Today’s movie-going landscape can often look quite bleak. More and more studios and corporations are buying each other out in a race to see who can launch the next big thing – infrastructures built not on ingenuity, but on IP. The recent wave of massive in-house crossover films is only a byproduct of this race: Ready Player One, Ralph Breaks the Internet, the list goes on. These examples all range in quality but share one killing trait: the age like sh*t. Re-watching the Wreck-It Ralph sequel doesn’t get any more fun as Disney slowly gets to own more of the film industry. You can only really make a case for the LEGO movies (including LEGO Batman) handling a vast range of IP well. Ironically, those same films came from Warner Bros. and their animation division, which finally bring us to their latest and perhaps laziest attempt, Space Jam: A New Legacy.
A sequel to 1996’s Space Jam was always inevitable, even though it’s grown infamous over time. It may not be an IP hellfest like the sequel, but it’s still very much the epitome of “product placement: the movie.” Looney Tune purists despised it with a passion (as they had enough reason to) then and now, but it still carries a lot of value to those who grew up with it. Now 25 years later, it’s happening again. A New Legacy has plenty enough for kids to revel in, almost leading to a solid family viewing experience, believe it or not. However, those who grew up loving the original are going to see themselves crossing over to the other side as a new type of purist – disliking the film for what it does to the Looney Tunes. Funny enough, the 25-year gap kind of makes it feel more dramatic. As George Lucas once said, “It’s like poetry… It rhymes.”
Discussing Space Jam: A New Legacy is no easy feat, believe me. I want another huge win for the Looney Tunes as much as anyone else (those new HBO Max shorts are solid though). Bugs, Daffy, and the gang have consistently proved to stay timeless, even when Warner Bros. sticks them in the most unfortunate scenarios. It’s been crystal clear for years that the studio doesn’t have much of a grasp on the Tunes, which is almost unbelievable given that they’re associated with the face of the WB brand itself. A New Legacy often comes off as a last-ditch attempt to see if the Tunes can still hit the mark with modern audiences, which is a huge bummer, but not as sad as when you start to feel that this movie actually has a beating heart. Somewhere buried under all of WB’s self-indulgences is a decent family film, one where the Looney Tunes don’t literally need to prove their worth to the audience.
You get peaks of this throughout A New Legacy, just making it bearable enough to sit all the way through. The plot is as to the point as it needs to be for Space Jam. LeBron James is asked by WB to be the face of a new business venture. The studio is toying with a new software that can insert you into any of their beloved franchises. Want to meet your favorite DC heroes, or perhaps get to know which Hogwarts House you belong in once and for all? It doesn’t get any better from here, both for us watching and LeBron, because this program is run by a rogue A.I. Not so different from Marvel’s Ultron, AL-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle) has got major people problems and decides to take revenge on LeBron for calling this software the worst idea ever (he’s right). He traps LeBron into WB’s server-verse and what better place to settle this beef but on the court?
This premise is fine on its own, but A New Legacy gets one of its few perks over the original through LeBron’s son. LeBron, being as successful as he is, sets incredibly high standards for his kids at home. His tendencies make him more of a coach than an actual father, creating tension when his younger son Dom (Cedric Jones) shows little to no interest in Basketball. Dom is an aspiring video-game designer in the middle of building his own game (which is coincidentally a Basketball shooter). He’s hoping to attend an upcoming E3 conference, the only problem being that it’s the same week of Basketball camp and Lebron isn’t having it. It’s funnier when LeBron can’t seem to understand his son’s own game, as it puts cartoon antics over the “fundamentals” of the sport.
This generational divide between Lebron and Dom makes for a classic conflict, nothing new but still effective. It continues on from the first film’s themes of lineage and fame, but it shows more potential when AL-G kidnaps Dom and steals his prototype game. Dom’s beta is adapted into the final match, forcing father and son to battle out their ideals face-to-face. But this broken relationship is no problem for the Looney Tunes! The Tunes do what they do best and go for the absurd, teaching King James to put both his ego and the fundamentals of Basketball aside in order to finally reach out to his son. You see, everything here could genuinely make for a strong movie, one full to the brim with heart and zest. Instead, this all gets drowned in an embarrassing WB grand tour of “Look, we own this IP too in case you forgot!”
AL-G sends LeBron to the Tune World, the rejects of WB. This is just one of many elements that feel too ironic, given that the studio has actually neglected the Tunes before and that some of the script feels like it was actually written by an algorithm. Bugs lives in solitude here, with the rest of the gang having been sent off into different IPs by AL-G. An almost sweet “let’s get the gang back together to play some ball” second act is downgraded by the laziest inclusion of IP seen from any of these cursed films yet. We go through various titles like The Matrix and Mad Max: Fury Road with the Tunes digitally inserted and to put it simply, the jokes don’t land and it doesn’t look good. And it doesn’t stop there, as more references are made until the very end. You can count the IP callouts that barely do work with one hand, an example being the Tunes going through the various worlds of DC. It only works better here because they’re animated segments and you can feel like the film is at least trying to spice up its visual flair, if just for a moment.
If you can stomach the second-hand embarrassment, then you’ll be able to peak through the cracks and enjoy the fragments of a better film. Irony is Space Jam: A New Legacy‘s true enemy. The parts that are legitimately funny can be accredited to the Tunes in their own rhythm (and Don Cheadle’s unapologetic performance), not those forced into IP. To be brutally honest, some of the Tunes don’t really feel like themselves when jammed into projects like this, and it sucks. The Tunes are already self-referential and resourceful on their own, and only a few films have tapped into that. It’s the reason why fans to this day will ride or die for Looney Tunes: Back in Action. If you’ve ever wanted to see Granny in The Matrix and make jokes about Twitter… that’s cool I guess? But for what is it worth if you’re going to forget about it the next day? You can only hope that the few crumbs of honest Looney Tunes magic present in Space Jam: A New Legacy will get the message across this time.
Although, one thing is for sure. Whatever side you land on – love or hate this movie – we’ll all agree on the same thing. You’ll never want to see the Looney Tunes in this type of CG animation ever again.