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Space Jam: A New Legacy

For those of us growing up in the 90’s, there was never a shortage of sports-driven movies. There were classics like THE SANDLOT, ROOKIE OF THE YEAR, and THE MIGHTY DUCKS. There was forgettable fare like ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD and THE BIG GREEN as well, but even these were pleasant enough for any self-respecting ball player to at least enjoy a little bit. Perhaps the most innovative of all was a film based on an advertisement. It fused live-action and animation together and made parents cringe a whole lot less than they did when they brought their kids to see WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?

SPACE JAM has been beloved by audiences for decades, and now a whole new generation is discovering the delightfully Looney romp thanks to their parents’ unwavering love for nostalgia. Michael Jordan may not have been the best actor in the world, but he was absolutely beloved at the time of the films release, and the comedy remains endearing enough to remain relevant despite the amount of time that has passed.

Plans for a SPACE JAM sequel have swirled for years, but Jordan was never game to jump back into the Looney world. The original film stood on its own, so there was never much of a need to do something more.

It’s been 25 years since His Airness took on the Goon Squad, and now there’s a new GOAT in town. Lebron James has taken up the mantle and finds himself standing alongside Bugs Bunny, Lola Bunny, Daffy Duck, and the rest of the original crew in a showdown against a new set of evil opponents.

James plays…wait for it…. Lebron James. He is the undisputed king of the NBA, and an absolute icon. Warner Brothers wants to make him a megastar across all media platforms, including animated films, in which his likeness would be transformed into
a brand on to itself. This was the brainchild of an AI system called Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle) and was supposed to be its crowning achievement. Lebron is not down with the idea, despite the encouragement of his son Dom (Cedric Joe) who cares a lot more about video game programming than he does basketball. The King emphatically shuts down the plan, and tells Dom it’s time to go.

An argument between father and son ensues, and they inadvertently get rerouted to an underground computer den. There, they are sucked into a virtual reality-type realm. Al effectively kidnaps Dom, and tells Lebron that the only way he can get him back, is to play a basketball game against a team of his choosing. If James wins, he gets his kid back. If he loses, then he stays in the program forever.

Lebron soon crosses paths with Bugs Bunny, and a partnership is forged. While James wants to get superheroes like Superman to help him out, Bugs wants to put
the old Looney Tunes crew back together. While I enjoyed seeing Looney characters placed within the confines of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, it did seem that many of the oft-referenced material (THE MATRIX and GAME OF THRONES) was R-rated entities (or TV-MA for G.O.T.) and not kid-friendly fare. They may have an awareness of the material, but not many of them would fully understand. These jokes may land for a few of the adults in the audience, but would be completely lost on the majority of A NEW LEGACY’s fans. Furthermore, many of the classic characters in the Looney library are largely unknown to today’s youth. When SPACE JAM came out, LOONEY TUNES was still a staple on cable TV, and its roster was totally familiar to its audience. Now, unless their parents have shown them old clips, or they’ve seen the original SPACE JAM, they have no idea who these characters are, or why their tag lines are funny.

SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY is largely forgettable, and I don’t see how it’s going to have the same longevity as its predecessor. It has its moments, including a brilliant and hilarious cameo, and for what it was, I thought James made for an adequate leading man. The animation lacked that endearingly cheesy 90’s aesthetic, which may prove to be jarring for those expecting the old school feel. The basketball game itself was based on the video game that Dom created, so it seemed a little absurd, but both of my kids were really into it. And, at the end of the day, that’s what this is all about. A NEW LEGACY, questionable references aside, wasn’t meant for me. It was meant for the 12 and 9-year-olds who were sitting there, cheering for Lebron and Bugs. The fact that they truly believed that the Tune Squad may not be able to come back from over 900 points down (I mean, it’s a pretty legitimate concern) and were cheering for virtually every play, shows me that I didn’t have to love it, because they did.

(Now playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max)


RUN TIME: 1h 55min

GENRE: Animation, Adventure, Comedy

STARRING: LeBron James, Don Cheadle, Cedric Joe

DIRECTOR: Malcolm D. Lee

WRITERS: Leo Benvenuti, Steve Rudnick, Timothy Harris

Brian Miller