In this week’s edition of Generation VHS (a bracket that includes anyone born between the late '80s and mid-'90s, for those keeping score at home), I make a shocking claim that might soak up whatever journalistic credibility I have to my name.
It will send shivers down the spines of respectable film nerds — a potentially nightmare-inducing piece of knowledge that will strike fear into the hearts of millions.
I think that Space Jam is the defining cult film of Generation VHS.
No, I’m not responsible for the shattered mug you just dropped. You were warned.
Yes, Space Jam — the movie where legendary hoops player Michael Jordan teams up with the equally legendary Looney Tunes to take on the diabolical aliens of Moron Mountain.
Yes, the movie your now college-aged children dragged you to see during the Thanksgiving holiday season of 1996. Yes, the movie you spent countless dollars on to buy the most expensive, life-like version of the MJ doll wearing the Tune Squad jersey.
Yes, folks. Space Jam. If you haven’t already closed the browser in utter shock and anger, let me explain.
Through my early childhood, I was raised on three key groupings of name-brand entertainment properties (all of which will get through explanations throughout the series). Young Cory immersed himself in the Muppets, classic Disney movies and Looney Tunes.
My mother and grandmother, firm believers in all things Disney/Henson, popped in countless Kermit the Frog and Disney Classic VHS tapes, while my dad would change the channel to Cartoon Network as much as possible to familiarize his offspring with the works of Tex Avery, Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones.
During time spent with my mom and grandma, the refineries of Walt Disney’s legendary works and the silly yet sentimental aura of the Muppets set my imagination ablaze. The tapes were also ideal for getting a rambunctious 3-year-old to go to sleep.
The Looney Tunes, though, had a far different effect.
I specifically remember tuning into reruns of the classic Bugs and Daffy cartoons early every Sunday morning before church. To add to the lunacy (see what I did there?), my dad would always mimic the characters as the episodes would air to my earnest delight. (Looking back, his Elmer Fudd was actually pretty good.)
The Looney Tunes were the polar opposite of what I was used to. Far different from Mickey and Kermit, the WB creations gave young Cory a visual sugar rush that would have him bouncing off the walls at any given moment in Warner-approved glee. It’s the LT’s trademark spirit of zaniness that I noticed in most of the mid-to-late 90s programming for kids.
Honestly, I think that Generation VHS was really the last generation to be raised on Looney Tunes, with constant reruns simmering down as the Aughts arrived.
So whenever a stroll past Suncoast at the Bellevue Mall would showcase a Space Jam trailer, I was instantly hooked. It truly was one of the event movies for a kid in 1996. When you think about it, 1996 was a big year for impressionable kiddie flicks, with Muppet Treasure Island, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, James and the Giant Peach, Flipper, Kazaam, First Kid, Jingle All The Way and the 101 Dalmatians live-action adaptation all lighting up the silver screen. You might even think of 1996 as Generation VHS’ summer of 1982 (we’ll go more in-depth with that later).
I saw Space Jam on opening day, and watching the film for the first time was like getting a hug from everything a 4-year-old considers right in the world. Sure, the trailer for Mars Attacks! left me in panic and fear, but everything that followed was just what I had hoped for.
Afterwards, I devoured every promotion I could get, including but not limited to the Space Jam toy series and the McDonald's Happy Meal tie-ins. I’ve always regretted not getting a Tune Squad jersey. I guess too much was too much for Ma and Pa Woodroof.
Millions of youths across the nation, I believe, had the same experience. In talking to a wide variety of friends growing up, I found a consensus: Space Jam was one of the most beloved movies of their early childhood too. In reality, it’s probably one of the most quoted movies I heard around my pals growing up. I mean, c’mon:
“He’s fixing a divot!”
“I didn’t know Dan Aykroyd was in this picture!”
“Please! What kind of Mickey Mouse organization would name their team The Ducks?”
As a kid, lots of movies are thrown your way, most of them garbage. But for a large portion of Generation VHS, Space Jam was one of those movies that stuck and stayed there.
Now that I’m a tad bit older than four, my opinion of Generation VHS cult movies will differ somewhat to my take on them as a kid. Sure, there will be some stinkers to write about.
But quite honestly, I still think Space Jam holds up.
There’s a sense of self-parody to the film that I never truly understood when I was a kid. Michael Jordan was the athlete of the '90s, and to watch him poke fun at his attempt to play baseball in such a grandiose fashion is a pretty bold and eternally satisfying move by Air Jordan.
Also, this has to be one of the most culturally relevant movies of the '90s. Wayne Knight, at the pinnacle of his fame, playing the comedic sidekick? What about Danny DeVito voicing a villain?
The soundtrack itself also illuminates the music of the moment. R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” probably takes the cake for most memorable, but I’ve always enjoyed Seal’s smooth take on “Fly Like an Eagle.” The hip-hop super-group take on “Hit ‘Em High (The Monstars’ Anthem) is also a favorite. I mean, really, tell me where you can hear LL Cool J, Coolio, Busta Rhymes, B-Real and Method Man on the same track?
And honestly, who can forget the Space Jam theme song?
Space Jam also surprisingly holds up in the humor department, with the element of self-parody streaming down from MJ into the Looney Tunes themselves and a few of their guest stars. It’s just funny to watch a bunch of cartoon characters talk openly about their distribution company. In the human realm, Bill Murray and Charles Barkley stand out, as the two elevated their cameo status into scenes that provide gut-busting moments of the surreal.
Who doesn’t love watching Barkley getting turned away from a group of 12-year-olds in a pickup game? “Be gone, wannabe, be gone!”
All in all, Space Jam isn’t only a quality flick from the '90s. It’s a beloved film of Generation VHS that deserves to be the crown jewel of cult movies from that time period.
I guarantee this could take over as the ultimate midnight-movie experience for Gen VHS. I’m even in the process of preparing the ultimate Space Jam midnight movie guide (now that’s a fun process).
So, Belcourt, you heard it here first. Host a midnight screening of Space Jam, and the house will be packed with college students and fresh post-grads. Trust me.
And that’s all, folks!