In 1996, Warner Bros. released Space Jam, a live action/animated comedy pairing the Looney Tunes with basketball superstar Michael Jordan. Filled with all sorts of cameos (from other basketball players to Bill Murray), it did pretty well and a sequel was immediately discussed. It has taken a long time, but finally here is Space Jam: A New Legacy (currently streaming on HBO Max). The new one is less of a sequel and closer to a remake, updated with modern graphics and featuring a new basketball superstar teaming up with the toons.
A lot of the talk after the New Legacy trailer first dropped was about the ridiculous amount of Warner owned characters who appeared in it. Background shots showed the Iron Giant, King Kong, Pennywise from It, the Droogs from A Clockwork Orange, Danny Devito’s Penguin, etc. along with tons of unrelated cartoon characters. It made it feel like the movie was going to be more interested in advertising Warner’s library than in creating something fun on its own. After having seen it, I can say it is somewhere around 50/50. The bevy of pop culture references sometimes overwhelms the action. However, the Looney Tunes remain enjoyable, some of the cameos are funny and LeBron James is a capable straight man. The result is a really mixed bag; how entertained you are by it may depend on how much “hey, remember this movie?!” you can handle. By the end, it was a little much for me; still, seeing Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, et al. doing their thing again almost made the onslaught of Warner’s intellectual property worth it.
The first Space Jam saw Bugs and the gang yank Michael Jordan into Toon World to help them defeat the Monstars, who had stolen the on-court abilities of various NBA players. This entry sees LeBron James sucked into a computer by an attention starved artificial intelligence. Al G. Rhythm forces LeBron to recruit a team to win a game of basketball or be stuck in this digital world forever. Enter the Looney Tunes, for whom this scenario seems oddly familiar.
There are really three stories going on here: The first is about LeBron’s relationship with his son Dom, who wants to be a videogame designer, while his dad thinks he needs to focus on basketball. The second involves Bugs reuniting with his friends (who have left their world to visit other Warner properties), so they can resume their usual shenanigans. The third, taking place in front of, behind, and in the margins of the other two, is how much of their IP the studio can possibly cram into one 2-hour movie.
The answer is: more than enough. Some of them work, yet most feel like they used the “sucked into a computer” plot just so they had an excuse to reference Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and the DC superheroes all in the same 10-second span (it is done far less effectively than how a similar concept was used in Disney’s Ralph Breaks the Internet). That material felt like a commercial, completely inorganic to the rest of the production (it also feels like the reason this exists). The climactic game is totally hijacked by it; every crowd shot seems designed to be paused so the viewer can play “spot the familiar character.” A New Legacy kept hammering me over the head with that stuff, when all I wanted was to watch LeBron get goofy with the Tunes, while Don Cheadle (fun as the villain) taunted them.
I’m guessing this one will be divisive. People who like the Looney Tunes, basketball (the movie includes stars such as Damien Lillard, Anthony Davis and Diana Taurasi) or are excited by the thought of a wide variety of cameos, may enjoy it. Those who don’t want advertising to get in the way of a story probably won’t. I felt both as I watched, though the latter eventually (barely) won out.
2¾ out of 5
LeBron James as LeBron James
Cedric Joe as Dom James
Don Cheadle as Al G. Rhythm
Jeff Bergman as voice of Bugs Bunny
Zendaya as voice of Lola Bunny Eric Bauza as voice of Daffy Duck/Porky Pig
Gabriel Iglesias as voice of Speedy Gonzalez
Candi Milo as voice of Granny
Bob Bergen as voice of Tweety Bird
Directed by Malcolm D. Lee
Screenplay by Juel Taylor, Tony Rettenmaier, Keenan Coogler, Terence Nance, Jesse Gordon and Celeste Ballard