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Special Effects Take the Ball From Jordan in High-Tech 'Jam'

In "Space Jam," basketball legend Michael Jordan joins forces with Looney Tunes characters in a high-stakes game against tiny aliens who want to enslave the characters in a planetary amusement park and who have magically appropriated the talent of top NBA players. (Rated PG.)


A Saturday morning cartoon on steroids, "Space Jam" mixes animation, real-life basketball players and computer-generated mayhem that twists, stretches and inflates the actors as well as the cartoon characters, sometimes leaving them all squashed and flat as pancakes.

Fast, loud and cartoonishly violent, it's tailor-made for pre-pubescent boys. Or pre-pubescent-boys-at-heart.

One such group of actual boys, out to celebrate the 9th birthday of Patrick Zachary of Orange, gave the movie unanimous thumbs up--mostly due to the unusual technologies. In his film debut, the likable Jordan was "all right" as an actor, said Patrick's brother Paul, 12. But, he said, "the aliens were better."

After they steal the talent of the top NBA players (Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Mugsy Bogues, Larry Johnson and Shawn Bradley), leaving them wimpy and unable to catch a ball, the tiny aliens grow to a frighteningly large team of Monstars. (The youngest members of the audience jumped at the loud rumbling noise as the aliens morphed into monsters. But parents said it wasn't enough to truly frighten the kids.)

Taylor Yurtin, 10, said his favorite special effect was when the Monstars curled Jordan into a ball and started bouncing him. Brett Morenz, 10, liked seeing the Looney Tunes characters in action, especially when "Tweety did karate on all of them" and when "Bugs Bunny got smashed by those big guys."

Wojtek Karas, 9, of Lake Forest enjoyed seeing Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck tunneling underground to "the 3-D world" to find Jordan's basketball gear. They have to wrestle it away from his pet bulldog.

Except for its commercialism, parents will find little to object to in "Space Jam," which contains only oblique references to sex, the mildest language and one cartoon butt exposed. But the movie includes so many references to Warner Bros.--even Daffy Duck kissing the WB logo on his own tail feathers--that adults might easily suspect movie makers are basically aiming to build an audience among today's kids for the post-WWII animated characters. (There are also snide jabs at Disney: "What kind of Mickey Mouse organization would name their team the Ducks?")

But most kids said they were already familiar with the Looney Tunes stars--Road Runner, Porky Pig and Pepe Le Pew among them--and liked them. "There aren't that many Looney Tunes cartoons, but I've seen every one of them," said Kevin Backman, 11, of Mission Viejo. His favorites are Daffy Duck and the wascally wabbit, who in this movie gets a feminist girlfriend, Lola Bunny.

The elaborate movie (which reportedly cost $100 million to make) was a little better than he expected, mostly due to the computer graphics. He said it looked pretty cool to see Jordan make a basket by stretching out his arm like a cartoon character.

There are a few humorous moments for the teens-and-older crowd. The audience laughed loudest at an inside reference to "Pulp Fiction"--when Daffy and Elmer Fudd impersonate hit men Jules and Vincent in sunglasses and black jackets. But despite the energetic pace and music, at least one parent called it "a little slow.

"There aren't that many PG movies out," said Bob Backman, explaining why he came with his two sons. "It was just a little boring for me."

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