It’s scary to think that Space Jam is now 25 years old, and even scarier to actually remember seeing it in theatres. That movie was a big deal, beloved by many and enduring the test of time to delight new generations of fans.
Move over Michael Jordan, because NBA superstar LeBron James has the ball in Space Jam: A New Legacy. Quashing suspicions of a remake, the new movie serves as a sequel (as well as a repackaging) that revisits the antics of the original, bringing the Looney Tunes gang back to life (almost literally) along with a few thousand friends.
In a cheeky dose of self-deprecation, the story sees the Warner Bros. computer algorithm pitching all of the studio’s story ideas, and when the actual Algorithm itself (personified as “Al-G” by Don Cheadle) develops a multi-project deal for James, the idea is dismissed as “stupid” and scrapped entirely. The humiliated and enraged Al-G responds by luring James into the Warner 3000 ServerVerse – where all of the studio’s intellectual properties reside – by kidnapping his son and forcing both into a virtual game of basketball.
The Looney Tunes gang have all left Toon Town since their last adventure (presumably in Joe Dante’s underrated 2003 Looney Tunes Back in Action), with Bugs Bunny being the sole remaining citizen. With LeBron’s arrival and need for a team of players, the two of them hijack Marvin the Martian’s spaceship and set out to recruit old friends who are strewn across various Warner Worlds, such as Matrix World, Harry Potter World and Mad Max World. There’s even a Stephen King’s IT World (!), but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Dispensing with further plot details, what’s left to say is that Space Jam: A New Legacy is a hugely entertaining romp that flirts with nostalgia while bringing all of the iconic characters to a new generation. To the older folk’s delight, almost half of the movie is presented in traditional 2D animation, much like the cartoons of old, while the other half sees the characters receive a digital makeover. It is a delightful balance of old and new and viewers of all ages ought to lap it up.
Of course Al-G’s grand event requires spectators, and with the Warner 3000 ServerVerse at his disposal, he beams in a crowd of thousands. It is a who’s who of Warner Bros. characters from the unlikeliest of places, such as Game of Thrones and Casablanca. A quick look into the crowd also reveals The Flintstones and the Jetsons, as well as King Kong, the Wicked Witch of the West, The Iron Giant, Danny DeVito’s Penguin and Jim Carrey’s The Mask amongst countless others. And yes, Pennywise the clown from IT has a front-row seat to the game, not far from Willy Wonka and the Droogs from A Clockwork Orange. Needless to say all this must be seen to be believed, and will keep eagle-eyed fans counting the cameos.
While LeBron James lacks the charisma and charm of Michael Jordan, his performance has a lot of heart. But the strength of the movie is in the writing and animation, with director Malcolm D. Lee (Night School) demonstrating perfect control, allowing the fundamentals of Looney Tunes to take the lead. The audience is reminded that these characters are almost a century old and that there is no retconning the formula. Ultimately they flourish with the same pratfalls and hijinks of old, and no matter how progressive times may become, there’s always amusement in an oversized mallet to the noggin or train tunnels painted onto the side of cliff faces.
Space Jam is indeed back and it’s bigger than ever, packed to the brim with frivolity and measured with sincerity. If you’re a pop-culture junkie bring your monocle, because you’re going to be on the lookout for some very unexpected faces in the background.
In cinemas: July 8
Starring: LeBron James, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck
Directed by: Malcolm D. Lee