Hey, Space Jam 2 – Give Lola Bunny the Respect She Deserves This Time
Come on and slam, and welcome to the Space Jam 2 sequel buzz that swooped in out of nowhere, like an alien rocket-ship on a mission to steal entertainment from the past in order to capitalize on nostalgic millennials’ wallets. Rumor has it that LeBron James will star, although he hasn’t confirmed.
Much of the fan discussion of the potential film has revolved around whether LeBron James can carry the role; it’d be hard to top Michael Jordan’s charismatic rendition of the straight man contrasted with a well-known collection of self-described “looneys.” James’ recent cameos in the Amy Schumer-fronted Trainwreck seem to have offered him some credibility; he’s willing to appear in a rom-com and joke around about Downton Abbey. That’s good, right?
Personally, I’m not worried about James’ acting abilities. I’m not even worried about the fact that modern-day kids “don’t know who Bugs Bunny is,” or whatever. Space Jam may have come out 20 years ago, but hey, so did The Lion King and Toy Story. Quality kids’ films are few and far between, which is why even modern-day kids still give a crap about Buzz Lightyear. Just pop in Space Jam once and see if it hooks ’em.
That’s exactly what I did last night, myself. I wanted to double-check and see if Space Jam, a film that charmed me when I was ten, would hold up.
And … it does! It really, really does!
(Gif via Tumblr)
Part of why I’m hoping LeBron James signs onto the project at this point is that I’m hoping he can help out with the one terrible aspect of the original film: the characterization of Lola Bunny. James has spoken out about feminist issues before, and although Trainwreck may not be a bastion of feminist thought, I’ll take the crumbs of hope for the moment. Yep, that’s how bad Lola came off in Space Jam: I’m willing to settle for hope-crumbs.
Don’t get me wrong; when I was a ten-year-old girl, I absolutely friggin’ adored Lola Bunny. I also somehow ret-conned the entire film as having been about her. In my mind, she was the most important player on the team, scoring most of the baskets and wowing all of her colleagues and fans with her talents. In the actual film? Eh … there’s a couple minutes of that—total—in a film that lasts an hour and twenty minutes. She’s barely in the film at all, and what little she does do gets undermined by the narrative framing … but I’ll get to that in a minute.
I remember exactly why I related to Lola so much, growing up. Although I was too short to be much good at sports, I engaged my competitive spirit in other ways, with pastimes like videogames and LARPing and tabletop assortments. It didn’t take me long to figure out that being competitive wasn’t considered an attractive quality in a girl, though. I looked to characters like Lola Bunny, and like Icebox in Little Giants, for comfort and validation. When I got older, I noticed that sometimes there’d be a similar type of girl character in “nerd” films, too … and she’d often share a lot of the same qualities as Lola Bunny.
Gone Girl‘s Amy Dunne calls this the “Cool Girl” trope; in media analysis, this type of character arc has been referred to as Trinity Syndrome and the Smurfette Principle. I’ve personally dubbed it “The Cool Gamer Girlfriend” trope in the past, at least when it comes to media about “gamer girls”. These are all slight variations on the same type of problem: the idea that a woman heroine in a male-dominated pastime has to be not only good, but exceptional, in order to “hang” with the guys … many of whom are pretty mediocre. There may or may not even be a side-plot where she agonizes about balancing her own femininity with her enjoyment of a supposedly masculine pastime. Lola’s barely in this film, but she still manages to hit all of these notes to a tea. In record time!
The introduction of Lola doesn’t happen until 38 minutes into the film; in other words, the first 50% of this 76-minute film lacks Lola entirely (I’m not counting the film’s lengthy credits in that run-time). I couldn’t figure out where the heck she was, at first.
Anyway, when she finally does show up on the scene, she’s worlds better at basketball than all the other Tunes, but they don’t take her seriously … except for Michael Jordan, who never undermines her for a moment. (“The girl’s got some skills!”) Still, her frustration at the Tunes’ immediate sexual objectification of her is framed as comedic and light-hearted. Even as she undercuts Bugs for disparaging her with a babyish pet name, the framing undermines her big moment. Look at the camera’s focus on her anthropomorphized frame, her rhythmic animated walk, and the jazzy music. This all indicates how the audience is meant to see her: as a future love interest for Bugs. Not as a relatable heroine … except maybe as an aspirational figure for girls who need a constant reminder that if we wanna hang with the guys, we’ve gotta be hot.
