Having toe-punted Disney's enormous arse all over US telly with sharply designed, highly rated cartoon creations like Animaniacs and Batman, the revitalised animation department at Warner Bros now makes a cheeky assault on The Mouse's box-office supremacy. Space Jam is, in a sentence, a strange Roger Rabbit-esque blend of Looney Tunes slapstick and live-action basketball.
Playing a homogenised version of himself, basketball god and million-dollar Nike shoe endorser Jordan gets yanked into a subterranean cartoon world after Bugs and co have dared the aliens to abandon their Death Rays for long shorts, vests and a bright orange ball. If the toon stars lose, they'll be forced to entertain audiences at Moron Mountain, so they're relying on Jordan's legendary hoop-shooting abilities to bail them out (he is to dunking what Mr A Shearer is to goal scoring, you see).
And yes, this is almost as tedious as it sounds, particularly for basketball-illiterate Brits who couldn't give a toss about MJ's sporting triumphs. It's partially rescued by some surprisingly high-quality animation and by Jordan's even more surprising on-screen charisma. He's never less than likeable, and his acting - - though limited - - dribbles rings around his NBA cohorts.
Bugs and Daffy, however, have undergone a rather disturbing metamorphosis. They may look familiar, but you could be forgiven for thinking that the ETs have already nabbed and replaced them with not-quite-right clones. Out go the reality-bending, dialogue-haemorrhaging wild "men" of the Chuck Jones/Fritz Freleng era; instead we get a rabbit and a duck pumped full of Prozac and reinvented as child-friendly merchandising tools. Once you notice this sorry development, Space Jam becomes one long, hard-to-swallow ad for Warner Bros' movie stores and their heftily priced cuddly tie-ins - - and no amount of "smart" self-mockery can take the yucky taste out of your mouth. Corporate cinema at its soulless worst.