I was 6 years old when the original “Space Jam” hit theaters in 1996. I loved it. At the time, my favorite players in the NBA were Shaquille O’Neal and His Airness, Michael Jordan. I also loved the Looney Tunes. It was a match made in heaven. Every sick day, I’d pop in “Space Jam;” every sleepover, I’d pop in “Space Jam;” every reason I could find, I’d pop in “Space Jam.” I was excited to see Warner Bros. make endless sequels as new NBA stars rose to prominence. I thought Shaq would star in a “Space Jam 2;” I thought Kobe Bryant would star in a “Space Jam 3;” I thought LeBron James would star in a “Space Jam 4.” Perhaps Kevin Durant for a fifth installment? It never happened. Shaq did star in 1996’s “Kazaam” and 1997’s superhero flick “Steel.” Kobe won an Oscar for his animated short “Dear Basketball” in 2018. LeBron played a great supporting role in 2015’s “Trainwreck.” Oddly, Durant starred in 2012’s “Thunderstruck” with a very similar premise to “Space Jam.” However, no sequel.
In the meantime, I became an adult, but “Space Jam” aged perfectly. In many ways, it’s funnier now than it was the first time I watched it. I will still watch it to this day every time it’s on TV. I’ve seen various comments on social media of people watching “Space Jam” for the first time recently and wondering what all the fuss was about. I will concede “Space Jam” is not a good movie … it’s a brilliant movie. Yes, on the surface, the Looney Tunes asking for Michael Jordan’s help in a basketball game against aliens who stole the talent from NBA players is a poor plot. However, if you don’t enjoy Bill Murray, one of the greatest movie soundtracks ever, the hospital montage with Charles Barkley, Muggsy Bogues, Larry Johnson, Patrick Ewing and Shawn Bradley and Jordan playing alongside the Looney Tunes in a basketball game, I really don’t know what to tell you except I’m sorry you hate fun.
The good news is they were watching the movie for the first time to prepare for the sequel. Twenty-five years later, the star of my hypothetical fourth “Space Jam” film was the lead in “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” The ageless wonder LeBron James joined my Los Angeles Lakers and resurrected one of my favorite film properties. What a guy. Although he had no chance to lead a film better than the 1996 classic, LeBron has the acting chops to create a worthy sequel. But did “Space Jam: A New Legacy” recapture the magic of its predecessor? Not to the extent I would have liked, but I had a good time.
Much like “Space Jam,” the sequel leads off with LeBron as a child before cutting to the opening credits with highlights of his NBA career. That’s when the sequel fell behind its predecessor. “Space Jam” opens to Jordan highlights with Quad City DJ’s “Space Jam” theme complementing the opening credits. It’s the perfect song in that moment. “See Me Fly” by Chance The Rapper, John Legend and Symba just doesn’t have the same pop. That issue continued throughout the film. The soundtrack is just not as good. It’s not bad, but the songs of the original complement the film so perfectly.
It takes a while for “Space Jam: A New Legacy” to get moving as it establishes its conflict. LeBron and his son Dom (Cedric Joe) are at odds because LeBron wants his son to focus on basketball, while Dom wants to build video games. While LeBron works to be a better father, he takes Dom to Warner Bros. where Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle), who is indeed an algorithm, wants to pitch him an idea for a project. LeBron declines, and Al G. Rhythm responds by kidnapping his son in the Warner Bros. server. He also challenges “King James” to a basketball game in order to get his son back and leaves LeBron to recruit his team of Warner Bros. properties. The first character he comes across is Bugs Bunny.
While the sequel has the disadvantage of following up a beloved film, it’s difficult not to notice what’s missing. “Space Jam: A New Legacy” doesn’t spend time with the athletes that become the Goon Squad. I’m shocked the film didn’t try to recreate some scenes from the first film where NBA players lost their talent. They made for some hilarious sequences. It doesn’t have a supporting character even close to how funny Bill Murray was in the original. Bugs Bunny’s voice sounds weird. I understand it’s been 25 years since the original and Billy West (who voiced Bugs in “Space Jam”) is pushing 70, but Jeff Bergman’s voice work seemed a little off for Bugs. And honestly Bugs doesn’t act like he does in the cartoons and in the first “Space Jam.” He’s just different all around and it takes away from the movie a bit.
