In 1997, Space Jam hit theaters, allowing Bugs Bunny to play basketball with Michael Jordan against aliens and introducing the world to one of the wackiest movies that would be on everyone’s 90s nostalgia celebration list. Now, over 20 years later, Warner Bros. has finally followed up the live-action/animation hybrid classic with a sequel, this time starring LeBron James. Does Space Jam: A New Legacy live up to the original, or does it fail to score with audiences? Let’s look at the play-by-play to find out.
One of the biggest concerns most fans had leading up to Space Jam: A New Legacy was that it may focus on general Warner Bros. characters more than the Looney Toons. That’s thanks to the trailer that revealed that characters and elements from Harry Potter, DC, King Kong, and Hanna-Barbera will be in the movie. However, thankfully, the film’s focus is definitely on LeBron James, his son, and the Looney Tunes. Sure, this story exists in the “Warner Bros. ServerVerse,” and there are plenty of franchises referenced here and there, but it’s all either as one-off jokes or just something in the background. This is just as much of a Looney Tunes / NBA crossover movie as the original.
That being said, the amount of classic and popular franchises referenced throughout is actually enjoyable. There are some especially humorous scenes involving the Looney Tunes taking part in other worlds, like Foghorn Leghorn riding a dragon from Game of Thrones or Elmer Fudd taking the place of Mini-Me in Austin Powers. There are even a couple of fun fan-service moments like King Kong and the Iron Giant fist-bumping or LeBron James making a list of well-known movie characters he wants to recruit to his basketball team. During the big game, there are countless characters from other franchises in the audience, as advertised in the trailer. They are just meaningless background references, but it would be a lot of fun to watch the movie again to see who’s in attendance.
Some viewers and critics may complain that this feels like one big Warner Bros. commercial. However, that’s on par with the classic Space Jam since that movie was literally based on a sneaker commercial that became popular enough. Space Jam IS a commercial, so it might as well be a commercial we can have fun with. It’s okay to have movies like this, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, The LEGO Movie, or Ready Player One where part of the entertainment comes from references and fan-service. They can genuinely be a lot of fun. There’s no harm in them as long as every movie coming out isn’t like that, because then it loses its charm. Until that’s the case, they’re rather entertaining to experience.
There’s quite a lot of heart throughout the story from both LeBron and from Bugs. LeBron learning to be a better father and to encourage his son to follow his own path is emotional and provides an important lesson for many parents watching. Bugs and his quest to gather all his friends who left Tune Town so they can be together again carries just as much of the emotional weight of the film. It’s hard to think of a time when anyone’s felt this sad for Bugs Bunny before. Both stories are truly heartfelt and tie together nicely by having LeBron learn his lesson by allowing the Tunes be their Looney selves on the court. It actually becomes quite the tearjerker toward the end of the film.
Don Cheadle as Al G. Rhythm is an eccentric and over-the-top villain, which fits Space Jam perfectly. He’s such a fun, expressive antagonist that feels intimidating while also stealing the spotlight whenever he’s onscreen. Don Cheadle may be live action for the majority of the film, but he portrays his character like a cartoon, which is also extremely fitting for a live action/animation hybrid movie like Space Jam. He and the Goon Squad are certainly worthy successors of Danny DeVito and the Montars.
If you’re a fan of the old school Looney Tunes cartoons, then you have a lot to look forward to. Space Jam: A New Legacy is chock full of classic gags. “Rabbit Season/Duck Season” takes place, Daffy’s bill twists around his head after being blown up, characters smack into walls that are painted like tunnels, and Wile E. Coyote wreaks havoc with his Acme gear. The slapstick you want from Looney Tunes is definitely present and is uproariously hilarious. Each character is cleverly used throughout the movie, but especially so during the big game where they each get time to showcase their specialties like the Road Runner and Speedy Gonzales using their super speed, Gossamer absorbing the water-based villain with his fur, and Taz using his iconic spin to spin the entire court around.
Where the original is known for blending animation with live action so well, this sequel ups the ante by blending 2D animation, 3D animation, and live action together seamlessly. The strengths of each style are showcased wonderfully as well. The 2D animation has characters being extra expressive, moving rapidly, and stretching in ways they otherwise couldn’t. The live action is used for the more grounded scenes. The 3D animation is used when there’s a lot of characters on screen that need to stand out from each other. The filmmakers undoubtedly took advantage of each style rather than randomly deciding when to use them.
Daffy volunteering to be the Tune Squad’s coach this time around makes sense for his character, as he wants everything his way and doesn’t want to be the one facing off against the evil A.I., but it doesn’t necessarily work best for the movie. For one, LeBron does all the coaching anyway, so it feels like Daffy doesn’t do much outside of having fun dialogue. Second, this means that one of the most iconic and well-known Looney Tunes and main characters doesn’t get much of a chance to “get looney” with the others, which is a bit sad.
Al G. Rhythm’s villainous plot isn’t super clear. He wants to be “the next big thing” by having LeBron James work for him, so he takes his son hostage to hopefully trap him within the ServerVerse. That’s a good way to go about his evil scheme, but what does he want to accomplish as the “next big thing?” How would featuring an NBA player in Game of Thrones and Harry Potter get him to the top, exactly? It’s a fun way to force the ridiculous basketball game to take place, but it raises a lot of questions that aren’t ever answered.
During the scene where Bugs and LeBron travel to different worlds to recruit the Looney Tunes, a couple of them aren’t shown being recruited and they just sort of appear on the ship with the others. It’s implied that Gossamer is found somewhere but we never see it happen, and Tweety was apparently living inside of Sylvester this whole time. The joke with Tweety being inside of Sylvestor’s stomach is a bit funny, but there’s a missed opportunity to see a fan favorite like Tweety taking part in another world, like fighting Godzilla or being the golden snitch in a Quiddoch match. Gossamer could have easily taken the place of Sloth in The Goonies. Not the end of the world, but there could have been more fun scenarios in this particular scene.
This is a bit of a nitpick, but it’s upsetting to watch a Space Jam sequel after all this time and not hear that classic theme song. The Space Jam theme is an anthem of 90s nostalgia. Plus, this is a movie filled with fan-service anyway. How could they not use that classic tune?
Space Jam: A New Legacy lives up its predecessor in almost every way, for better and worse. It’s over-the-top and has a ridiculous premise. Does it need to exist? Probably not, but it sure is a lot of fun despite certain things not making as much sense as they should. The original was a movie about the Looney Tunes playing basketball with Michael Jordan against aliens that was based on a shoe commercial, which is silly but always a blast to watch. This one is a movie about the Looney Tunes playing basketball with LeBron James against an evil A.I. that’s a Warner Bros. commercial, plus it adds an extra style of animation.
This is an entertaining film for people of all ages with great animation, big laughs, a positive message, and fun cameos. If you enjoyed the classic 90s film, then you’ll surely enjoy Space Jam: A New Legacy.