It’s been nearly a quarter of a century since the first “Space Jam,” starring Michael Jordan, was released. And a lot regarding the NBA and IPs has changed since then. So a follow-up, whether that’s a sequel or a reboot, to “Space Jam” was inevitable. Perhaps the biggest surprise about “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” starring Lebron James, is that it’s an homage to all things Looney Tunes and a celebration of Lebron James’ legacy as an NBA play. While it’s fun to see how the Looney Tunes characters interact with the various IPs – to varying results -, the real heart of the film is the father-and-son dynamic between James and his film son Dom (Cedric Joe).
“Space Jam: A New Legacy” centers on LeBron James, who is eager to bestow his basketball knowledge and legacy on his youngest son Dom. However, Dom doesn’t exactly share the same interests as his passion leans more towards the art of creating video games. But Dom’s love for basketball hasn’t waned. He installs some of his father’s moves into the game’s characters. Despite that, James sees Dom’s passion as nothing more than a distraction and encourages him to focus more on basketball.
But James has a slight change of heart when he sees how far Dom’s game has developed and invites him to join him at a meeting at Warner Bros. Studios to talk about the Warner 3000, which is ruled by a tyrannical rogue algorithm known as Al-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle). James is unimpressed with the presentation as he doesn’t see it as beneficial to his brand. But he is dismayed when he hears Dom doesn’t want to go to basketball camp. As Dom rushes out to the nearest elevator, James gives chase, and the two are taken to the lower levels of WB studios, where they find themselves in the Warner 3000 server room. As James tries to understand Dom, Al-G kidnaps them and takes them to the Serververse where all things WB, DC, and HBO are stored.
If James intends to return home with his son, he will have to beat Al-G at a basketball game. But if James loses, then he will be forced to be a part of Warner Bros. 3000, forever. To make matters worse for James, Al-G has manipulated his son to use his video game characters, all of whom have the skills of NBA and WNBA players, to play against James. To make things even more challenging, James is banished to the Looney Tunes planet. And things get even more complicated when he discovers that Bugs Bunny lives by his lonesome, and Al-G separated the Looney Tunes family by tempting them of a better life on other WB titles and properties. So after hijacking Marvin the Martian’s UFO, James and Bugs, travel to the DC animated universe, DC comics, Harry Potter, “Mad Max: Fury Road,” and “Matrix.”
While James and Lola have the skills to play basketball, the rest of the team doesn’t exactly have what it takes to play amateur basketball. Instead, nearly all of them utilize their cartoony characteristics to handle, dribble, and shoot the ball – if you call what they do to it any of those skills. And it becomes clear that James makes for a better basketball player than he does a coach of the Tune Squad when Goon Squad arrives. Things get even more complicated when Al-G reveals that if James’ team loses, not only will James be stuck in the Serververse forever, the toons will get deleted.
Ironically, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” brings the laughs and lets its Looney Tunes characters shine when it allows them to be themselves. Mixing them with the various IPs was inevitable as WB has several titles at its disposal. Fortunately, the film introduces them through some of our favorite IPs in ingenious ways that almost always are funny. Then there are other times where it doesn’t mix as well as it should, either because the characters don’t exactly fit or the property itself is a bit dated. But it never gets heavy-handed, and once the film passes those introductions, the characters can let loose and be themselves.
Seeing the IPs and other WB properties interacting with Looney Tunes is only part of the fun. The real nostalgia comes from the Looney Tunes characters running and zipping across the screen. And the two animation styles are visually stunning. The traditionally hand-drawn animation is a callback classic Merry Melody shorts of old, while the CG animation breathes life into our favorite characters and lets their characterization come to life in new and innovative ways.
Like the “Space Jam” that came before it, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” not only celebrates all things Looney Tunes, but it also honors the NBA superstar at the center of the film. There’s more than just seeing James slam dunking or shooting fadeaways; there are also clips of him off the court where he refuses to “shut up and dribble” and shots of him being a family man. And while the film may showcase James’ talents, it never forgets that it is a family-friendly animated comedy first and foremost.
The Looney Tunes antics are fresh and sentimental as it is filled with classic cartoony hijinks like the running dust cloud, big ball of violence, and Acme hijinks. And there’s an added twist to all of that as it works itself organically into some of the other IPs and properties. However, some of it doesn’t quite click as they are contrived and expected. That being said, when it works, it works, and it works best when the Looney Tunes are allowed to be themselves and not confined to the rules or images of said IPs and properties.
As much as the film is filled with entertaining nostalgia, the beating heart of “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is its father-and-son dynamic between James and Dom. The conflict works because of the chemistry between the two and it explores the modern-day relationship of a father knows best vs. a child’s dreams and aspirations. The opening flashback reveals how hard James’ single mother works to provide for her family, while his coach encourages him to be more focused and less distracted by video games. While that idea may have brought success to the current James, it doesn’t necessarily work for Dom, whose passion lies in creating and programming video games. And it shows as his James is impressed to see his progress and that Dom put his signature moves into the game.
But as we all know, life is full of setbacks. Dom’s game doesn’t work and James’ parenting style prohibits Dom from allowing him to be himself. The latter becomes more prevalent as the film goes on as James sees coaching and parenting are two separate concepts.
“Space Jam: A New Legacy” is a funny sport, family-friendly comedy that’s full is emotion and nostalgia. The former is unexpected as the first “Space Jam” lacked that heart and genuine human connection seen in a father and son relationship. While the film utilizing other WB IPs and properties was expected, some of it doesn’t work because it goes against the legacy of those characters and feels more like a cheap gimmick than anything else. When the film gets past that, the Looney Tunes charm hits the screen in a way that feels fresh and sentimental.
But the father and son dynamic between James and Dom serves as the beating heart of “Space Jam: A New Legacy” and serves as a reminder that while every parent wants what’s best for their child, it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what the child wants for themselves. Sure, it is silly that a film like “Space Jam: A New Legacy” has to teach that lesson, but it is effective because of its cast of NBA superstars and nostalgic Looney Tunes characters.