Showing posts with label Sports. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sports. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Guest Post: Marc McGwire/Sammy Sosa Home Run Race

Welcome to a new installment of Children of the 90s guest blogs! We have several pieces in the works and we are still reviewing applications, so if you are interested in contributing to Children of the 90s, shoot us an email at!

...And we're back with another spectacular guest post drawn from our fabulous pool of blogger applicants. I've gotten so many emails and comments about how the blog tends to be one-sided--that is, female sided. Thankfully, we've got guest blogger Russ to infuse some much-needed testosterone into your weekly dose of 90s. So, thanks, Russ. I have no aptitude for 90s sports trivia, so I completely appreciate your knowledge and expertise on an area that so eludes me.

You can find Russ in his regular blogging gig reviewing the goodies at Trader Joe's as a contributor to the
What's Good at Trader Joe's? blog. It's also worth mentioning that today is his birthday, so leave him the requisite good wishes in the comments section. A little about Russ, from the birthday boy himself:

It's tough to not like most Trader Joe's chow. It's almost as tough to not poke some light fun at my lovely wife, Sandy. So the blog I co-author, What's Good at Trader Joe's?, gives an honest review of TJ fare while I make fun of her and occasionally get myself in trouble while detailing little bits of our life in Pittsburgh. The other guy who writes reviews, Nathan, is pretty entertaining, too. You can like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter if you like that kinda stuff.

Go check out Russ's blog for more tasty Trader Joe tidbits, and of course, enjoy his distinctly male musings on late 90s home run madness below:

1998 Marc McGwire/Sammy Sosa Home Run Race

The summer of 1998 was simply a magical time to be not only a baseball fan, but any kid who ever dreamed of making the big leagues. With Little League and the time-honored tradition of hot dogs, popcorn, and soda while attending a major or minor league game, baseball has long been a sport that’s held an undeniable special place in the hearts of our youth. And there’s few more things about baseball that capture more imagination and dreams than the home run, the long ball, the deep fly, the dinger. The homer. Practically no one has grown up without dreaming of swatting one. That spectacle of power and precision is undeniably entrenched in our American psyche, especially as kids, and it’s tough to not admire any athlete who can swat one so routinely and seemingly effortlessly.

No, the homer. Not The Homer.

1998 gave us not one but two men, of different colors, backgrounds and teams, on a collision course of history, destiny, and our imagination. Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs spent all summer slugging ball after ball over the walls and notching their names in the history books. By August, despite the constant glare of media attention, it became apparent that it wasn’t a question any longer that the single season record of 61 home runs, set by New York Yankee Roger Maris in 1961, would be shattered. It simply it was a question of by whom, and when.

It was that question that enraptured baseballs fans the nation over all summer. I remember so clearly, actually. All the SportsCenter highlights, the magazine articles, the excitement of whenever one of those teams was coming to town (back then, most Phillies games weren’t worth watching without someone or something exciting coming to town). I remember having a TV in my room (a luxury for my 15-16 year old self) and waking up early every morning to catch highlights from the night before to just see if either managed to smack one out of the yard the night before.

You know, back when ESPN was is that on your lip, Olbermann?

September, the home stretch of the season, finally came. Both McGwire and Sosa were close to the record, and as fate and broadcasters would have it, Sosa’s Cubs came to Busch Stadium for a three game set starting September 6 against McGwire’s Cardinals. Entering that series, McGwire had 60 and Sosa had 58. All summer, with homer after homer being hit by both, nothing seemed impossible. McGwre and Sosa seemed to swap hot homer streaks all summer so there there was the legitimate question lingering of which one would hit the magical No. 62 first despite McGwire’s lead. Fans either identified with McGwire’s raging biceps, his fair complexion and red hair, and his businessman-like handling of himself, or Sosa’s Dominican upbringing, goofy smile, and way he charged into the field every inning. Both guys were easy to cheer for, easy to love, easy to root for. It wasn’t a question if you liked them, it was a question of who you liked more.

