Hell hath frozen over: Lola Bunny no longer bares her midriff. The Looney Tunes character, who made her series debut in 1996’s Space Jam as both a competent point guard and the romantic foil for Bugs Bunny, has been thoroughly desexualized in the forthcoming sequel, Space Jam: A New Legacy. The updated design was unveiled by an Entertainment Weekly cover story on Friday, and the discourse has been in total free fall ever since.
When we first met her, Lola was dressed in a pair of tight, thigh-hugging athletic shorts and a spunky crop top that accentuated her insane curves. She sauntered onto the basketball court shrouded in a burlesque silhouette, evoking a confused, hot shiver in 8 year olds around the country. Twenty-five years later, in her return to the big screen, Lola dons a normal basketball jersey, the same one that all the other members of the Tune Squad wear, as well as a trusty pair of thigh guards. Her buxomness has been sanded down, and (we assume) she no longer walks around the court with a hip-swinging sashay that she used flirtatiously in the original film.
In other words, Lola Bunny—one of the most infamously sexualized female anthropomorphized figures in recent animation history—has been rendered as a normal cartoon character, rather than the strange manifestation of subliminal interspecies horniness that she previously embodied. “We reworked a lot of things, not only her look, like making sure she had an appropriate length on her shorts and was feminine without being objectified, but gave her a real voice,” said director Malcolm D. Lee in that Entertainment Weekly interview. Ideally, when fathers arrive for Space Jam 2, they will not have to explain to their children why all the other characters on the court are so horny for Lola.
Naturally, conservative media didn’t take this pivot lying down. As far as they’re concerned, the Lola Bunny overhaul is the latest effort by progressives to destroy down-home American values. Journalist Ryan Broderick has an excellent rundown of the MAGA response to the new design in his newsletter Garbage Day, noting that conservative radio host Jesse Kelly essentially called the less-curvaceous Lola a “Karen,” and that former Daily Caller editor Scott Greer evoked a Holocaust-era poem in his virile disapproval of her new look. It’s official: Copping to a deep, frothy, carnal attraction to a cartoon rabbit from a 30-year-old movie is an animating political expression. These Trumpian agitators grew up thinking that Lola Bunny was very hot, and now that Warner Bros. has decided that the character doesn’t need to be drawn with human-esque double-D’s, they’ve reflexively blamed the liberals. Without her exposed midriff, they argue, Lola Bunny is effectively canceled.
(It is worth noting, however, that this is not actually the first redesign Lola’s undergone since 1996; yet it is the first that has decidedly left her without a bosom.)
The turbulent culture war that’s gripped America over the past four-plus years has seen plenty of plot twists, but I don’t think any of us were prepared for the chaos wrought by 2021 thus far. We’ve already watched micro-panics consolidate around the gender identities of Potato Heads and the long-running, very apparent racism of certain Dr. Seuss books; Lola Bunny is just the next logical target for the exhaustingly interminable controversy-hunting of the MAGA right. There was a time, not long ago, that publicly admitting your thirst for a cartoon bunny would get you laughed out of Congress. Now, nobody would be surprised if Madison Cawthorn made Lola erasure a crucial part of his stump. Space Jam 2’s less-sexualized design philosophy is proof that the hyperbolic, entirely immaterial grievances of the Trump era aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Just last week, we watched House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy post a video of himself reading Green Eggs and Ham aloud in sour protest of the removal of several Seuss books that contain bigoted drawings. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.
Currently, the top post on the LolaBunnyNSFW subreddit—the de facto epicenter for all the profane smut dedicated to their favorite cartoon character—is fan art of an absurdly leggy Lola, bending over to pick up a basketball while casting a smokey glare over her shoulder. The caption reads: “Remember what they took from you.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, the subreddit has been in absolute free fall since the defanged, flattened Lola surfaced. “Boycott Warner,” writes one poster. Another one links to a quote from an Age of Ultron scene—Thanos, rising from his lair, muttering, “Fine, I’ll do it myself”—implying that the legion of Lola fan artists will only intensify their bimbo-fication efforts in the face of the Warner Bros. brain trust’s modesty campaign. (Deeper in the archive, a post reads, “You ready for Space Jam 2?,” attached to yet another minx-y Lola. If only they knew what was coming.) There is little chance the subreddit could ever successfully pressure Warner Bros. to reverse course and deliver them their sexy rabbit in her original form again, but at the very least, they want their dissenting voices heard.