However, the sequel does get Lola Bunny (voiced by Zendaya) right. A vast improvement over the sexualized version in “Space Jam,” Lola is the well-respected running mate of LeBron on the court. It’s cool to see her represented as the best basketball player the Tune Squad has and as a strong and caring individual. If there’s one thing this movie got right, it’s that.
A lot of the wit and humor in the sequel is based on Warner Bros. properties and LeBron’s career. The wit and humor in the original comes much more naturally. That being said, there is a sequence where LeBron and Bugs have to enter different Warner Bros. worlds to recruit team members that proves clever and pretty funny. There are also good nods to the previous films and some cool references to Looney Tunes. It also had some strange references to films and TV that only adults would understand. There’s a quick reference to “Chappelle’s Show” that doesn’t work, but a “Training Day” nod that lands perfectly.
The visual effects look great and the transitions among the different animations of the Warner Bros. worlds prove stellar.
LeBron can act. He proved this in “Trainwreck.” However, the writing doesn’t allow him to dip into his charisma until midway through the film. When he establishes the conflict with his son to start the film, he’s actually a little wooden. That’s not his fault. The writing failed him. However, when he meets up with Bugs, he starts to dip into that charisma. His acting improves as the film progresses. He establishes a believable relationship with the Tunes and his son. I also appreciate that LeBron allows the film to make fun of him, much like Jordan allowed the original to poke fun at him. It made for some humorous lines.
Cheadle is having a blast in this movie and hamming it up in the best way possible. He shines as the film’s villain, because he knows what film he’s in and his role. He plays it to perfection. Also, adding sportscaster Ernie Johnson and Lil Rel Howery as the game’s announcers worked beautifully.
“Space Jam: A New Legacy” doesn’t come close to the brilliance of its predecessor, as it lacks a lot of what made the original great. However, once it gets past the first 20 minutes, it kicks into gear and becomes something kids and adults can enjoy. The film banks on its audience understanding the references to Warner Bros. properties, LeBron’s career and nods to Looney Tunes and the first film. I found enjoyment in it because I know the material. However, the simple charm and magic the first film embraced doesn’t exist in the long-awaited sequel. Luckily, there’s a spark that still makes the audience smile.
3 out of 5 stars
I don’t have the devotion to “Space Jam” that a lot of people in my age bracket do. I watched the 1996 film for the first time last year as part of my pandemic viewing, and I recently watched it again to prepare for “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” Over the last year, I’ve become a basketball fan, which helped me better appreciate “Space Jam” the second time around.
I will concede “Space Jam” isn’t a great movie … but it sure is fun. The original has a simple but effective concept: Michael Jordan, the GOAT of basketball, helps Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes defeat the nefarious Monstars in an epic game of hoops, helping the NBA’s best players get their talent back. It’s goofy and charming, with a then-innovative mix of the live-action Jordan in the Looney Tunes’ animated world.
Twenty-five years later, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” aspires to be more than its predecessor, with visually spectacular animation, a capable lead in “King” LeBron James and a family-centric theme. However, the enjoyable sequel misses some of its shots. The long-awaited follow-up is better than its predecessor in some ways, but it falls short of a slam dunk.
Bursting with bright hues, the dazzling “A New Legacy” blends an array of animation styles, surpassing the look of the original film. The film highlights blues, purples, red and oranges, the colors which make up the Tune Squad’s new uniforms. The sequel integrates live action, 2-D animation and 3-D computer-generated animation to stunning effect. The film modernizes the “Space Jam” concept by adding a video game aesthetic.
The follow-up injects more humanity into the first film’s initial concept, raising the emotional stakes. The climactic basketball game isn’t just about a basketball legend helping the Looney Tunes defeat an evil team. In “A New Legacy,” the game turns into a father-son battle. LeBron’s relationship with his onscreen son, Dom (Cedric Joe), forms the heart of the film.