Steroids? What steroids? You mean Flintstone vitamins, right, Sammy?

Ultimately, only one of them could be the first to 62. On September 8, 1998, with two outs and no one on in the bottom in the fourth inning, in the very first pitch off the at-bat against the immortal Steve Trachsel at 8:18 CDT, the time came with a long swoop of McGwire’s bat. Ironically, at 314 feet and just barely over the left field wall, it was easily McGwire’s shortest home run of the season, but by far it was the one that resonated most deeply and struck a chord most soundly and changed the record books most irrevocably. It didn’t need to be one of McGwire usual tape measure jobs to fill us with awe and wonder. It was No. 62, and that was enough.


It also filled me with thankfulness that I don’t have epilepsy.

What transpired next was one of the most awkward, impromptu celebrations in sports history. First, McGwire nearly forgot to step on first base (which would have negated his home run) and had to be pointed back by the first base coach. Then, all sorts of shoulder slaps and high fives from Cubs players as McGwire rounded the bases (usually a rather large baseball taboo) before, as he stepped on home plate, McGwire lifted his chubby young son high in the air to celebrate. Sosa, in right field, and bested, ran in to offer his congrats and atta-boys before McGwire took a microphone to address the crowd. In all, a night unlike any other in baseball history, and it certainly made my vocab homework seem pretty anti-climatic.

Mark and Sammy’s man hug was both singular and uncouth.

It’s tough to ultimately place this in the proper historical context. McGwire ended the year with 70 homers, Sosa with 66. Some credit the home run derby between the two between helping “save” baseball after the 1994 strike that wiped out the World Series for the only time in its history; others don’t. The Cardinals didn’t even make the playoffs, while the Cubs did, only to be swept out in the first round by the Atlanta Braves. Three short years later, Barry Bonds of the San Fransisco Giants smacked 73 homers to place his name on top the single season list. And in the years after that, there have been whispers of steroid use by McGwire, Sosa and Bonds that only McGwire has copped to. For some, that cheapens the memories of the summer of ‘98 and the back-and forth struggle of these two men against each other and against history. However 1998 is ultimately remembered, there’s no denying the magnetic appeal, the magical whispers, the epic long flies, and the shattering of baseball history that transpired.

And the biceps. Lots and lots of biceps.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Guest Blog: Top 5 sports films of the ‘90s; or, Those who can’t do, watch movies

Welcome to this first exciting round of Children of the 90s guest blogs! We are still reviewing applications, so if you are interested in contributing to Children of the 90s, shoot us an email to!

Now, please welcome our first guest blogger, Belle of Belle's Bookshelf! A little about Belle, in her own words:

I'm a 25-year-old writer, book addict, Disney nerd, 80s/90s aficionado and general pop culture junkie from Sydney, Australia. I blog about just one of my many obsessions (books) at Belle's Bookshelf (inspired by the Disney princess, of course), where I share reviews, book-to-movie comparisons, cool buys and other bookish fun. But I'm so excited to be writing about another obsession of mine - 90s movies - here at Children of the 90s!

You can find Belle at her Belle's Bookshelf blog here, or on facebook, twitter, or tumblr. Go check out her blog, stop by and say hi, and follow her on all of her so
cial media outlets for the full Belle experience. Without further ado, here are Belle's favorite 90s sports movies:

Top 5 sports films of the ‘90s; or, Those who can’t do, watch movies

1. The Mighty Ducks (1992)

Emilio Estevez distances himself from his Brat Pack beginnings by playing a drunken a-hole of a lawyer who has to do community service (and confront demons from his past) by coaching a PeeWee ice hockey team that’s comprised of a ragtag bunch of kids, including the loudmouth, the overeater, the geek, the girl and the natural leader. Between this movie and the two (inferior, but still fantastic) sequels, I spent many a weekend with the Ducks growing up (and, er, maybe one or two lately).

