On July 16th, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” dribbled its way down the court to movie theatres and HBO Max. A long-anticipated sequel to the 1996 original (which celebrates its 25th Anniversary this year), the film follows NBA star LeBron James (as Himself) as he joins forces with the classic Looney Tunes characters to bring down the dastardly Al G Rhythm (Don Cheadle). Rounding out the live-action cast are Cedric Joe as Dominic “Dom” James, Sonequa Martin-Green as Kamiyah James, and NBA players Anthony Davis as The Brow, Damian Lillard as Chronos, Klay Thompson as Wet-Fire, Nneka Ogwumike as Arachnneka, and Diana Taurasi as White Mamba. Rounding out the impeccable voice cast of the immortal Tune Squad are Jeff Bergman (Bugs Bunny, Sylvester, Yosemite Sam), Eric Bauza (Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Foghorn Leghorn, Elmer Fudd, and Marvin the Martian), Zendaya (Lola Bunny), Bob Bergen (Tweety), Candi Milo (Granny), Gabriel Iglesias (Speedy Gonzales), and Fred Tatasciore (Taz).
The film begins with a 25-minute introduction to LeBron James and the fictionalized version of his family portrayed in the film. After a montage comprised of James’ many achievements in the NBA, we are introduced to his son, Dom (a fictionalized version of James’ real-life son, Bryce). Dom is an aspiring video game designer and holds a true passion for his craft. This is upsetting to LeBron, as he wants his son to follow in his footsteps. After an argument during a meeting with LeBron at Warner Bros Studios, the two are uploaded into the Warner Bros. “Server-Verse” by the server’s charismatic, but a vengeful algorithm, Al G Rhythm (Seem silly enough yet?). LeBron is dumped into the Looney Tunes portion of the WB server, while Dom is taken under Al G’s wing in the hopes that he can design a new video basketball game to challenge LeBron and give Al G the recognition he always desired.
While the introduction nearly slows the film to a screeching halt, it takes an incredible turn for the better when we are introduced to Bugs and the rest of the toons. Despite being a cartoon, Jeff Bergman’s performance as Bugs proves to be one of the most human things about the film. The usual humor is there, but this is a Bugs we are not used to seeing. Having been abandoned by his fellow Looney Toons to pursue careers in other universes belonging to Warner IP (i.e. Mad Max, The Matrix, Harry Potter, etc.), Bugs is left to reflect on his life, his purpose, even his own mortality.
While many critics have called this film unoriginal and an excuse to further promote their brand, I felt this was the smartest way to draw newer audiences in that may not be as familiar with the original Space Jam. We all loved when they did it in The LEGO Movie and its spinoffs, why not here? To me, having the characters exploring the different universes through an internet server and coming together for one big climactic showdown made much more sense than the Looney Tunes universe being buried deep beneath the parking lot of an Alabama Piggly Wiggly (This actually happened in the original film). Another standout would have to be Lebron James himself. Going in I had my doubts, as athletes typically don’t make great actors, but he commanded the screen both physically and vocally, as his character is animated for the entire second act of the film. I also would not be doing this film justice if I didn’t call out the incomparable Eric Bauza. He not only reigns in the laughs as Daffy, Porky, Foghorn, and Marvin, but his inflections are so seamless, you’d think Mel Blanc himself had returned.
All in all, Space Jam: A New Legacy is a massive, colorful, CGI-loaded party that any die-hard Warner Bros. fan can enjoy. Highly recommended.