25 years ago this November, Warner Bros. released the fan-favorite sports-comedy live-action-animation hybrid Space Jam into theatres. Starring Michael Jordan, Space Jam is an award-winning, record-breaking production that provides a fictional account of His Airness’s retirement and subsequent return to basketball.
It also involves the Looney Tunes, who, after bargaining that their freedom be decided in a game of hoops against the dreaded alien Mon-Stars, drag Jordan through a golf hole towards the Earth’s core and into “Looney Tune Land,” where Bugs, Daffy, and co. have all been living together amongst us humans all this time. Then they play sports, or something.
Though it opened to mixed reviews from critics, Space Jam maintains a cult following among audiences, and was a landmark film in terms of marketing success. It earned back nearly three-times its $80 million budget, and made a whopping $1.2 billion in merchandizing sales. Its soundtrack went RIAA-certified platinum an impressive seven times in its first 18 months, and garnered R. Kelly three Grammy Awards for his contribution of “I Believe I Can Fly,” which was also nominated for both Song and Record of the Year.
The movie also serves as the first appearance of Lola Bunny, a cream-colored and curvaceous lady rabbit who, in contrast to the other Looney Tunes, has a solid grasp on the fundamentals of the game. Lola’s introduction to the WB Animation canon was a smashing success for Time Warner, and her popularity has remained, continuing to appear in various Looney Tune-related media in the past quarter-century, including her return in Space Jam: A New Legacy, an upcoming sequel swapping LeBron James for Jordan, due out this summer.
So, what is it that draws viewers to Lola? Is it her pivotal role in team Tune Squad, or her total takedown of Bugs after he thoughtlessly called her “doll?”
Nope! As it turns out, lots of people find Lola Bunny really, really hot. Just as recently as last year, Lola was named the “most attractive cartoon character across the world.” With content controls turned off, Internet users can even find pornographic images of Lola in as quickly as six seconds.
There’s a lot packaged in Space Jam that enforces Lola’s hypergynous identity. She is twice accompanied by a saxophonic leitmotif of romantic and sexual allure, associating her with the “femme fatale” trope, and at the time of her debut she is the only prominent Looney Tune with clear and defined breasts (aside from Granny, far too old to market as a sexual creature).
And, though her own proportions vary from the design of the others, Lola exposes far more “skin” than her male Tune Squad teammates, pulling up a loose tank-strap and hopping around the court in a jersey that stops at the midriff and shorts that ride quite high on her thighs. She is closer to naked than all the men around her, and for all the connections that nakedness has to sexuality, Lola is more sexualized than them as well.
All this wouldn’t be so big a problem (if it is at all) if Lola turned out to be a good character, but she is not. Though she may demonstrate that she is the only one among her fellow cartoons with at least a modicum of aptitude for basketball, her skills are not at all instrumental to the Tune Squad’s victory. In fact, it is only when her femininity is again objectified that she is spurred to dramatic action, contributing her only on-screen bucket after a Mon-Star again taunts her as “doll,” her struggle to be taken seriously as a woman unexplored and reduced to a running gag.
Whatever strong feminist statements her sports talent and “don’t-call-me-‘doll’-“-attitude could have made are ultimately rendered anemic thanks to an undeveloped character arc (she’s only seen in the movie for about five minutes) and an underdeveloped romance with Bugs, where by the film’s conclusion the once cold-shouldered, comeback-cracking Lola is reduced to a wordless dummy whooping in sexual anticipation.
The problem then isn’t that Lola is a sexual creature, it’s that she’s hardly anything else. It would have been fine for Lola to end up with Bugs if it made sense or was an endearing relationship to follow, but it wasn’t. Her stand-out traits, then, were those that fetishized her, not the ones that could have made her out to be a role-model for young girls.
So, yesterday on March 4th, A New Legacy director Malcolm D. Lee revealed to the world his own solution to the Lola problem: her official redesign for the Space Jam sequel. Lee, reportedly “caught off guard” by Lola’s “very sexualized” depiction in the original film, intended to display in the character’s visual reworking the “authenticity” of a “strong” female character. For this next turn on the court, Lola will be sporting a much baggier, full-length jersey, shorts and under-shorts, as well as a markedly flatter chest.
But Lee’s solution only comes with a new problem. By stripping away Lola’s exaggerated female anatomy in an attempt to make her seem more compelling, Lee is signaling that a more well-endowed woman’s features would be too distracting to make for a good story. By hiding away Lola’s breasts via animated mastectomy, Lee has reinforced the negative stereotype of breasts as inherently sexual.
Of course, they aren’t. They are, though, for the most part, inherently female, and a major part of the feminine experience. But big or small, cup size does not determine whether or not anyone is more female (a better female) than the other, or that whether or not their bodies should be shunned from our children’s sight.
I understand the importance of representation (very weird to say when discussing a nonexistent cartoon rabbit). Good, strong, heroic characters with modest, comely, or at-or-below-average features are important for the validation of audiences who share similar descriptions. But what’s most important is that anyone and everyone can and should be represented as developed, well-rounded individuals. Short or tall. Flat or buxom.
The solution to a hyper-sexualized but just-barely feminist Lola Bunny isn’t to remove her sexually-identifying features. The solution is simply to just make her a better character.