Unlike the GOP ghouls or the conservative media grifters who vulture over facile wedge issues to further their cause, the Lola Bunny smut community actually has some skin in this game. Its members have been generating porny Space Jam mock-ups for years—the subreddit has 6,000 subscribers, which is nothing to sniff at for such a hyperfocused community!—and have clearly made a genuine emotional investment into the sex appeal of this particular rabbit. How are they taking the news? When I spoke to some of these Lola Bunny loyalists, I found them to be far more nuanced than their adversaries in the political sphere about how damaging revising Lola Bunny’s design really is.
One fan artist named Mandy, who generates Lola Bunny animations so obscenely raunchy I can’t even link to her Twitter, tells me that she is a little bit disappointed that Lola won’t be the hottie she was in the first movie. She believes that this sexless redesign might chip away at Lola’s reputation within the grander furry population, but Mandy also concedes a core, undeniable truth: Space Jam is supposed to be a movie for kids. “I don’t think desexualization of a character is a bad thing if it allows it to match with the target audience,” says Mandy, adding that no matter what Warner Bros. does to Lola Bunny going forward, Mandy will never slip in her personal duties. “At the end of the day, artists like me will always find a way to please the public who fantasizes about them.” And indeed, the public will continue to fantasize about Lola Bunny.
Victor Ramirez goes a step further. The married father of twin girls is the undisputed king of Lola Bunny fandom. Four rooms in his attic are dedicated to his overflowing Lola collection, including Lola statues, Lola plushies, and Lola dolls, photos of which all proudly emblazon his Twitter account. (“I’ve had no feedback from the wife [about the collection], as long as the toys don’t infiltrate ‘living space.’ I have been good on my promise for the past 20 years!” he says.) Ramirez tells me he “fell in love” with Lola after he first saw the Space Jam movie poster in the mid-’90s, and he has carried out that affair ever since. Compared with everyone else who’s horny for Lola on the internet, I expected him to have the hottest, most injured takes on the redesign. Instead, he basically feels like everyone whining about the bunny’s new look needs to grow up.
“The new Lola will usher in gender equality, and her redesign will tone down her hypersexualized body, mostly created by fan artists,” says Ramirez. “Lola’s new design should match her candor and demeanor. […] Change is usually good.”
Ramirez tells me that his Lola hoard has eclipsed 2,700 items. That number will likely increase very soon, as a fresh round merchandising for the Space Jam sequel tears its way through toy stores. And if he’s embraced Lola’s bright, new future, the rest of the world has no excuse but to catch up. Until then, the constant, polarized bickering over children’s entertainment will continue unabated. Most recently, Warner Bros. announced that Pepé Le Pew won’t be appearing in Space Jam 2, with Deadline reporting that the character’s scene—in which LeBron James teaches him about consent—was cut from the film. The timing of this reveal was spurred on by a New York Times op-ed published over the weekend about how Pepé contributed to rape culture, which has earned a fresh round of beleaguered right-wing backlash. Once again, the MAGA contingency claims the liberals are canceling Pepé, in the exact same way they were canceling Lola, as the partisan battlefield surrounding a LeBron James–starring basketball movie continues to rumble out of control.
In the meantime, and despite the intensity of their frustration, the LolaBunnyNSFW fandom seems to be inching toward acceptance. Yes, these creators are slightly chapped that Lola won’t have the same pinup edginess in the sequel, but they’re also quite confident in their ability to generate more and more rabbit smut for their personal use, regardless of what Warner Bros. does with the character. The sexless Lola can clean up at the box office, and the sexy Lola can earn a deluge of upvotes on a remote forum dedicated solely to her prowess. Both of these things can be true at the same time. Even within the great ethical debates of our time—like the cup size of a lady bunny that plays basketball—there is a path to compromise.