There really isn’t any way around it. Space Jam: A New Legacy is weird. The plot is strange, the film is overly long and you can’t really identify with the characters – animated or not. But at the same time, after the film finds its rhythm, I found myself enjoying it and I suspect many other theater goers (mostly kids and diehard Looney Tunes fans) will agree.
Don’t get me wrong. Like the first Space Jam, this film is riddled with mistakes. But it’s not what the filmmakers got wrong that killed it, it is what they got right that saved it. The animators (mostly) kept the personalities of Bugs and friends intact. With minor changes, these are the same characters that not only we grew up with but our parents as well. With the exception of Granny and one scene involving Porky Pig performing rap, the animators focused on keeping the characters in their classic form in with their same motivations instead of trying to reinvent them or make them “cool.” Sylvester still wants the canary, Yosemite Sam is still a hot head, Daffy Duck is still egotistical and Marvin the Martian still wants to rule the world. These are the characters that we want to see and if the WB blew that, there goes the movie. What the movie gets wrong is almost everything else.
First of all, it seems to take forever before Bugs even enters the story and when he does, he isn’t very entertaining until he’s reunited with his animated friends. But first…
Like the original Space Jam, the movie opens with a very young LeBron James playing in one of his first basketball games ever – in middle school. Before the game, a friend lets him play a video of game (with Looney Tunes characters of course) for a few minutes. His coach takes the game away and scolds LeBron for not keeping his head in the (basketball) game. Then, the story zooms forward to an adult LeBron scolding his fictionalized son Dom (Cedric Joe) for being distracted while playing basketball with his brother in his own (spacious) backyard. Dom likes basketball, but actually likes building video games more. And he is amazing at it, but LeBron doesn’t get it. And wouldn’t you know it, the basketball camp just so happens to be scheduled at the same time as Dom’s computer game camp. Dom can only go to one camp, and LeBron says basketball wins.
It should be noted here that nothing about LeBron’s real life is being represented here. He’s playing a fictionalized version of himself. His real family is recast with movie stars and though director Malcolm D. Lee tries to make this bunch relatable, they just aren’t. Still though, this is fairly palatable at this point. Then the movie makes it first big mistake.
Somewhere deep within Warner Bros. Movie Studio, there is a computer system where all of the different WB “worlds” live including Looney Tunes, Hanna Barbara, DC Comics and movies like Casablanca, The Matrix and King Kong. Apparently, there is a computer-like god who looks a lot like Don Cheadle known as AI G. Rhythm. He controls this universe, or at least he thinks he does, but like all good villains, he wants more. He wants to know the outside world to know his power blah, blah, blah. Somehow he concocts a plan for the studio to recruit LeBron for some type of project but LeBron refuses and that makes Rhythm angry. Very Angry. Angry enough to kidnap LeBron’s son.
The only way for LeBron to get Dom back is by playing a game of basketball. I’ll spare the details of the rest as they don’t make any more sense, but let’s just say that Rhythm finds a way of capturing the talents of various other basketball players and creates a monster team known as the Goon Squad. That leaves LeBron to work with the Tune Squad.
LeBron is sent to the Tune planet where all of the Warner Bros. cartoon characters have left in favor of the various other worlds. The only character still living here is Bugs Bunny who is loonier than ever. The scene drags on with one silly bit followed by another and with Bugs explaining that he could never leave his home as it is the only place where he really feels like he can be himself. The different bits should be hilarious, but there not and I didn’t hear any kids in the theater laughing at the hare’s antics. Not a good sign at this point.
In short, both man and rabbit go on a mission to find the others. LeBron’s goal is to form a team, but Bugs is more interested in getting his friends back. The recruiting scenes are pretty fun rescuing Wyle E. Coyote from the world of Mad Max etc. and this is where the film takes a turn for the better.
Soon it’s time for the big game and the evil Rhythm has found a way so that every character from every WB property is there to watch along with many people sucked in from Earth. So here you have Fred and Wilma Flintstone watching the game near the Adam West’s version of Batman which is also standing near Michael Keaton’s version and so on. It’s craziness.
But wait! There’s a twist! The Goon Squad is headed by Dom so that the game is really a father vs. son match up. The games begins, The end result is supposed to be a message about the importance of family and how parents should like kids be who they really are and how the game should be all about enjoying the game, not winning etc. LeBron even shed’s a tear, I kid you not, but the films “deeper” messages, although good intentioned, just seem sillier than the Tunes’ game-playing. LeBron just needs to let his son play his game his own way.
The cartoon characters look great in both 2D and 3D versions. In fact, all of the graphics look great. LaBron is just okay, Cheadle almost steals the show, but this is a movie that actually does best when it isn’t playing by the rules and just has fun with its star cast. None of it makes a lick of sense however and nobody’s life will be changed by watching it even with its pro-family message. But with the exception of Granny drinking a martini during a locker room pep talk, Space Jam is as innocent as they come. The bottom line – if you are a Looney Tunes fan you’ll probably like it. If not, skip it.
(Main image: Warner Bros.)
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.