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15 Slam-Dunk Facts About Space Jam

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Warner Bros.

Nearly 20 years after Space Jam opened at the top of the U.S. box office, the sports comedy is still scoring points with fans. In the live action/animated movie hybrid, Michael Jordan gets recruited by Looney Tunes characters to assist in a basketball faceoff between the Tune Squad and the alien Monstars. The kooky film didn't take itself too seriously, playing on its star's failed attempt at a baseball career following his first retirement from the NBA in 1993, and introduced a new generation to Danny DeVitoHere are 15 ways the family-friendly classic hit 'em high.

1. THE CONCEPT BEGAN AS A COMMERCIAL.

One year before Space Jam hit theaters, Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny faced off in a game of one-on-one for a “Hare Jordan” Nike commercial. Jordan’s longtime agent David Falk saw the concept’s big-screen potential and brought the idea to Warner Bros. His timing couldn’t have been better: The studio was searching for the perfect way to re-launch the Looney Tunes franchise—and Space Jam was born. "I am forever astonished that any commercial I did was popular, let alone have a movie made from it,” Jim Riswold, the brains behind the commercial, told the Chicago Tribune

2. MICHAEL J. FOX, JASON ALEXANDER, AND CHEVY CHASE TURNED IT DOWN.

The sports film was one of the first of its kind: a combination of animation and live action. To add to the challenge, taking a role in Space Jam would mean working with cartoon characters and an athlete with no acting credits to his name. As such, director Joe Pytka said he had problems casting the role of Jordan’s publicist, Stan Podolak. Michael J. Fox, Chevy Chase, and Jason Alexander all passed. Alexander's Seinfeld co-star, Wayne Knight, eventually took the job.

3. WARNER BROS. BUILT JORDAN HIS OWN GYM.

When the studio signed Jordan, there was an understanding that their lead actor would also be focused on laying the foundation for a championship run with the Chicago Bulls. They accommodated his day job by sticking to a strict production schedule (Pytka made sure that Jordan started at 9 a.m. and left no later than 6 p.m. with a two-hour break for lunch and a workout) and by building a temporary, indoor mini-gym on the lot, which Pytka christened the “Jordan Dome.

4. IN BETWEEN TAKES, JORDAN ORGANIZED PICKUP GAMES.

Jordan, known for his intense work ethic, made sure his free time didn’t go to waste. He gathered his co-stars for pickup games and extended the invite to anyone. Actor Keith Gibbs, who was an extra on the film, told Grantland, “I walk in, and it's Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley, Alonzo Mourning, Charles Oakley. Grant Hill shows up. Jerry Stackhouse shows up. Now, all of a sudden it's an NBA All-Star pickup game. Every night.”

And Jordan was just as generous with his trash-talk as he was with invites to the games: “Jordan hit a 35-footer on me," said Gibbs. "I mean, it was ridiculous: leg out, tongue out, all that stuff … hit a 35-footer on me and goes, "Get the f**** off the court."

5. HE TEED OFF AGAINST BILL MURRAY AND LARRY BIRD.

In some ways, a game of golf set the stage for the entire film. Jordan only meets Bugs and joins the Tunes world after he gets sucked down a golf hole. So it only makes sense that the game played a role off-screen as well: bonding time for some of the actors, Murray revealed on Grantland’s Pop Culture podcast in 2014. “That was really a lot of fun,” he said.

6. THE MOVIE WAS FILMED ALMOST ENTIRELY WITH A GREEN SCREEN—AND ACTORS WEARING GREEN SUITS.

With the input of 150 animators, Cinesite created a world of live action and animation. But to bring that world to theaters, Jordan needed stand-ins for the cartoon characters. The studio brought in a troupe of comedic actors who donned all green and ran around on their knees. The result: Jordan was able to simulate the correct eye level, as if he were actually looking at Bugs and friends. The movie was one of the largest visual effects film of its time, according to its VFX supervisor, Ed Jones.