Memorable moments: The Flying V; Charlie scoring the winning goal; Charlie introducing Joshua Jackson to the world (and my young heart); any scene with Hans.

2. The Sandlot (1993)

Set in 1962, The Sandlot tells the story of Smalls, the new kid in town who connects with the local (ragtag, of course) group of kids – and later, his stepfather – through baseball. Everything is going great until the group loses a ball signed by Babe Ruth in the yard of “The Beast”. The myriad madcap ways they try to get it back, and their other misadventures along the way, makes for compelling viewing, even today – yep, it’s actually stood the test of time!

Memorable moments: The rollercoaster vomit scene; the insult exchange; the pool scene; Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez (*sigh*).

3. Little Giants (1994)

A, er, ragtag group of kids (I’m sensing a theme here) don’t make the local PeeWee football team so decide to form their own. Their star players are a girl named Icebox and a kid named Junior who throws toilet paper down grocery store aisles in his spare time. Sadly, this movie doesn’t fare so well on adult viewing, which makes me realise how awesome my mum’s blocking out skills are, because she never once complained during the 247 times I watched this. I’d like to say it was the cuteness of ultimate ‘90s heartthrob Devon Sawa that drew me in (and sure, he was about 65 per cent of it) but I actually thought this was hilarious.

Memorable moments: “Intimidation”; the Annexation of Puerto Rico; the argument that you can have kids without kissing but can’t get a job; Rick Moranis and Ed O’Neill as the most unlikely brothers in movie history.

4. Angels in the Outfield (1994)

In possibly the cheesiest sports movie of the ‘90s (and that’s saying something), baby Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a foster kid whose dad promises him they’ll be a family again when the California Angels baseball team wins. So he prays to God for the team to win, and, naturally, his prayers are answered and a flock of angels led by Doc Al (Christopher Lloyd) descend upon the field to help pro players Matthew McConaughey, Tony Danza and Adrien Brody. I have to admit I haven’t revisited this as an adult; I’m kinda scared all the angelicness will make me vom just a little bit. But hey, it was great at the time.

Memorable moments: The team manager, played by Danny Glover, throwing the locker room tantrum to end all locker room tantrums; Al manifesting from a cup of Coke; the whole crowd flapping their arms like seagulls, I mean angels; did I mention baby Joseph Gordon-Levitt?!

5. Space Jam (1996)

I’ve saved the best for last. Because this one stars an actual sporting legend, which automatically makes it the greatest sports movie of all time, amirite? Yep, in a hilarious mix of reality and cartoonary, the Looney Tunes kidnap Michael Jordan so they can beat the alien Monstar team (word play FTW), who in turn want to kidnap them and force them to entertain tourists at an extraterrestrial theme park called Moron Mountain. What kid didn’t believe they could fly after this movie? I know I did. Thanks, R. Kelly.

Memorable moments: Um, the whole movie? Seriously, it’s amazeballs.

For more from Belle, don't forget to check out her regular blog, Belle's Bookshelf! And of course, if you want to be the next guest blogger to see your stuff in print (well, online) here at Children of the 90s, apply via email at!

Monday, August 2, 2010

The OJ Simpson Trial

Few court cases are public enough or on a large enough scale to be readily remembered over a decade and a half later. To achieve a title like “Trial of the Century” requires a variety of salacious elements including but not limited to a handsome star athlete, a tragically murdered beautiful ex-wife, and a charismatic lawyer with a penchant for coining easily quotable rhyming phrases. If you throw in enough memorable rhyming one-liners like, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” a trial becomes an event even the least litigiously-minded child can get into.

The OJ Simpson trial had a little something for everyone: sports, beauty, crimes of passion, Bronco chases, and bloody gloves. TV networks quickly realized they could capitalize on the trial for cheap footage that required no writing or casting, sustainable with just an obvious interjection or two from a blandly attractive pundit. In an age before reality TV, the OJ Simpson trial satisfied our basest instinct to watch others’ horrifying real lives unfold before us as we quietly chomped popcorn on the sofa.

