NBA basketball star LeBron James and a team of Looney Tunes animated characters must win a virtual basketball game against the digitized champions of an evil A.I. in Space Jam: A New Legacy, a sequel to the 1996 film, Space Jam. With its blend of live action and animation, the original became one of the most iconic films of the 1990s. The sequel updates the basic concept for the virtual age, to create what looks like a cross between The LEGO Movie (and LEGO Movie 2) and Ready Player One, with a dash of TRON for good measure.
(Some spoilers for the original film below,)
Space Jam is basically a fictional account of NBA superstar Michael Jordan’s return to basketball in 1995 after retiring in 1993 to play baseball. (It was inspired by a couple of Nike commercials.) In the film, Jordan falls into the Looney Tunes animated world to help the so-called “Tune Squad”—all the most popular animated Looney Tunes characters—win a basketball game against a group of enslaved aliens called the Nerdlucks. In addition to Jordan, NBA players Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Shawn Bradley, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, and Muggsy Bogues also make cameos. (The aliens steal the latter five’s talents to transform themselves into formidable opponents.)
Space Jam got mixed reviews, but it was a box office success, earning more than $230 million globally, and over the years it has become a cult favorite, particularly for those who were young in the 1990s. Warner Bros. made several attempts to make a sequel over the years, finally tapping Malcolm D. Lee to direct (replacing Terence Nance, who left in 2019 due to creative differences) when it revived the project in 2018.
Per the official synopsis:
This transformational journey is a manic mashup of two worlds that reveals just how far some parents will go to connect with their kids. When LeBron and his young son Dom are trapped in a digital space by a rogue A.I., LeBron must get them home safe by leading Bugs, Lola Bunny and the whole gang of notoriously undisciplined Looney Tunes to victory over the A.I.’s digitized champions on the court: a powered-up roster of professional basketball stars as you’ve never seen them before. It’s Tunes versus Goons in the highest-stakes challenge of his life, that will redefine LeBron’s bond with his son and shine a light on the power of being yourself. The ready-for-action Tunes destroy convention, supercharge their unique talents and surprise even ‘King’ James by playing the game their own way.
Don Cheadle plays AI-G Rhythm, the aforementioned rogue A.I., with Cedric Joe playing Dom, LeBron’s youngest son. And once again, several NBA players make appearances: Klay Thompson, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, Draymond Green, and Kyle Kuzma. (There are also rumored cameos by WNBA players Diana Taurasi, Nneka Ogwumike, and Chiney Ogwumike.)
Eagle-eyed viewers will notice not just classic Looney Tunes characters in the trailer—including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Lola Bunny, and Foghorn Leghorn—but also characters from other franchises (Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, Wizard of Oz, Hanna-Barbera) and various other pop culture icons. I spotted Pennywise from It, Mr. Freeze from Batman and Robin, the Iron Giant, the agents from The Matrix, the Flintstones, King Kong, the Mystery Machine from Scooby-Doo, the war boys from Mad Max, the thugs from A Clockwork Orange, and even a nod to Betty Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
Online reaction to the trailer has been a bit mixed, with many people reveling in all the hidden beloved characters from their childhoods, and other more curmudgeonly types decrying what they perceive to be a dearth of creativity on the part of Warner Bros. And it is true that filling a movie with various licensed characters as visual Easter eggs is something of a go-to move for the studio of late—most notably, both LEGO movies and the 2018 film adaptation of Ready Player One.
I don’t really have a dog in this fight, but it strikes me as a rather silly criticism in this age of multi-character shared universe franchises, especially since Space Jam arguably did it first. Space Jam: A New Legacy may not be your jam, but I predict it will find a substantial target audience looking for family-friendly fare—especially as more of the country emerges from pandemic restrictions (fingers crossed) this summer.
Space Jam: A New Legacy premieres simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max on July 16, 2021.
Listing image by YouTube/Warner Bros.