7. IT INTRODUCED BUGS BUNNY’S GIRLFRIEND.

Lola Bunny sashayed onto the scene with blonde bangs, a feminist catchphrase (“Don’t call me doll”), and impressive game on the court. It’s no wonder that audiences fell in love with her even before Bugs. She would go on to make appearances in DC Comics’ monthly Looney Tunes comics, the webtoon Dating Do’s and Don’ts and The Looney Tunes Show (where she was voiced by Kristen Wiig).

8. IT FEATURED A LOT OF NBA TALENT.

It pays to have friends in talented places. Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Muggsy Bogues, Larry Johnson, Shawn Bradley, Del Harris, Vlade Divac, Cedric Ceballos, Paul Westphal, Danny Ainge, Alonzo Mourning, A.C. Green, Charles Oakley, Derek Harper, Jeff Malone, Anthony Miller, Horace Grant, Steve Kerr, Luc Longley, Brian Shaw, Bill Wennington, and Scottie Pippen were among the dozens of pro ballers and coaches who made credited and uncredited appearances in the movie.

9. RESIDUAL CHECKS FOR APPEARANCES ARE STILL BEING DOLED OUT.

If you don’t remember spotting Jim Rome in Space Jam, you’re probably not alone. The sports radio host makes a tiny cameo in the beginning of the film—and his stint continues to pay off, ever so slightly. In 2014, the sportscaster shared a snap of his residual check:

10. CRITICAL OPINION ON THE FILM WAS MIXED.

Robert Ebert may have called the movie “a happy marriage of good ideas” and awarded it three-and-a-half stars, but critics were divided on the film. The Washington Post’s Rita Kempley wrote that director "Pytka brings the attention span of the average gnat to the project, which lacks both coherence and cohesiveness," while Variety’s Todd McCarthy dubbed it “generally amusing rather than outright funny."

11. IT’S THE HIGHEST GROSSING BASKETBALL FILM OF ALL TIME.

The hoops-focused film racked up more than $90 million in theaters, toppling the previous record-holder, 1992’s White Men Can’t Jump.

12. THE MOVIE KNEW HOW TO DELIVER A PUNCH LINE.

If it has been a while since you’ve gone down memory lane with Jordan, you might have forgotten a few of the film’s jabs at both its stars and its rivals. Charles Barkley tries to bargain with god for his basketball skills, promising that he’ll “never go out with Madonna again.” It was a reference to rumors of a 1993 romance with the "Like A Virgin" singer. In another scene, all of Jordan’s endorsements get name-checked, in a nod to his many, many promotions. There’s even a diss aimed at Disney: After Daffy suggests the team go by "The Ducks," Bugs Bunny responds with "Please! What kind of Mickey Mouse organization would name their team the Ducks?" (Disney's The Mighty Ducks had been released four years earlier, in 1992.)

13. THE FILM’S ORIGINAL WEBSITE IS STILL UP AND RUNNING.

In 2011, we wrote about how the website was still running in all its mid-'90s glory, complete with a coloring book section and original character sketches. Four years later, it's still there. Created during a time when putting a URL on a movie poster was still a new concept, the promo site is like a beloved time capsule of Hollywood history. Take a look here.

14. A SEQUEL WAS STARTED, BUT QUICKLY HALTED.

In August, LeBron James teased fans with the possibility of a Space Jam sequel after he announced his plan to work on projects with Warner Bros., which owns the rights to both Looney Tunes and the Space Jam name. But it wasn’t the first talk of a follow-up to the film: In 1997, it was impossible for studio executives to resist trying to repeat the box office success of the first film. So when a producer confirmed that Jordan was in for a sequel, the studio jumped on the opportunity.

