I often joke with my friends that the difference between an awesome childhood and a lame childhood was whether or not they had seen Space Jam. Space Jam was released by Warner Bros in 1996 as a fictional representation of how Michael Jordan came back to basketball after his early retirement. Starring in the film are Michael Jordan, as himself, and some of the most notable Looney Tunes characters, such as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Like all children’s movies, Space Jam has a very clear and positive message for kids. The message is that if you believe in yourself, anything is possible. However, a problematic message that children could learn after watching this movie is that without talent, you are nothing at all. This message is in direct contrast to the main message of the film, but I will explain later on.
The film’s message of believing in yourself is clearly delivered during halftime of the basketball game between the TuneSquad and the Monstars, as well as the ensuing second half. After a dismal first half, which resulted in the Looney Tunes getting pulverized, flattened, and whooped by the Monstars, ended with the Looney Tunes dragging themselves into the locker room. While there, Michael Jordan attempts to inspire them with a speech; however, none of the Looney Tunes appeared interested in what Michael had to say. Meanwhile, Bugs Bunny fills a water bottle up, crudely writes “Michael’s Secret Stuff” on the bottle, and then proceeds to act as if the drink were giving him super athletic ability. In reality, the drink is only water. Upon seeing Bugs’ transformation, the rest of the Looney Tunes immediately began guzzling down the “secret” formula. When the second half opens up, the TuneSquad dominates and brings the game back, but before too long, the TuneSquad claims that the drink has worn off. Michael tells his team that the drink was only water and that the real boost in playing ability came from their own self-belief. The message is really hammered home when Michael Jordan performs a half court buzzer beating dunk, which he is only capable of doing because of his own self-belief and Looney Tune physics.
The combination of the seemingly larger than life, Michael Jordan, with the “anything’s possible” Looney Tune world made the perfect platform for the film creators to deliver their message to younger audiences. As Andrea Lunsford states in Everything’s an Argument, “A claim is just a lonely statement hanging in the wind, until it teams up with some evidence and good reasons” (184). All of the “evidence” and “good reasons” that the directors needed for their message to be delivered were found in Michael Jordan.
When Space Jam was released, Michael Jordan was the premier athlete on the planet and one of the most recognizable people in the world. That superstar status provided Michael Jordan with an enormous amount of credibility with people of all ages, but especially children. Furthermore, the directors of Space Jam used Michael Jordan to deliver their message of self-belief through the game of basketball. Even in today’s age, Michael Jordan is considered the best basketball player in history by most. It is only logical that if Michael Jordan tells you something on the basketball court, you better listen. The way the film used emotional appeal to make their message more convincing is not as clear. However, if you consider that kids everywhere look up to Michael Jordan as their hero, you can understand how children build an emotional attachment to the superstar. In reference to stars, Louis Giannetti states in Understanding Movies, “Their influence in the fields of fashion, values, and public behavior has been enormous” (251). While Giannetti is referring to how stars affect the adult population, stars often have a greater effect on the younger generations, as they are role models children want to grow up to be.
As stated previously, a potentially problematic message that children could take away from Space Jam is that without talent, they are nothing. The film communicates this message through the various scenes with the basketball players who have had their talent drained, and how they are unhappy and unsure of what to do with their lives. After NBA All-Stars Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Shawn Bradley, Larry Johnson, and Muggsy Bogues all have their talent taken away by the Monstars, they visit various hospitals, psychologists, and even psychics to see if any of them can help restore their talent. In these scenes, the basketball players take on defeatist attitudes. At the end of the movie, all of these basketball players have given up on the hopes of getting their talent back, but Michael Jordan calls them into a gym. Michael proceeds to give them their talent back, which instantly restores all of the NBA All-Star’s spirits.
The film makers communicate this message primarily through emotional appeals, by portraying these athletes as lost and apathetic without their talent. There is also a scene in the film where Charles Barkley gets his shot blocked by a fifth grade girl. The fifth grade girl criticizes Charles Barkley and eventually calls him a “poser” or somebody who looks like Barkley, but is not actually Barkley. This scene shows how Charles Barkley has become an obsolete basketball player because he was blocked by a fifth grade girl, and that he has lost credibility as a person because he can no longer play his own brand of basketball.
Space Jam’s cliché message of believe in yourself and anything is possible is in direct opposition to the problematic message of the film. However, since the message of self-belief was developed more because Michael Jordan was associated with it, the message of self-belief overpowered the negative message of being talentless and, therefore, worthless. The message of self-belief, coupled with the dynamic duo of Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan, made Space Jam a wonderful movie for my generation, and, hopefully, for many generations to come.