The first Space Jam is either loved, hated, or both, but became a cult classic among movie goers. That kind of nostalgia led to a lot of hype surrounding Space Jam: A New Legacy. But when it finally released, it got the opposite reaction than anticipated. Critics, audiences, and even Joe Pytka slammed this for confusing reasons that were once praised in the first film. People also started putting the original on a pedestal reserved for Lawrence of Arabia or Parasite. But this surpasses the original by fixing several flaws and treating this more like a movie, even with the blatant product placement. Before getting into the review, here’s a lookback on the circumstances that led to this sequel being placed on hold for twenty-five years.
Following the success of Space Jam, Warner Brothers quickly started production on a sequel by having animators work on character designs for the new villain, Beserk-o.
Unfortunately, Michael Jordan showed no interest in returning. So, a new direction had to be taken. Several spin-offs were proposed such as Spy Jam with Jackie Chan, Race Jam with Jeff Gordon, and Skate Jam with Tony Hawk: all of which never went into production. Robot Chicken even poked fun at the ideas with Welcome to the Golf Jam. Afterwards, Gremlins director Joe Dante attempted to make a biographical film about Termite Terrace, which was shut down by executives who wanted to modernize the Looney Tunes in the mid 2000’s. Instead, he was assigned directing duty for Looney Tunes: Back in Action along with veteran animator, Eric Goldberg. Despite being a massive fan of the cartoons, Dante had no creative control and to this day doesn’t look back fondly on the production. While it bombed at the box-office and shut down Warner Brothers Animation for a decade, it was more positively received by animation fans for getting the spirit of the Looney Tunes better than Space Jam.
Years later, Warner Animation Group resurfaced and an official sequel was announced with LeBron James as the new lead. The internet was quiet until several photos of a redesigned Lola Bunny appeared on Twitter:
Afterwards, it was given the dual release treatment in theaters and on HBO Max during the pandemic. With the history out of the way, why does this top the original?
Basketball superstar LeBron James (LeBron James) is a better coach than a father to his son, Dominic James (Cedric Joe) who’s more of a programmer than a sports player. After the two have a blow out at the Warner Brothers studio, they’re both transported into a digital universe run by Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle). Rhythm kidnaps his son and will only relinquish him if LeBron wins a basketball match against the Goon Squad. With the help of Bugs Bunny, LeBron recruits the original Tune Squad for the upcoming match.
This might sound crazy, but this story has more focus and logic then the original, even if it is cookie cutter. Everyone’s motivations are easy to follow, and there’s more range and expression in all the performances. This shows during the father/son moments when LeBron has to be a parent off the court. If the Looney Tunes weren’t co-starring, this could’ve worked as its own biographical coverage of Lebron James’s life. Some might think LeBron is too arrogant, but he has more of a character ark where Jordan was trying to be a bland every person despite making millions. Meanwhile, the basketball game is better because of the setting. The first movie wanted to emphasize the authenticity of the sport, but that game had so many fouls it might as well have been a wrestling match.
Here, the video game logic gives the match more freedom for both teams to pull of stylish moves. Part of that comes from the animation. Directed by Spike Brandt and Devin Crane, this opts to have the majority be in hand-drawn form, and they’re the best moments presented in crisp high definition. Even when it does transition to computer animation, most of the tunes successfully pull off the realistic textures previously seen in several theatrical shorts.
But here are some other counterarguments to the biggest criticisms lobbied at this film.
One of the oddest criticisms leveled against this is the commercialism. Yes, because there was no commercialism in the original at all:
For some reason, people didn’t mind all the plugs for McDonalds and Nike sports gear in the first film. So why doesn’t A New Legacy get a pass for carrying on the tradition? Is it because they were kids when the first film came out and are therefore blinded by nostalgia? What would happen if they never saw Space Jam until they were adults? Would it still gain the cult following it has today?
And in the grand scheme, this makes more sense than the original. With so many companies being gobbled up by big corporations, having all the Warner Brothers properties in a streaming universe is more logical than an outer space theme park. Plus, technology has come so far to the point where something like this could change from science-fiction to science-fact. The Looney Tunes being in this universe makes more sense than being in the center of the Earth, unless someone has an objection to that plot hole. It’s not stuck in the nineties; it evolved with the times. Even better is that they have fun with the product placement. Examples include LeBron James icing Batman and even traveling to different worlds to see how the characters react to new environments. Also, making the guy who is selling the Warner Brothers properties the villain makes more sense, showing its manipulative nature in persuading people to do its bidding. You won’t find that creativity on Daffy’s butt.