With the publicity surrounding the trial, suddenly the most mundane individuals had the potential to become stars. Lawyers, judges, and even Nicole Brown’s murder-alerting pet Akita quickly morphed into overnight celebrities. While ordinarily we may not view lawyers as the most exciting of paparazzi targets, during the OJ Simpson trial they achieved a level of fame that eventually afforded their widowed wives and children to become an E! network television spectacle. I’m looking at you, Kardashians.

It’s astounding that many of us can not remember what we ate for breakfast, but we can readily retrieve years-old information about Robert Shapiro, Judge Ito, and Johnnie Cochran. With the duration of the trial stretching out over nine long months, these everyday professionals were cast as heroes and villains in a live courtroom drama. With the combination of the most heavily publicized and longest running trial-by-jury in the state of California, all its players ascended to astronomical fame throughout its run.

In June of 1994, a series of events occurred that we soon grew to know with familiarity akin to events that befell our own friends and families. Nicole Brown Simpson and friend Ron Goldman were stabbed outside Brown’s apartment in Los Angeles. With Brown’s ex-husband OJ Simpson emerging as the lead suspect, the LAPD called for his arrest. In one of the most bizarre car chases ever televised, the police tailed Simpson’s white Ford Bronco driven by his friend Al Cowlings at a whopping 35 miles per hour. 35 miles per hour. What kind of driving training are our police officers getting? Even at nine years old, I found it a bit troubling that Simpson could have been leading the cops around the interstate on a tractor and still maintain a sizable lead.

This single event led to months of legal proceedings, with witnesses emerging from the woodwork to sell their stories for impressive sums to disreputable tabloid publications or cheesy television talk shows. Throughout the course of the trial, it seemed the public had an insatiable appetite for information and live coverage of the case. Following Simpson’s plea of not guilty, the trial quickly erupted into a nine month long media circus complete with televised coverage of courtroom testimony.

In the end, the jury found Simpson not guilty. Children and adults alike interrupted their daily school or work schedules to hear the eventual verdict on the radio. Late night talk show hosts ran low on jokes, Court TV ran low on material, and those of us rapt with attention at the details of the case returned to our normal, OJ-free lives.

Simpson’s acquittal was not the end of the story, of course. In 2006, Simpson released a completely absurd book clearly free of damage control publicist intervention entitled If I Did It. Everyone knows that if you didn’t commit a crime, the greatest way to uphold your legally cleared name is to publish a detailed account of how you might have gotten the job done.

In a maelstrom of public criticism and controversy, publication of If I Did It was called off. In typical post-90s technology age fashion, the content found its way onto the internet, resulting in a siege of outrage against Simpson’s tactless and thoughtless attempt to stir up self destructive publicity. If you’re interested, simply do an online search for the book and decide for yourself. The glove that did not fit may have prompted the jury to acquit, but Simpson’s self-induced media frenzy more likely led to a public indictment.

Friday, February 26, 2010

90s Underdog Sports Movies

Because most of us aren't Olympic-caliber athletes and will never earn multimillion dollar contracts with professional sports franchises, the underdog story tends to speak to us on a personal level. When it does, it's saying something like, "You may not be talented, but with this level of drive and determination you can outshine all of those people with legitimate athletic ability." It's like a small way of keeping the dream alive. As a child you may have fantasized about playing in the NBA or being an Olympic gold-medal gymnast, but when puberty ended and you were either 5'1'' or 6''7 respectively, you may have had to adjust your dreams slightly. Actually, the short guy might have just wanted to trade with the tall guy, and you may have been gone on to great success in living out the other's wildest calisthenic desires.

The underdog story strikes a special chord with all of us, regardless of how successful we are in our current endeavors. At one point or another, every one of us has had at least a brief taste of hopelessness and self doubt. If our lives worked like the movies, we would see these feelings as our cue to grow and learn and eventually beat out our anonymously evil opponent, but unfortunately real life doesn't play out that way. That's precisely what makes the theme so attractive to us in film: it gives us a sliver of hope that we may someday achieve our indefinitely improbable dream.