During the Tune Squad introduction when the players enter the court, Lola’s referred to by the announcer as the team’s “heartthrob” and enters the court in dim lighting that silhouettes her figure (unlike all of her other teammates, who get actual lighting). This moment shocked me primarily because since Lola’s tryout, we haven’t seen her in the film at all. She hasn’t been practicing with the team, nor taking part in any of the hilarious sequences that happen in the run-up to the big game. We don’t see the guys cast her or even agree to let her be a part of the Tune Squad at all. It’s almost as though the film didn’t really think we’d care about Lola or want to find out more about her.
During the game itself, Lola kicks butt. Seeing her star moments on the court feels incredible, almost to the point that I don’t mind the extent to which this plays into the “exceptional” demands placed upon her. Of course, she doesn’t get any chances to be funny or wacky or do anything other than be really good at basketball, and also super-hot, but … it’s something. Her presence matters.
In the climactic moment of the film, Lola ends up in a tight spot on the court; Bugs Bunny rushes up to push her out of the way of an oncoming opponent, taking cartoonish physical damage in Lola’s stead. This scene should be framed as Bugs taking the fall so that his team’s second-best player can continue to play without injury. Instead, this moment is framed as the reason why Lola finally falls in love with Bugs. She says to him, “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me,” then plants a kiss on him.
What’s really sad about this moment is that Lola probably isn’t lying. What do we know about her? She’s gifted at basketball, she’s way better than any of the other Tunes we’ve met, and she appears out of nowhere … so she probably learned her skills from a different group of cartoons who demoralized her in some way, hence her anger at being referred to as “Doll.” Bugs might honestly be the nicest guy she’s ever met.
Bugs isn’t so bad, and I don’t even have an issue with Lola dating him, but given that her only two dialogue-heavy scenes in the film are:
1. getting irritated with Bugs for disparaging her, and
2. getting saved by him and kissing him?
I’m just disappointed. It’s not even that it’s unrealistic; I can’t help but be reminded of some of the crappy relationships I had with jerky competitive gamers over the years. Dating someone just because they’re the “least bad” candidate out of the bunch isn’t exactly a promising foundation for a partnership. But I guess I can relate to Lola on this one … and I’m sure I can even relate to her future break-up.
For kid-Maddy, these few-minute sequences of Lola allowed me to fill in the rest with my own imagination. But Adult-Maddy wants more, and frankly, I think kid-Maddy deserved more, too. What if the Tunes’ team had (gasp) two women, and not just one? Tweety’s elderly owner makes a couple brief appearances in Space Jam, and I loved them; I also liked the characterizations of Michael Jordan’s wife and kids. That’s part of why Lola’s narrative framing feels like such a big missed opportunity.
What’s more, the way that she’s framed taught kid-me a pretty depressing lesson about what it takes to be accepted by a group of guys: if you’re lucky, and if you’re hot enough, maybe you’ll get to date one of them. Unfortunately, I know that’s a lesson that I internalized very early on in my life: the idea that male validation was the only thing that really mattered, as opposed to winning games and excelling at my chosen hobbies. It’s a lesson that took me years to unlearn.
I still recommend Space Jam. It holds up well on rewatch; it’s got a racially diverse cast, tons of great jokes that still hold up, and bad CGI that comes across as endearing and charming to my modern eyes. It’s a film that I want to be able to recommend without any reservations. I want to be able share the joyful experience that I had re-watching it with everyone I know. But I can’t … not without making mention of how disappointed I felt about Lola’s treatment in this film.
That’s why I’m almost hoping that Space Jam 2 does happen, if only because it’s the franchise’s opening to improve upon the original. This is a second opportunity to tell a different story that actually includes the young girls in the audience and reassures them that they too can be wacky, goofy, funny, and absolutely essential when it comes to competitive pastimes. Here’s your chance to do the dance at the Space Jam. All right? ALL RIGHT!
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