The Looney Tunes
The biggest reason this is an improvement over the original is that it gets the spirit of the Looney Tunes. Rather than having these violent characters beg for help, it makes more sense to have the basketball player recruit these icons. One scene is on par with the museum chase from Back in Action as LeBron and Bugs travel to different Warner Brothers worlds to recruit everyone. Daffy Duck causes crimes to film an audition tape for the Justice League, turning himself into a terrorist in the name of scoring fame, which makes sense given his ego and willingness to blame everything on Porky Pig. The Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote are up to their old antics in the Mad Max universe and, again, it makes sense because they’re placed into an environment that compliments their routine. Even Elmer Fudd and Sylvester have perfect roles in an Austin Powers movie while Speedy Gonzales and Granny create refreshing Matrix jokes. Fans might complain about how little screen time these properties get, but they’re part of the comedy that keeps these classic icons intact, which is more than can be said about the original where they’re gawking at Michael Jordan in Nike products instead of relying on their wits and cartoon violence to save the day. And before anyone says anything, yes, that scene was cringe worthy, but pick your poison:
Another problem people have is the voice acting, but that’s out of the studio’s control. Following the death of veteran voice actors Joe Alaskey and June Foray, the Looney Tunes took a hiatus until their roles could be filled by other talent. So there was always going to be a new voice to get used to, unlike Kermit the Frog where the voice actor was replaced for numerous reasons.
Just because this is better doesn’t mean it’s not flawless. First, the skunk in the room. During the marketing, news broke that Pepe Le Pew’s scene was cut from the final product because he is now perceived as a rapist. Yet when the first trailer released, many complained that Warner Brothers allowed the Clockwork Orange droogs, actual rapists, to cameo in the background. And yes, it’s very hypocritical, especially after it was revealed that Pepe’s scene would’ve poked fun at his perceived reputation. The original Space Jam at least knew how to utilize him on the court. In fact, he’s more in character than the other Looney Tunes in how he scores two points. But this wasted a golden opportunity to give him a new identity. He is a skunk and there are plenty of scenarios that can utilize his species for comedic possibilities. Interesting enough, Penelope Pussy cat was featured as a Tune Squad player in early videos, but was cut along with Pepe. So not only did this waste an opportunity to revise his image, but a chance to make a side character a possible star. If Lola can get a makeover, why can’t either of these characters?
Second, Lola Bunny. She might be improved, but it’s a crime that Warner Brothers didn’t hire Kristin Wig to voice her again after The Looney Tunes Show. She’s both a celebrity and a voice actress, which already covers the marketing and talent.
Third, at the end of the day, it’s just a typical summer blockbuster. The acting is better, but not by much. The story is better, but that’s not saying a lot. And one advantage LeBron James has is that he is an animated character where Jordan had to use his imagination to work with his drawn costars. As much as it makes sense to battle an algorithm and Cheadle gives it everything he’s got, the Monsters and Mr. Swackhammer were more memorable despite the threat being non-existent.
Finally, there’s the case of animator, Dave Alvarez, not receiving credit for his work on the film, which considering how much time and effort goes into producing one second of animation is never excusable. Especially after the Sausage Party controversy with Nitrogen Studios forcing animators to work overtime without pay, lest they would be uncredited. People go to school like CAL-ARTS to learn what is perceived as an easy skill by social media when in fact, it takes so much research, discipline, drawing, and acting skills to create animation on par with Disney.
Otherwise, Space Jam: A New Legacy is a superior popcorn experience. It has better acting even if it’s not by much, the story makes more sense even if it’s still a giant commercial, and most importantly it knows how to utilize these animated character in brand new scenarios for comedic possibilities. Of course the first film had a superior soundtrack, but when people are putting the original movie on a Citizen Kane pedestal, it starts to get out of control. The original is a nineties time capsule, and nothing more. And to those who don’t like this while praising the first film, there’s only one question to ask: What did you expect from a sequel to a commercial?