Who doesn't like to root for the underdog? I once almost won the jackpot in a March Madness pool by picking a solid lineup of underdogs. At the time, I had no knowledge of college basketball, so I based my strategy solely on my knowledge of cheesy, heartwarming sports cinema. For awhile, it was really working for me, too. If only things had ended up as well for the teams I'd chosen as they had for say, the Mighty Ducks, I would have been a temporarily rich woman.

While not always probable, these stories help us get through the hard times. Or at the very least, they test our crying reflexes. Some of these warrant a full Kleenex multi-pack. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Mighty Ducks

I still can't believe this is sitting steady at 8% on Rotten Tomatoes. It's a 90s classic. Its many many sequels and franchising opportunities tell the real story; we didn't necessarily need a critically acclaimed movie to rush out and buy oodles of licensed merchandise. We would settle for a standard underdog story. Our consumerism isn't too picky.


RUDY - Feature Film Trailer from Edgar Faarup on Vimeo.

Rudy is truly one of those classic underdog movies. Even just watching the trailer gets me all riled up against everyone who told Rudy that his dreams were impossible. Granted, they were probably right. Like the groundskeeper remarks, he's 5 foot nothin' and weighs a hundred and nothin', plus he has no real aptitude for athletics. None of that is enough to deter Rudy, though, bless his heart. He's a pretty persistent guy.

Good thing, too, because he's become an enduring inspiration to us 90s kids. It wouldn't work as well if he'd thrown in the proverbial towel, no matter how sweaty he'd gotten it. If this movie didn't make you cry, maybe nothing will. It's a real tears-of-joy kind of flick.

The Sandlot

This movie is just brimming with quotable one-liners and pure, kid-driven heart. It's a sweet movie filled with ragtag misfits that separates itself from the pack of underdogs by not focusing so heavily on winning or losing. What's more important, it seems, is just being a kid. And avoiding certain death at the jaws of a savage English Mastiff. You know, the usual.

A League of their Own

I don't care what the degree of odds stacked against you as a professional female baseball player: there is absolutely no crying in baseball. I checked all of the rulebooks and Jimmy Dugan is absolutely right. No crying. Even if you're a Rockford Peach and have thin skin.

Hoop Dreams

Alas, proof that the heartstring-tugging underdog story isn't always fictional. Hoop Dreams is a documentary, but it's really only about basketball on a surface level. Like many documentaries, it gets to the heart of issues including race and societal values. The movie follows two kids for six years (8th grade to college) as they progress in their athletic careers, and these filmmakers captured more drama and tension than that found in fictional screenplays. In short, it's a great movie. If you haven't already, your homework assignment is to watch it. Report back on Monday.


Cross-dressing movies are inherently funny, right? I haven't seen this one in ages, but as I kid I was pretty certain it was knee-slappingly hilarious. A clueless Rodney Dangerfield (is there any other kind?) ends up coaching a girls' soccer team and enlists his soon-to-be stepson as one of the players. I had a huge crush on Jonathan Brandis, so I watched this movie probably 30 times. Consecutively. I'm still not over his death. Anyway, back to the movie: adults probably found it pretty hit or miss, but it was child-directed comedic gold.

Mystery, Alaska

There are so many characters in this movie, it's almost tough to tell who's the underdog. The movie essentially takes a stand against things that are fairly easy to take a stand against: evil big corporations, people who cheat on their spouses, sleazy television producers; it's not a huge leap to get us on board with it all. The big hockey game almost feels like a secondary plot in this one, though, so it didn't earn as much fanfare as its underdog-rooting cinematic peers.

Major League

Cut me a little slack here; this one came out in 1989, but it has all the classic makings of a 90s underdog story. Even that trailer follows the misfit montage to a T. Unlike some of the other movies on this list, Major League actually manages to be funny while executing its hackneyed storyline. We're willing to forgive the cliches because it's a genuinely entertaining film. Plus, Charlie Sheen plays Charlie Sheen. That's so unlike him.

