Jones hate Space Jam.
In an interview conducted several years after the release of Space Jam, Jones was highly critical of the film, saying that the movie strayed too far from the source material. Jones complained that Bugs acted out of character, and he took offense at the humor, despising the pop culture gags and crass jokes. The world may love Space Jam, but Chuck Jones certainly didn’t feel the same way.
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