CLOSE
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

15 Slam-Dunk Facts About Space Jam

Warner Bros.
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.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Photo Illustration by Mental Floss. Woody Image: iStock. Background: IFC Midnight
arrow
entertainment
9 The Shining References Buried in Pixar Films
Photo Illustration by Mental Floss. Woody Image: iStock. Background: IFC Midnight
Photo Illustration by Mental Floss. Woody Image: iStock. Background: IFC Midnight

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining: Not the most kid-friendly movie! But, as circumstance would have it, it’s a favorite film of Pixar regular Lee Unkrich, who has directed or co-directed five Pixar features—including Toy Story 2 and 3; Monsters, Inc.; Finding Nemo; and Coco—in addition to doing editing work on several others. As such, it’s no surprise (or maybe it is) that several references to The Shining, from the obvious to the obscure, have snuck into Pixar’s lineup over the years. Here are nine of them.

1. SID'S DISTINCTIVE CARPET // TOY STORY (1995)

One of the most iconic images from Stanley Kubrick’s filmography is of Danny (Danny Lloyd) cycling through the halls of The Shining’s Overlook Hotel. That same iconic carpet can be found in Toy Story, where it adorns the home of the toy-torturer Sid. Unkrich, who was one of the editors on the film, credits that particular Easter Egg to production designer Ralph Eggleston.

2. THE NUMBER 237 // TOY STORY 3 (2010)

The number 237 makes an appearance in 'Toy Story 3' (2010)
Pixar

Unkrich worked several references to the number 237—the room in the Overlook Hotel where some particularly trippy things go down for Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson)—into Toy Story 3, which he directed. The license plate on a garbage truck in one scene reads RM237; Woody instant messages a toy whose code name is Velocistar237; and the model number of a security camera in Sunnyside Daycare is Overlook R237.

3. THE SUNNYSIDE INTERCOM // TOY STORY 3 (2010)

Speaking of Sunnyside Daycare’s security system: It features an intercom that’s an exact (albeit animated) duplicate of the one used by Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall) in The Shining. Several feet away from the intercom is a tissue box, the pattern of which resembles that aforementioned carpet pattern in the Overlook Hotel.

4. THE "KALINGA" TECHNIQUE // FINDING NEMO (2003) & TOY STORY 3 (2010)

For both Toy Story 3 and Finding Nemo, Unkrich asked his composers—Randy Newman and Thomas Newman, respectively—to utilize the “kalinga” technique at particular moments where the audience was meant to feel unsettled. Favored by Polish composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki, whose music was featured in The Shining, the “kalinga,” per Unkrich, “is when the violin players tap their bows against the strings rather than strumming. It's almost a plucky sound. If everybody does that throughout the orchestra you get a crazy, almost insecty sound, it's so unsettling.”

5. “HEEEEERE’S JOHNNY!” // FINDING NEMO (2003)

This one’s easy: In Finding Nemo, Bruce the shark echoes Jack Nicholson’s most famous line from The Shining when he snarls “Heeeere’s Brucey!”

6. JACK TORRANCE’S AXE // COCO (2017)

    Early in Coco, there’s a scene where Dante the dog abruptly wakes up from a nap. In the background, we see a normal-looking axe stuck into a tree trunk. An axe could just be an axe ... were Unkrich not sitting in the director's chair. Earlier this year, in an interview with Cinema Blend, he confirmed that the axe is in fact modeled after “one of the axes from The Shining.”

    7. REDRUM // COCO (2017)

    There are two 'The Shining' references in this one scene from 'Coco' (2017)
    Disney/Pixar

      In that same shot, right behind the axe, is a red metal storage drum, a reference to REDRUM, Danny Torrance’s favorite phrase and (er, spoilers for The Shining?) “murder” spelled backwards.

      8. THE GRADY TWINS // COCO (2017)

        As Coco’s Miguel runs through Frida Kahlo’s underworld art studio, he passes a painting of two girls who, per Unkrich, represent a “Día de los Muertos-inspired version of the twin girls from The Shining.”

        9. APOLLO 11 // TOY STORY (1995)

          Stick with us for a moment on this one, as it's not as straightforward as the other ones: Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear was named after Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who was the second man to set foot on the moon. Apollo 11 looms large as part of the mythology of The Shining, as there are famously some conspiracy theorists who believe that Kubrick faked the moon landing and used The Shining as a quasi-confession. (At one point Danny Torrance wears an Apollo 11 sweater, which Lee Unkrich now owns.) This is very likely a coincidence, not an outright nod to The Shining, but given the level of The Shining appreciation in the halls of Pixar, it’s not a stretch to believe that someone at least got a chuckle out of it.

          nextArticle.image_alt|e
          anthodomi, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
          arrow
          Pop Culture
          Take a Look at What Studio Ghibli's Theme Park Will Look Like When It Opens in 2022
          A recreation of the house in My Neighbor Totoro built for the 2005 World's Fair.
          A recreation of the house in My Neighbor Totoro built for the 2005 World's Fair.
          anthodomi, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

          Miyazaki mega-fans may want to start planning their next trip to Japan. The much-anticipated Studio Ghibli theme park is now set to open in 2022, The Japan Times reports. The animated film studio just released several new images that show what the park (originally projected to open in 2020) will look like.

          Ghibli Park will be built on the site of the 2005 World's Fair in Nagakute, a city about 90 miles east of Kyoto in central Japan. The park's creators envision it as a place where the fantastical films of director Hayao Miyazaki, co-founder of Studio Ghibli, are brought to life. The mysterious forest in My Neighbor Totoro—one of Miyazaki’s most iconic films—will be reimagined in an area of the park called Dondoko Forest. The park property already features a recreation of the house from that same film, originally built there for the World’s Fair.

          Other famous films by Studio Ghibli will be represented in the park as well. There will be a Princess Mononoke Village and antique shops modeled after the one in Whisper of the Heart. The main gate to the park will be built in a 19th-century style reminiscent of Howl’s Moving Castle.

          Witch Valley will feature attractions inspired by Howl’s Moving Castle and Kiki’s Delivery Service, and the Big Ghibli Warehouse will contain exhibition areas, a theater, and play spaces. The Japan Times reports that the park will also have giant installations of spiders and “boar-shaped spirits”—recurring motifs in Miyazaki’s movies. And if the concept art is anything to go by, Ghibli Park will be filled with beautiful walking paths surrounded by lush greenery.

          Miyazaki fans have more of the legendary director's work to look forward to in the next few years. He recently came out of retirement to make one last film, which will be released by 2020, Forbes reports. The 77-year-old filmmaker said he wanted to leave something for his grandson to remember him by after he dies.

          [h/t The Japan Times]

          SECTIONS

          arrow
          LIVE SMARTER
          More from mental floss studios