The Cutting Edge

Okay, okay, I admit. I have a weakness for incredibly cheesy sports movies. As far as sports films go, this is pretty much as girly as it gets. At least this film throws another standard cliche into the mix: the mismatched-but-inevitably-suited-for-romance partnership. The spoiled Muffy and tough-guy meathead are clearly meant to be together from the beginning, but the fun of the movie is in watching the tribulations of their initial togetherness. Spoiler alert: They win, and they get together. I'm sure you're shocked.

Little Giants

Wow, how young is Ed O'Neill in that trailer?

I loved this movie as a kid, but looking at it now it's obvious it's about as by the books as you can get with an underdog story. It's like the writers took every Bad News Bears-style cliche from every kids' sports film ever made and synthesized them into a single film. They may well have named it, Generic Cliched Sports Film: Children's Edition. Even with its weaknesses, it appeals well to children. Anyone over the age of 10 may not be quite so generous with their reviews, unless they had a real thing for Devon Sawa. I know I did.

It goes to show that films don't need originality to entertain us. They can usually make up for it with a hearty dose of feeding our delicate psyches the reinforcement and reassurance it needs to delude us into thinking we can achieve the impossible. Don't get me wrong. Dream big, and all that. We don't watch movies to remind us of our own shortcomings; we watch movies to escape from the mundane trials of daily life. For the most part, it works too. Assuming the little guy wins, that is.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Mighty Ducks

I suppose I should come right out and admit that I'm more than a little biased in my treatment of certain nostalgic material. Objectivity is a nice idea, but let's be real here: anyone growing up in Minnesota in the 1990s who even knew a person who played hockey was predisposed to fall in love with The Mighty Ducks. As a proud ex-Minneapolitan, I not only loved the movie for its hometown roots but also because my family drove daily past the arenas where the movie was filmed and if I squinted hard enough I can even see some former Pee Wee Hockey League-affiliated friends as cheering crowd extras. It wasn't exactly a tough sell for me.

Regardless of my personal inclination to adore this movie unapologetically, I still assumed that loving this movie was nothing short of a universal kid phenomenon. It had heart, stellar sports movie cliches, quacking, and even a scrappy female player who later went to star in one of my favorite movies*. Maybe I just love hockey enough to be blinded by the subject matter, but I was reasonably certain that this film was beloved by all. Call me naive, but I was shocked to learn that the film hold an 8% positive rating on aggregate movie review site Rotten Tomatoes. I know kids movies can be a little cheesy, but eight percent? Has my entire movie-loving life been a lie? I don't know what to believe anymore.

Maybe the real issue is that these adults just are so darn critical. Yes, as a currently critical adult I realize this likely veers me into hypocritical territory, but as a child I pretty much took everything released on TV or VHS as media gospel until I caught a few episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and realized these things were mockable. The Mighty Ducks, though, lived in a time before over-analyzing and before my friends and I held discerning opinions on quality of entertainment sources. We loved hockey, we loved a young Joshua Jackson, and dammit we loved ourselves some Mighty Ducks and that was that.

The original did seem to have a bit of that magic dust glow haloing its premise, at least to children. Yes, it's a hackneyed and oft repeated tale of a group of ragtag kids who just can't catch a break who finally find the inspiring hope they so desperately crave in the hands of a rough-round-the-edges coach. That description could fit a hundred kids sports movies, but it doesn't detract all that much from their heartwarmingness and general adorability. We may see now that these themes were perhaps not the most original, but they did continually reaffirm our beliefs that even if we were completely terrible at something, some kindly adult might come along and change our lives into those of winners.

On the other side of the fence, I imagine all of my sport coaches throughout the year rewound these inspirational locker room moments again and again, seeking cheesy motivational fodder. Who can argue with that level of cinematic results? If only we could have mustered up the corresponding heartening theme music. Then it would have been in the bag.

