“Here’s Your Chance, Do Your Dance: a Space Jam Explainer” is a forthcoming e-book of Space Jam interpretation and criticism by Miles Wray. This work of cinema scholarship cannot exist without the support of readers like yourself; please consider supporting this project’s funding campaign.
Astute Space Jam viewers will realize that, as the Space Jam itself tips off, that four of the five MonStars tower over each member of the ToonSquad, including the ToonSquad’s star player and starting shooting guard, Michael Jordan. At first blush, this appears to be only 40% accurate.
One of Mr. Swackhammer’s five worm-like underlings, the red-skinned Nawt, has absorbed the talents of then-Charlotte Hornets starting point guard Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues. Bogues being a 14-year NBA veteran who remains most famous for standing five-feet, three-inches tall throughout the entirety of his career. Muscle-taught Nawt stands at an eye line lower than Jordan, who stands 6’6″, which would be an accurate representation. (This, even though Nawt-as-Bogues appears to have extreme neck problems and/or some evidence of scoliosis.)
There is also the blue-skinned Blanko, who has absorbed the talents of Shawn Bradley, who never managed to not look like a goofball despite playing 12 NBA seasons while earning $69.5M and leading the league in block percentage in six different seasons. Bradley looked like a goofball because, standing at an impossible 7’6″, his historically long limbs seemed to flail oh-so dramatically when an attempted block transformed into a converted dunk, which makes for great and widely disseminated highlight footage. Blanko lankily looks down at Jordan on the Space Jam court — which, again, corresponds to the realities that NBA fans witnessed when Bradley and Jordan played opposite one another in their earth-bound contests.
But there seems to be a dramatic storytelling flaw as the other three MonStars take the floor, an apparent oversight that threatens to rip the supporting narrative fabric of Space Jam into pieces, like so many discarded pieces of tape on the cutting room floor.
Purple-skinned Bupkus absorbs the talents of Charlotte Hornets power forward Larry Johnson, turning Bupkus into a muscle-bound creature significantly taller that Jordan — this, even though both Larry Johnson and Michael Jordan are listed at 6’6″. The orange-skinned Pound also looms well over Jordan despite having absorbed the talents of the also-6’6″ Charles Barkley. In having absorbed the talents of the 7’0″ Patrick Ewing, it would stand to reason that the green-skinned Bang would stand a bit taller than Jordan — but Jordan only comes up to about Bang’s nipples, and Bang would stand considerably taller than even Blanko if he managed to repair his hideously deformed neck.
What is going on here? Is this one of the “dozens of story holes the writers could have easily filled with entertaining bits if anyone cared” that noted Space Jam critic Zach Lowe alludes to?
As you may expect, dear reader, I am here to defend the narrative constructs of Space Jam to the bitter, bitter end. Fortunately for the both of us, resolving this apparently thoughtless discrepancy is as easy for me to do as it is for Lola Bunny to secure a date with Bugs.
One will note that Space Jam, as a work of fiction, takes the creative and consistent liberty to interpret “talent” as its own sentient entity, an entity that is totally separate from the perceived owner of that talent. For Bogues, Bradley, et al., even though it has been their life’s work to become skilled basketball players, their talent is not — as we would conventionally believe, in this non-fictive world — an integral and inseparable part of their being, like an internal organ. Rather, their talent in the fictive literary universe of Space Jam is more like a uniform that can be taken on and off. Or, more poignantly, their talent is like a piece of artwork that, despite being crafted from a place within the artist, actually exists in the outside world, where it can be admired, shared — or stolen.
Using the limp, foot-tall, worm-like bodies of Blanko, Bupkus, and the gang — their lack of physique representing a blank easel, if you will — the creators of Space Jam show how dramatically large the talent of NBA basketball players is: significantly larger than the mortal, earth-bound bodies in which they play. There is, indisputably, internal consistency within the MonStars. Nawt-as Bogues and Blanko-as-Bradley, as solid NBA veterans, have the least-imposing physiques — especially Blanko, whose thin arms and legs probably make him the lightest member of the MonStars, in terms of weight, despite his incredible height. The All-Star-to-Hall-of-Fame talents of Johnson, Barkley, Ewing are, proportionately, represented as massive, muscle-bound walls.
So, yes, Michael Jordan — within his human body — finds himself with neck craned up at the represented talents of these NBA players. But it feels safe to assume that, were Jordan’s talent to be sapped from his body and transferred to, say, Blanko, then Blanko would then become significantly larger, taller, wider, muscle-bound than all of the other MonStars, in proportion with Jordan’s obvious superiority over even these tremendous players.
The ultimate inspiration to the viewer is an urge to, after the credits roll, go outside and shoot endlessly at a hoop, in hopes of growing one’s own talent. Space Jam ultimately promotes the magic of being very skilled at basketball, a talent that allows one to transcend perceived human limits, to transcend gravity — and truly fly like an eagle.