Pytka returned to direct and the studio began gathering other key players, according to animator Bob Camp. The screenplay wasn’t fully completed, but Warner Bros. knew they wanted to pit a renowned comedy star against their all-star athlete. The studio hoped that Mel Brooks would voice their planned villain, Berserk-O!. Unfortunately, before the studio could get a commitment from Brooks, they got bad news: Jordan wasn’t actually on board. An unnamed producer “was saying, ‘Yeah, yeah, Jordan is on,’" said Camp. "But he was lying. The guy didn’t have Jordan hooked up with the project." So the studio immediately shut down Space Jam 2

15. IT LAUNCHED A SOUNDTRACK THAT WENT PLATINUM.

R. Kelly’s Grammy Award-winning track “I Believe I Can Fly” buoyed the soundtrack to second place on the Billboard 200 chart and introduced a new generation to R&B. The memorable album was certified as double platinum less than two months after its release. By 2001, it had reached platinum status, six times over.

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Where to Watch Over 300 British Animated Films for Free Online
British Film Institute
British Film Institute

The history of animation doesn’t begin and end with studios in Japan and the U.S. Artists in the UK have been drawing and sculpting cartoons for over a century, and now some of the best examples of the medium to come out of the country are available to view for free online.

As It’s Nice That reports, the British Film Institute has uploaded over 300 films to the new archive on BFI player. Dubbed "Animated Britain," the expansive collection includes hand-drawn and stop motion animation and many distinct styles in between. Viewers will find ads, documentaries, films for children, and films for adults dating from 1904 to the 21st century. Episodes of classic cartoons like SuperTed and Clangers as well as obscure clips that are hard to find elsewhere are represented.

The archive description reads:

“Through its own weird alchemy, animation can bring our wildest imaginings to life, and yet it can also be a powerful tool for exploring our everyday reality. Silly, surreal, sweet or caustic, this dizzyingly diverse selection showcases British animation's unique contribution to the art form, and offers a history ripe for rediscovery.”

This institution’s project marks their start of a whole year dedicated to animation. UK residents can stream the selected films for free at BFI player, or check out their rental offerings for more British animated classics.

[h/t It’s Nice That]

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Amy Meredith, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
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You Can Still Visit This Forgotten Flintstones Theme Park in Arizona
Amy Meredith, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Amy Meredith, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Like many pop culture institutions of the 20th century, Hanna-Barbera’s The Flintstones hasn’t been relegated to just one medium. The animated cast of America's favorite modern Stone Age family sold cigarettes, starred in a live-action 1994 film, and inspired all sorts of merchandise, including video games and lunchboxes. In 1972, it also got the theme park treatment.

Bedrock City, located 30 minutes from the Grand Canyon in Williams, Arizona, was the brainchild of Linda and Francis Speckels, a married couple who bought the property and turned it into a 6-acre tourist attraction. Concrete houses were built to resemble the Flintstone and Rubble residences and are furnished with props; a large metal slide resembles a brontosaurus, so kids can mimic the show’s famous title credits sequence; and statues of the characters are spread all over the premises. The site also doubles as an RV campground and parking site.

A Flintstones theme park house
Matthew Dillon, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

A statue of Bam-Bam at the Flintstones park in Arizona
Matthew Dillon, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

A statue of Wilma Flintstone at Bedrock City in Arizona
Matthew Dillon, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When it first opened, Bedrock City employed actors to stay in character, but the remote location proved challenging to retain both employees and visitors. Over the past four decades, it's had a steady stream of tourists, but not enough to turn a huge profit. Atlas Obscura reports the attractions are in various stages of disrepair.

Linda Speckels put the property up for sale in 2015 with an asking price of $2 million, but it has yet to sell. One possible hold-up: The new owner would have to negotiate a fresh licensing deal with Hanna-Barbera and Warner Bros. for the right to continue using the show’s trademarks. (A separate Flintstones park in South Dakota, owned by another member of the Speckels family, was sold and closed in 2015.) With its proximity to the Canyon, the 30 total acres could be converted into almost anything, from a mall to a golf course. For Flintstones enthusiasts, the hope is that the park’s unique attractions won’t be reduced to rubble.

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