The familiar rehashed story focuses on Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez), the most bad-assed named attorney in the Minneapolis area facing drunk driving charges. See, we even start with a message. Don't drink and drive, kids, or you'll have to live out your unfulfilled dreams of leading a group of peewee hockey misfits to a much-deserved victory. Bombay is predictably sentenced to community service coaching a kid's hockey league, forcing him to revisit his own traumatic childhood hockey memories in which he blew the big game for his team. Scarring stuff.

Of course, Bombay is further dismayed to find himself saddled with an untalented motley crew of hockey misfits. There's not a shred of mutual respect between the players and their new coach, with the two sides getting off to an abysmal start. There's a clear hatred brewing between coach and team, and it doesn't look particularly pretty.

Many of Bombay's early coaching efforts are at best misguided, leading both the team and their parents to berate his coaching style and personal character alike. As is apt to happen in these types of Disney films, Bombay coincidentally is reunited with an old mentor, Hans, who seems to be in the right place at the right time at every turn to encourage the budding coach's past passion for the sport.

In typical lawyerly fashion, Bombay solicits funding from his boss, Mr. Ducksworth. Get it? Ducksworth, Ducks? I hope a screenwriter's guild award went to that guy. With financial backing, the team is able to acquire a lot of the equipment and practice space they so sorely needed, and it looks like we're heading in the right direction.

There are the requisite misunderstandings in which the team gets pretty angry over something they misoverheard Bombay say and most players choose to boycott a game, forcing a forfeit. To make things worse, Bombay is coming to the end of serving out his community service sentence only to find that Ducksworth and Co. all seem hell bent on manipulating the peewee hockey system in some sort of corrupt ploy that would never matter in real life. Ducksworth goes so far as to fire Bombay, which is of course the only logical next step in this ever-growing distance between the world of peewee hockey and reality.

Our kids are still scuffling over their mixed loyalties to each other versus the coach, ending in a quacking incident that lands them all in detention. Bombay comes to visit their detention classroom, offers some much-needed pep and encouragement, giving them a major boost of team pride.

The semi-corrupt league disputes over star player Adam (who should be zoned as a Ducks player but played for the anonymously evil rivals the Hawks) are resolved as Adam finally joins the Ducks, adding to their burgeoning confidence. The Ducks make the playoffs, win a couple more games, and all seems to be falling into place as expected in a rah-rah sports movie.

As expected, the Ducks face off against the Hawks in their championship game, setting the stage for a last minute not-so-surprising victory. Instead of chastising and berating the boys like his coach had, Bombay encourages them and they take the game per expected. It's still sweet though. All the while the romantic storyline between Bombay and a player's parent seems to be flourishing. On top of all this feel-goodness, the kids offer their encouragement for Bombay's own fledgling minor league hockey career, and while a tad over the top it still manages to warm your heart at least as much as a shot of good whiskey.

Just ignore that half of this clip is the closing credits. You're granted full permission to skip that part.

It may not be the perfect movie, but there's a reason some movie tropes are replayed time and time again. It isn't a new tale to adult moviegoers, but through the fresh virgin eyes of children it manages to renew itself as affective for a new generation. When we later saw the baseball, football, and basketball versions of this movie we were well prepared for the requisite shots of inspiration. Not to mention the two sequels, the animated series, and an actual NHL team under the Ducks namesake. Learning about sportsmanship and franchise milking management in one fell swoop. Not bad.

*Wet Hot American Summer, in case you were wondering, starring our pal Marguerite Moreau. If any of you caught the Wet Hot references in this post, congratulations. You're awesome.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Space Jam

For generations, kids have grown up delighting in the fun and whimsy of Warner Brother's Looney Tunes. They're silly, they're quotable, they're animated...and apparently highly skilled at basketball.

