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Review: Space Jam: A New Legacy

The original Space Jam occupies a unique space in the world of pop culture.  For kids around our age who are now in their mid to late 30s, it became a beloved childhood favorite with one of the greatest soundtracks of all time while anyone outside of that specific age window is either indifferent to or hates Space Jam.  Warner Bros. is clearly trying to appeal to the demo that loved the original while also bringing in new kids but A New Legacy is mostly an incestuous commercial for Warner Brothers itself with some brief bits of fun sprinkled throughout.

Lebron James takes over for Michael Jackson as the NBA superstar who is forced to team with the Looney Tunes for a basketball game and the setup this time is that Warner Bros. has developed an algorithm called Al G. Rhythm (Get it? it kinda rhymes?), played by Don Cheadle.  Al G. creates concepts for films that WB then develops but he believes his talents are not being recognized and believes if he partners with Lebron, he will get the recognition he deserves.  He gets Lebron to meet with WB execs but he rejects Al. G’s idea to scan him into existing IP, causing Al G. to decide instead to kidnap Lebron and his son Dom (Cedric Joe) and force Lebron to a game of basketball that Al G. will broadcast across the internet.  If Lebron wins, he and his son can leave but if he loses, they will be trapped in the “WB Serververse” forever.  Lebron is cast to the far depths of the Serververse, Tune World, and finds Bugs Bunny (Jeff Bergman) is the only Tune left, as everyone else left to other WB planets.  Lebron and Bugs team up to gather the rest of the Tune Squad and then compete in the big game against Al G. and his “Goon Squad”.  There are ham-fisted life lessons that Lebron must learn, including that basketball is ultimately a game and there’s room for it to be fun and that he has to let his son, and the Tunes, be themselves and not try to force them to emulate him.  During the big game, everything literally comes to a halt as Lebron gives a speech to his son saying as much as bluntly as possible.  The movie also seems to initially be setting up that it might be a little subversive and satirical as Lebron calls Al G’s idea to insert him into WB properties the “worst idea” he’s ever heard but then the movie just does exactly what Al G. said and inserts Lebron and the Tunes into various WB IP.  A few of the WB set pieces are fairly entertaining, like Lebron’s initial meeting with Bugs where Bugs puts him through the paces of Tune World and their visit to DC World where Daffy’s attempts to become a superhero cause the group to be thrown out by the Justice League (looking like their 90s animated versions), but most of them are kind of lazy references where the Tunes are inserted into footage from stuff like Mad Max, Casablanca, and The Matrix (decent Rick & Morty cameo though).  It’s not quite as bad as the “jokes” of something like Epic Movie and the like but there’s nothing particularly clever about A New Legacy’s cross-branding references.  Lebron initially wants to get a team of WB all-stars like Batman and King Kong onto the team but ultimately it’s all Tunes thanks to Bugs interference but why couldn’t they have gone all in and thrown some Hanna-Barbera, DC, Adult Swim, and whatever other characters onto the team?  I guess it’s to respect the original Space Jam but as long as the Tunes and an NBA star are there, you could pretty much do whatever you want.  A New Legacy also changes up the big game with it being the manifestation of a game that Lebron’s son Dom has created that is an NBA Jam-style arcade game with superpowers and bonus “style points” that initially flummoxes Lebron.  It gives everything a pretty cool neon aesthetic and the style points play into the jokes of all the insanity happening but it also just makes the points meaningless and the “drama” of the Tunes losing could be resolved at literally anytime if one of them makes a ridiculous dunk or, in the case of Porky, wins a rap battle? Another thing that is lacking that could have added excitement to the basketball and just the movie, in general, is the soundtrack.  The original soundtrack, including the title track from Quad City DJs, was full of hype and energy and there’s nothing in A New Legacy that even comes close.  The difference is felt pretty much immediately as both movies have opening credits that highlight their respective superstar’s NBA career but the original set it to “Space Jam” and got you pumped and A New Legacy has “We Win” by Lil Baby and, personally, it doesn’t have the same energy.  Maybe kids today will hold this soundtrack fondly as we do the original but it’s pretty lackluster and uninteresting to me.

As far as the animation, the Tunes look pretty great in both their traditional 2D forms and their new 3D forms later.  When Lebron gets transformed into a 2D Tune, it’s pretty fun as well and the animation is super high quality from the WB Animation Group.  On the flip side, the Goon Squad and Al G.’s assistant Pete look absolutely atrocious and it’s obvious they were an afterthought to the Looney Tunes gang.  The voice acting from the NBA superstars that the Goon Squad is based on is also pretty bad, which isn’t too unexpected, and Lebron is fine and is fun at times, especially with stuff like his initial excitement at meeting Bugs but because of the life lessons he needs to learn, he’s also kind of a domineering ass for a lot of the movie.  The voice acting for the Tunes is solid as always with Jeff Bergman and Eric Bauza handling most of the gang and Zendaya is solid as Lola.  There are also fun cameos and appearances with the best probably being Ernie Johnson Jr. and Lil Rel Howery being forced to be the big game’s play-by-play announcers and they have a fun back and forth and also alternating interest in the game and confusion and horror about their situation.  I will also give the movie credit for its Michael Jordan joke, which is probably the best bit in the whole movie.

Space Jam: A New Legacy isn’t terrible but it feels mostly like WB was looking for some way to promote their IP and decided to use Space Jam to do it instead of having an actual original or clever idea for a Space Jam sequel.  There is fun throughout, usually when the Tunes are doing their Looney thing, and the Tunes themselves look great in both 2D and 3D but the entire movie feels like it was created by Al G. Rhythm as the best way to synergize 90s nostalgia with the IP WB owns.  Since it’s on HBO Max as well as theaters, if you wanted to check it out on HBO Max, you’ll probably be more forgiving as it’s “free” compared to going to theaters and paying full price for it but for me, the original is still the Space Jam to beat.

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