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Blake Griffin, Superfly 4s and Marvin the Martian

I love basketball, basketball shoes, and Looney Tunes cartoons. So the new Blake Griffin commercial for the Superfly 4 that features Marvin the Martian is right in my wheelhouse.

I'm pleased that Ray Samora got the new Blake Griffin/Marvin the Martian ad up on the site. But as a connoisseur of classic Looney Tunes and basketball shoes, I can't bring myself to leave it at that.

First of all, I was invited to play in a media run previewing the Superfly 4's in the commercial. Of course the marketing material is going to say all kinds of things about a new product, but the goal of the Superfly 4 is to be both very light and agile, but also very supportive. The idea is that Blake is a very quick player and needs a shoe in which he can be quick, but he's also huge and his feet will take a pounding -- so in the usual tradeoff that you must make for most basketball shoes, the Superfly 4 is supposed to be the best of both worlds.

superfly 4

Superfly 4

Does the shoe achieve its lofty goal? It's a really, really nice shoe, and I can say it comes pretty close. At my age, I might not be pushing the limits of the technology, but with the age also come some busted up ankles, and the shoe was indeed very supportive without feeling clunky. Well done, Jordan Brand.

What I didn't understand until the ad campaign was the crazy colorway -- my pair is the same as the one Blake wears in the ad. (Some of the players got those same shorts also -- mine are a solid bright green; still a bold pair of shorts, but not as bold as the ones in the spot which I could not possibly pull off.) And of course the colors are all built around Marvin I now realize.

Marvin the Martian is one of the creations of Chuck Jones, arguably the greatest animator of all time. Jones was a key member of the Warner Brothers stable of animators and responsible for classic Looney Tunes cartoons from the late 40s and 50s such as One Froggy Evening and Rabbit Seasoning and What's Opera, Doc?, widely considered the best animated short ever produced. Jones is also the animator behind later Tom and Jerry shorts and How the Grinch Stole Christmas after he had left Warner Brothers.

Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd were all well-established by the time Jones became a supervising animator in the WB stable, but he took the zany to a whole new level. He created Pepe LePew, the French skunk who thinks he's a lady killer and always falls for the poor cat that somehow got white paint down its back. He created one of my personal favorites, Pussyfoot, the tiny kitten that gets adopted by a giant bulldog. He created Michigan J. Frog, the singing amphibian who only sings for his hapless owner, never when anyone else is around (and who therefore reminds me of J.J. Barea, who used to make it a habit of playing out of his mind against the Clippers and never against any other team). He even created the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote (with Michael Maltese).

But for some reason his most enduring original creation from his Looney Tunes work is a funny little Martian named Marvin, a strange guy who tended to say things like "That makes me very angry" in a very calm voice.

Marvin has always been linked to basketball, even before the Space Jam movie in which he referees the game between the Looney Tunes and the Monstars. As it happens, I used to play pick up ball in the early 90s in a Marvin T in which he was holding a ball and staring menacingly. And in a 1993 Nike commercial with Jordan himself, he stole all the Air Jordans -- that was three years before Space Jam.

So why is Marvin a baller? Take a close look at the minimalist depiction of this Martian: a jet black sphere for a head, featureless face save for two eyes, the helmet and skirt of a Roman warrior based on the Roman god of war Mars, white gloves and -- basketball shoes! Why Chuck Jones chose to depict a Martian wearing Chuck Taylors is anybody's guess -- to my knowledge it has never really been explained. Perhaps it was just a Chuck thing. But Marvin wears Chucks, and since the merchandising boom of the early 90s (the first Warner Brothers Studio Store opened in 1991) he's been hooping (and apparently trying to upgrade his kicks if you believe Nike ads).

It's worth noting that in "The Dunk to End all Dunks", when Marvin agrees to the dunk contest, his Martian basketball transforms his outfit, giving him a black tank top (with a Mars logo) and changing his shoes from his low tech white Chucks to something much more futuristic, presumably Jordan brand.

Now, I have trouble enjoying any of these guys since Mel Blanc, the genius who voiced ALL of the Looney Tune characters of the golden age, died in 1989. Marvin's voice isn't bad in this spot (he's relatively easy to do, and I myself do a decent Marvin) but when Bugs shows up the voice is like nails on a chalkboard to me -- it's a caricature of Bugs' voice, not even close to the real thing.

Other than that, kudos to Nike and director Jon Favreau (of Ironman fame) for a terrific spot. (Is the fact that Bugs shows up to Venice Beach in a Piping Hot J's food truck a sly wink at Favreau's own Chef, a nice indie film from last summer?) The spot once again showcases Blake's dry wit and solid comic timing ("you're the one with the laser"), and Marvin going over three of his instant Martians (first introduced in the 1958 cartoon Hareway to the Stars) is a solid dunk. I'm not sure why Blake only dunks from the other foul line if he's going to land on the moon midflight -- presumably he could have dunked from pretty much anywhere if he can get to the moon, but whatever.

The script and storyboard contain some nice references to the original Marvin oeuvre. Why does Marvin show up in the first place? Because Blake's sidekick Dr. Drain describes one of his dunks as Earth-shattering, which angers Marvin: "Earth shattering is my job." If you go back Hareway to the Stars, Marvin was trying to blow up the Earth because "it obstructs my view of Venus." When Bugs steals the Illudium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator Marvin is confused by the absence of an explosion: "Where was the kaboom? There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering kaboom." Most clever of all perhaps is the way Marvin winds up hanging from a crescent of the remnants of a planetoid: both 1948's Haredevil Hare (the very first cartoon featuring Marvin) and the brilliant 1953 short Duck Dodgers in the 24½ Century end in similar fashion. But to have Marvin strike the MJ pose that is the logo for the Jordan Brand just brings it full circle.

So, in conclusion:

  • Good commercial.
  • Chuck Jones is a genius. If you live in the LA area, you might want to visit the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity in Costa Mesa where you can see many things including much of his original artwork.
  • Blake Griffin continues to be a terrific pitch man. He's just really, really good on camera.
  • Space Jam was not a very good movie. It was a decent idea, but poorly executed. Think about it: the Monstars transferred the basketball ability from various NBA players into their alien bodies, and one of those players was Shaun Bradley. Bradley had no ability other than his body. It makes no sense.
  • If you insist on watching a feature film with the Looney Tunes characters combined with live action, 2003's Looney Tunes Back in Action is a better choice. Still not great art of course, but much more in the spirit of the original Looney Tunes.
  • Better still just watch Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the gold standard for combining animation and live action.
  • The Superfly 4's are pretty bad ass. Next Clips Nation Night at Staples, you'll see me wearing them.