In 1996, what I want to believe was an experiment out of a “no eggs” hit theaters at the Warner Bros. offices. Could a movie starring Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan work? At the box office he did it moderately, but outside the rooms for those of us who were children at that time it was a real furor. We resold the VHS, we buy all the merchandising and we cherish the memory of the movie. The idea of a sequel to ‘Space Jam’ has been around for years, almost always with the charismatic LeBron James mentioned as a logical replacement for Jordan. It’s taken 25 years, but it’s finally time to get back on the basketball court with the Looney Tunes.
‘Space Jam: New Legends’ is much more aware than the first, based on the fact that this “mix” already worked once, but neither the audience is the same as in 1996 nor the cinema is the same. Malcolm D. Lee knows that he cannot make the same movie because we are no longer used to such an innocent family cinema as ‘Space Jam’ was. The original was a totally 90s product, so the one from 2021 had to also be a product of its time. What they have basically done is take the essence of the first and turn it into something that today’s children can feel a minimum interest in first. So this time LeBron James and his son, played by Cedric Joe, are sucked into the Warner Bros. server. James is challenged by an algorithm, in the shape of Don Cheadle and the name of, eye, Al G. Rhythm, to a basketball game. If you win they will be free. If you lose you will be stuck on the server forever. Unlike Michael Jordan, who was “kidnapped” by the Looney Tunes because they were the ones who needed the help of the NBA star, this time it is LeBron who is looking for a team to face the algorithm and its monsters, and that’s when he bumps into Bugs Bunny.
Although the promos have sold us a kind of ‘Ready Player One’, in reality the use of winks is very limited and serves to start the movie with a little extra help, in addition to of course to show off and show off the catalog. Warner Bros. Animation takes advantage of each world to play with the animation style and see the crazy humor of the Looney Tunes in scenarios like ‘The Matrix’ or the animated series of DC superheroes is really fun. Not at all is a resource exploited throughout the film, and it serves so that the adults in the room have at least a moment in which to feel part of the party if they get lost between the jargon of the video games afterwards or a duration that plays against the tape. ‘Space Jam: New Legends’ is still ‘Space Jam’ after all and the center of the film is the basketball game between the Looney and the Goons.
And it is precisely in the game where the film spins a bit due to the excessive duration of the meeting, and of the film in general. ‘New legends’ has more than half an hour to spare compared to the first installment. The game makes the most of the 25-year technological leap and has very funny moments thanks to the madness of the Looney and the incorporated aspect of video games style ‘Fortnite’, with delusional plays or “power ups” that turn every minute of the game into something unpredictable. If only it lasted a little less … It also doesn’t help that the commenters are so ungracious.
Who does have it is LeBron James, quite a surprise. The athlete is very upset throughout the film, and although he is still a non-actor doing what he can, he has enough charm to keep the leading role without problem. He probably had it easier than Jordan when it came to shooting because technology is now much more gratifying than in 1996, but the character of Michael Jordan was much flatter than the one presented by King James. This, in addition, has something that the protagonist of the first ‘Space Jam’ did not have and is an evolutionary arc. At the beginning of the film, as happened in the original, we see a flashback in which we are shown a young LeBron learning the lesson that the court is his workplace and that it must be respected. The harsh discipline they instilled in him he wants to pass on to his children, but Dom shows much more interest in designing video games than in the ball, and that creates friction. LeBron has to learn that he has to let his children find their own way and that is already much more than what Michael Jordan had to learn in his journey with the Looney. His character is much more interesting, and James does not miss his opportunity. Perhaps the ones who lose the most are the Looney Tunes, which by becoming the supports of LeBron’s story do not have a particularly interesting or well-developed plot, despite the fact that they want to create an initial conflict between James and Bugs Bunny. And it hurts to see Daffy Duck so wasted when he was not only the MVP of ‘Space Jam’ and the one with the best phrases, he is also the Looney in general.
Don Cheadle is also a very pleasant surprise. The actor could have put on autopilot and just waited for the check but has decided to take the opportunity Al G. Rhythm gives him and had a blast with him. His villain is a waste of energy and the actor transmits the enjoyment to the viewer. His plan and intentions are rather mediocre, but he makes up for it with a fierce defense of the character throughout the film. The American press has pointed out that a film that puts an algorithm as an enemy should have been more subversive and have played more with the critics. I don’t know what ‘Space Jam’ they saw at the time, but it’s never been that kind of movie. ‘Space Jam’ is a family film whose main aims are to entertain and sell merchandising and the sequel once again has this as its primary objective. What incidentally does the HBO catalog also sell a bit? Perfect, but it was never intended to be a critique of today’s Hollywood. Please, if the first was the greatest example of a pop product that could have been in the nineties. ‘New Legends’ knows what’s coming. He makes us have a good time while he lets LeBron James bring out another side of him and sells us new dolls and t-shirts. Whoever thought that the first was silly is not going to be convinced by the second. As a fan of the original, the formula has worked for me again and despite the fact that the duration weighs heavily on it, it does not have the same freshness or such a memorable soundtrack that gave it so much personality, it has plenty to fulfill as a fun proposal to get closer to the cinema this summer. From that ACME brand madness that continues to function as the first day to impressive visuals. Speaking of the visuals, in addition to playing with the animation styles, I have to say that the three-dimensional versions of Bugs Bunny and the others do not clash as much as it seemed to me at first. I prefer them in 2D and luckily they have their essence intact there, but 3D works very well with how hectic basketball scenes are.
For the new generations
The nostalgic component is also there because at the end of the day it knows that many of its potential viewers are those children who became obsessed with the first 25 years ago. The sequel is so similar to the first in many ways that it will probably get us to enjoy it again, and we have the added value of the winks at the beginning. But we have to remember that this ‘Space Jam’ is made for the new generation. The film tries hard to speak their language and to get their attention, so it will be the children of today who decide if ‘New Legends’ fulfills that task and becomes a beautiful future memory of their childhood as is the first for us or if they do not see any grace and instead of speaking their language they only manage to repel them. There were parts of the movie that I was quite embarrassed about, like watching Porky rap, but maybe I wasn’t on the writers’ minds when they wrote that scene and the kids do find it funny. Again, I think it shows throughout the film that they have made it for them. They do not seek so much to get on the bandwagon of nostalgia, although there are quite a few nods to the first one (some wonderful ones), but rather to gain a new generation of followers.. Those children may not catch the reference to ‘Casablanca’ but if they manage to have a good time and come out wanting to join basketball, or better yet, wanting their parents to buy them everything that has ‘Space Jam’ on, the movie will have fulfilled its mission as it did in 1996.
‘Space Jam: New Legends’ opens in theaters July 23.
The best: As entertaining as the original, but does not feel anchored in the past. LeBron James and Don Cheadle are very funny. Some winks are great.
Worst: It gets too long. The Looney Tunes sit in the background. It has lost freshness and certain moments give something of “cringe”.