Before we get into the sequel/reboot Space Jam – A New Legacy, starring LeBron James, let’s remind ourselves of the first Space Jam. Released in 1996, Space Jam, starring Michael Jordan rose from a series of Nike commercials also featuring Jordan and the Looney Tunes. The commercials were roughly inspired visually by the Disney live-action/toon hybrid Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), and so it seemed only logical Warner Bros. would develop a full film of the Looney Tunes concept with the commercials’ director Joe Pytka.
The first movie is not a classic. It lacks cohesion and is, in almost every way, like one of those Nike commercials blown out to feature length. However, the movie is entertaining for what it is and does not overtly sell Nike sneakers. If you have Michael Jordan – the GOAT basketball player – you’ll also have Air Jordans, made by Nike, by extension but it does not become a blatant commercial.
One other thing the original Space Jam had is the magic of innocence in regard to its making. Even though Jurassic Park debuted three years earlier with its revolutionary computer graphics effects, there was still that sense of “how did they do that” with movies in the late ’90s that wasn’t immediately answered with rolling eyes, “The computer, duh.” Audiences saw not only Roger Rabbit, but Mary Poppins, Pete’s Dragon, and others years before, but there was mystery in the way the toons interacted with the humans that dazzled minds both young and old.
Finally, Space Jam arrived on home video at the best moment possible, where kids could watch it incessantly, building tons of nostalgic memories for it that – maybe – colors one’s memories of what was actually there on the screen. The first movie is not a classic, but it seems like it is in the minds of those inculcated to believe so.
So it is not any surprise that Warners would revive that IP. Now we have Space Jam – A New Legacy.
I find this movie to be actively offensive, but maybe not for reasons you’d expect. The story is heavy-laden with cliches, tropes, and terrible ideas, but none of these inherently provoke the disgust I feel.
- Daddy Issues: LeBron’s son (played by Cedric Joe) wants to be a video game developer. LeBron chides him for not practicing his basketball like he should, essentially forcing the family business on him, which is as tired a plot device as there ever has been.
- Children in Jeopardy: LeBron’s son gets away and is kidnapped by malevolent artificial intelligence Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle) who uses him to lure the father into a winner-take-all basketball game.
- The Bugs Problem: Bugs Bunny comes off as an incredible jerk in the film, which seems so off-base from what we’ve known about the character. Yeah, he’s a trickster, but a trickster against those who meant him harm (Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, sometimes Daffy Duck).
- Desperately Hip: We were always going to get attempts to drag Looney Tunes into the ’20s, so I should not be surprised by Porky rapping as The Notorious P.I.G. Even though “hip grannies” is a worn-out comedy device that wasn’t even that funny with the 1998 Adam Sandler movie The Wedding Singer, we still get attempts at yuck with it, as evidenced by a hooch-swilling Granny spouting, “Haters gonna hate!” I don’t particularly like these amateurish stabs, but I can’t say I didn’t expect them, and that tempers my disappointment.
None of these touch upon what has repulsed me so much about Space Jam – A New Legacy. The original Space Jam at least attempted to not appear to be an extended commercial. A New Legacy doesn’t achieve that level of integrity and is instead a massive commercial for Warner Bros. and HBO properties. Not coincidentally, most people will be viewing this on HBOMax, so here are some other child-friendly titles they can flip to immediately. Want Junior and Jane to learn about the incest-y, rape-y world of Westeros? Here’s Game of Thrones for you! Building invasions and random shootings? Why not try some Matrix bullet-time? We’ll also throw in The Iron Giant just to prove that for one brief moment, Warner Bros. Animation could provide art over cinematic bowel movements like A New Legacy.
I trust most parents will be far more careful when it comes to introducing their children to mature subject matter, taking into account each individual’s age, temperament, and intellectual ability to process the subject matter. They don’t need Warners to sneak it in like a back alley dealer.
I’m also not saying that WB shouldn’t use those properties as touchpoints in other entertainments. On the contrary, WB always did that if you look back at the history of the Merrie Melodies, but they used them in parody, in sarcasm, they were the first to “take the piss” out of their own IP and make a joke of it. Creators like Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, Robert McKimson, Tex Avery, and more showed no mercy or reverence to their own, and out of that disrespect came comedy.
What Space Jam – A New Legacy does that I find so vile, so unforgivably nauseating, is serve up its home studio to future consumers without a hint of irony or creativity or warning, an ultimate product placement case study. In a way, this is even worse than the history of ’80s cartoons created solely to sell toys to kids. This film, in all its ugly, magic-free, digital smarminess, should be a shame to everyone involved in its creation, except that contriving something so crass and manipulative betrays that making this thing proves they have no shame to show.