So perhaps it seemed like an unlikely scenario that our old cartoon standards were tearing up the court, but in 1996, that's exactly what they set out to do. Even to highly imaginative children, it seemed seemed improbable that Bugs Bunny and the gang were going to excel basketbally. That is, until we found out they were enlisting the world-famous skills of none other than 90s basketball superstar Michael Jordan.

Rewind a decade or so, to a time before Michael Jordan was just the guy engaging in cheesy banter with Charlie Sheen in the tagless Hanes tees commercials. Once upon a time, Michael Jordan was every kid's hero. He was the Jordan of our Air Jordan sneakers, our favorite Dream Team player, and the man who brought fame and success to our beloved (at least in my corner of the world) Chicago Bulls. That was, until he pretended to play baseball. But that's a story for another time.

Kids everywhere looked up to Michael Jordan. They believed he could do anything. In fact, they almost believed (wait for it, wait for it)....

He could fly.

(And don't you worry. We'll get to that Quad City DJs song in another post. You didn't think I could leave that one alone, did you? Did you??)

So when we all eagerly lined up at movie theaters, settled in with some buttered popcorn, and heard R. Kelly's lyrical interpretation of a young Michael Jordan believing he could fly, we were right there with him. MJ had been a kid. We were kids. Remember, this was before we knew that R. Kelly liked kids, so it was still acceptable get caught up in the fantasy. Ours, that is. Not his.

Space Jam was a child's dream. It's hard for me to imagine any contemporary basketball star calling up his agent and saying, "You know what I really want? To act in a feature film with cartoons. Make it happen." Call me cynical, but it seems doubtful Lebron or Kobe would be up for such shenanigans (although, to their credit, they have appeared in those Most Valuable Puppet commercials). No, this was a different time, and Michael Jordan was a different player. It had all of the ingredients of child-friendly greatness.

The plot begins as a tongue-in-cheek play on Jordan's real-life rocky transition from legitimate basketball hero to semi-respected minor league baseball player. Meanwhile, planets away, these weird little space bugs (Nerdlucks, if you will) are dispatched on a mission to kidnap the Looney Tunes to serve as in-house entertainers. I know what you're thinking, it makes perfect sense. Now bear with me here, because it gets even more logical as the plot, thickens.

So these Nerdluck fellows find their way to earth, they get ahold of the Looney Tunes crowd and seek to take them back to the Nerdluck home planet, Moron Mountain. Still following? It's okay if you're not, I won't tell. Anywho, the Looney Tunes manage to convince these space critters that the only way to settle this is through a basketball game. Given their advantage in stature, it seemed like a fair bet.

Apparently these Nerdluck guys were some kind of magical, because they traveled to earth and managed to zap the basketball powers out of many prominent 90s NBA players. Lucky for us, countless big-name basketball stars were willing to embarrass themselves to this end:

Please, PLEASE tell me you recognized Dan Castellaneta, aka Homer Simpson, as that bald fan sitting next to the Nerdluck disguise. That's just too 90s-tacular to miss.

So now the Nerdlucks are big and scary and according to their jerseys, Monstars. Clever, no?

Bugs and Co aren't about to stand for this. They yank MJ through a golf hole into Looney Tune land to help them step up their game. After all, he's just a sort of crappy baseball player now, how much could they really miss him? So, several cheap jokes and athletic training montages later, here we all were at the ToonSquad/Monstars showdown. May the best man/tune/Monstar win.

Wow, just look at that dramatic Stretch Armstrong-esque ending moment. The crowd goes wild. The kids go wild. The NBA players' skills are restored and Jordan returns to basketball. All is right in the world again.

Looking back, the film wasn't all that well-received by critics, but my peers and I were utterly oblivious to this fact as children. Apparently, kids across the nation (and later, the world) agreed with us, as the film was a huge financial success. Things like plot and character development aren't of particular significance to children.

What really mattered to us was seeing our childhood heroes--animated and athletic--joining together in the bonds of...well, something. And for that single moment of cartoon/sportsman contact, it was magical.

Digg This!