LeBron – the best player in the NBA – wants his son to follow in his footsteps and focus on basketball. However, Dom likes building video games. Their relationship is put to the test when Dom is sucked into the Warner Bros.’ “serververse” by Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle), the algorithm behind the studio’s offerings. With Dom kidnapped, LeBron teams up with Bugs Bunny to reunite the Tune Squad and rescue his son. As LeBron bonds with the Tunes, he begins to understand Dom better. The experience challenges LeBron to question his parenting skills as Dom seeks acceptance from his father to become his own person.
In his breakout role in “Trainwreck,” LeBron showed he had the chops to act. In “A New Legacy,” the NBA superstar appears wooden as he makes his way through the stilted writing in its early scenes. But as the film moves along, LeBron finds his footing. The script requires more of him emotionally than the original asked of Jordan. And as he does during the big moments of his games, LeBron delivers. The Los Angeles Lakers giant handles the heavy lifting in some key scenes with his son later in the film.
The rest of the cast features some nice surprises. As Dom, Joe earns sympathy as the intelligent young man yearns to be understood. Cheadle makes a fabulous villain, chewing the scenery up at every turn. As the best player – besides LeBron – on the Tune Squad, Lola Bunny (voiced by Zendaya) gets her redemption. The sequel scraps the cringeworthy references in the original to her being “hot.” Instead, the female bunny – who’s as caring as she is talented – has her team’s utmost respect, as well as a more practical uniform.
While “Space Jam” made efficient use of its slim 90-minute runtime, “A New Legacy” runs with the ball for too long. At an hour and 55 minutes, the film feels its length. Where the hoops finale lasted about a half-hour in the original film, the on-court battle is dragged out for nearly 45 (!) minutes here. A few times I thought the game was going to end, only for a new wrench to be thrown into it.
In an odd move, “A New Legacy” prizes Warner Bros.’ vast array of intellectual properties over the very game at the heart of these films: basketball. Taking advantage of its serververse setting, the sequel vomits one pop culture reference after the other. Do you like “Game of Thrones,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “The Matrix”? I hope you do because the film recreates whole scenes from these properties. The gimmick works perfectly when LeBron and Bugs Bunny travel from IP to IP to recruit the members of the Tune Squad. I loved seeing the characters walk into a classic like “Casablanca,” and I laughed at a DC Comics sequence involving Bugs and LeBron as Batman and Robin.
But later on, the film uses dozens of characters in the crowd during the fate-deciding game, most of whom look like casual cosplayers. It’s as if the filmmakers didn’t believe that the basketball itself would be enough to draw in moviegoers. The distracting choice takes away from the game’s action. My eyes kept landing on Pennywise from “It,” Agent Smith from “The Matrix” and the White Walkers from “Game of Thrones.” I’ll defend “Game of Thrones” to anyone (even after the final season), but I can’t defend these random White Walkers being in the film.
The sequel also doesn’t give enough time to the Goon Squad, the film’s villainous basketball team. The original “Space Jam” featured several scenes with the Monstars stealing the talent of Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley and other basketball players, and showed them dealing with the fallout. In “A New Legacy,” we get just one scene where we see the NBA and WNBA players in the Goon Squad – including my favorite player, Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers – mixing it up outside of the final game. This is another warning sign the film is not as concerned with basketball as it is in doling out pop culture references.
A step down from its endearing predecessor, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” dribbles a delightful time down the court. The sequel boasts amazing animation, surprising heart and a game lead in LeBron James. But the overlong film commits a foul by prioritizing Warner Bros.’ other properties over the game of basketball. It’s a weird choice for a franchise built around the love of the game. As I become a bigger basketball fan, maybe I’m more attached to the original than I thought. Still, there’s enough fun in “A New Legacy” to keep viewers entertained at courtside.
Rebecca Kivak and Joe Baress write about movies for Take 2 blog. Together, they review current flicks and offer their insights into the latest movie news. Rebecca is a copy editor and page designer at The Times-Tribune. She started her career with Times-Shamrock Newspapers in 2005 and has won several professional journalism awards for page design and headline writing. She also covers NASCAR races from Pocono Raceway. Contact: email@example.com; 570-348-9100 x5126; @TTRebeccaKivak