WB's Tony Cervone Remembers Michael Jordan on the Set of Space Jam

25 years ago, the world's greatest legends first collided in the future universe of Space Jam. NBA superstar Michael Jordan was recruited by Bugs Bunny and a supporting cast of almost every Looney Tune character ever created to play the basketball game of his life in order to save the beloved cartoons from a hideous kidnapping scheme. The man corralling all this chaos as the Animation Director is Tony Cervone (Scoob!, Flintstones and WWE: Stone Age Smackdown). 

In the 90s, Cervone started animating for Warner Brothers, working on Animaniacs and Tiny Toon Adventures, which would eventually lead to working on Space Jam. As the movie grew, so did his title. Starting the project as a storyboard artist, Tony became the Animation Director over the length of the production. The prolific producer/director for Warner Bros., and expert on Looney Tunes and Hanna Barbera cartoons, took time out from celebrating the 25th anniversary of Space Jam to chat with Bleeding Cool's Jimmy Leszczynski about hanging out with the iconic M.J. and shares the one character that they couldn't use in the film.  

Space Jam Still. Credit: Warner Bros.
Space Jam Still. Credit: Warner Bros.

Tony, you are known for Scooby-Doo and Kiss Rock and Roll Mystery, Space Jam, Flintstones, and WWE: Stone Age Smackdown; you sent Tom and Jerry to Oz a couple of times. Would you say that mashing up classic characters is your wheelhouse? 

Tony Cervone: Yeah, I guess I've done that a lot, and sometimes the results are kind of fun. You know? I didn't invent mashing up Looney Tunes and Basketball, but those were two things that work together in an unexpectedly fun way.

Space Jam features some pretty big names of the day- Jordan, Bill Murray, Billy West, Wayne Knight. Can you share any stories that would make the commentary of the re-release?

TC: It was always fun being around all those people. I'm from Chicago and was a big Chicago Bulls fan, and a Michael Jordan fan, and an NBA fan in the '90s. So just being around Michael and talking about that season and talking about his return to basketball, hearing his stories about what was going on and things that were happening behind the scenes that were all very exciting for me. I was a pretty big fanboy. 

Space Jam Still. Credit: Warner Bros.
Space Jam Still. Credit: Warner Bros.

You had to be the king back in 1996, right? Intimate time with Michael Jordan, directing one of the biggest movies of the year…

TC: Michael Jordan was one of the most famous people on earth in those days; he was like a demiGod in Chicago, so just the idea that my friends and family back home, forget about Bugs Bunny, the idea that I was making a movie with Michael Jordan certainly put me on top, you now? I've never been on top like that again.    

25 years later, what inside jokes, deep bench characters, or easter eggs that have gone unnoticed in Space Jam all these years?-that you can share

TC: In making that movie, we didn't hide our Easter eggs. I've been asked about why there were so many, you know, different characters in the movie. Every Looney Tune, even if a character is only in one cartoon, why did we decide to put them in the crowds and stuff like that? It was like, 'Because we loved it, we just did it.' No-one stopped us from doing it. So in a way, those aren't easter eggs to us because we were going to shove everyone on there… Sniffles gets pummeled/ flattened with a basketball. I remember people at that time going, 'No one even knows who Sniffles is.' (But) we remember Sniffles. We've been waiting to hit Sniffles with a basketball for many years… And I do think that might be one of the reasons we're still talking about it is the movie does seem like it has this raw energy to it, chaotic energy to it in an off-kilter structure. It doesn't feel like a normal animated movie. It didn't then, and it still doesn't feel normal. There aren't a lot of Space Jams out there.

You got everyone you could think of, everyone that you wanted to get some screen time? 

TC: The only character that we couldn't get in there was the Gremlin; you remember the Gremlin from the old Bugs Bunny (Falling Hare 1943) cartoon, the World War II-era cartoon. We had that character in there, and then someone in the legal department went, wait, we don't 100 % own him. We have to take him out. So that's the only character that, I think, got by us- and at one point was in the movie, and we had to pull him out. 

Six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan and Looney Tunes linchpin Bugs Bunny star in the family comedy classic that introduced a whole new dimension of entertainment. The film also stars Wayne Knight, Theresa Randle, and the voice of Danny DeVito. Bill Murray, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, and Patrick Ewing appear as themselves. Space Jam was produced by Ivan Reitman and directed by Joe Pytka.

Celebrate the 25 the anniversary of the beloved classic by watching Space Jam on Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack or on Digital, available now from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

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About Jimmy Leszczynski

Jimmy Leszczynski has been blurring the line between comics and reality at SDCC every year since 1994, and was a nerd long before Lewis, Gilbert, and the Tri Lamdas made it cool. Middle aged father of 2 that REFUSES to grow up, lifelong Bat-Fan, and he thinks he's pretty funny.
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