I love Space Jam.
I remember curling up on the cinema chair as a kid and watching the original film in the Philippines, a country that fiercely loved (and still love) their basketball. I remember being able to enter the cinema at any point during the movie. The movie played continuously, so you could stay up until the part where you entered, and if you so wished, you could choose to park yourself in the cinema for the day and watch the movie on repeat. This is how I initially watched Space Jam. I don’t know if films are screened this way anymore in Manila, but back then it didn’t ruin the experience for me.
I remember having the soundtrack on cassette tape and singing along to the (still epic) songs from the movie, whenever my family would road trip in our Jeep across Malaysia. It was the year my family left Australia to be closer to my dad while he worked overseas, and I attended an International School in Kuala Lumpur.
Space Jam was important to me, as it was my link to Western culture whilst I lived abroad in Asia (Philippines, Malaysia and Hong Kong) and held onto an insatiable longing for Australian winters, barbeque snags, mashed potatoes, beef steak, and was extremely homesick. I don’t live in Asia anymore. But I still love Space Jam.
More recently, I remember lining up outside my favourite record store during stupid early hours of the morning, to make sure I obtained one of the limited copies of the Space Jam Soundtrack Record Store Day exclusive on coloured vinyl.
So, I would be lying to you if I stated that I am not a huge Space Jam fan.
The original Space Jam film came out at an opportune time. Michael Jordan really did retire from basketball to play baseball professionally, and then returned to play basketball again not long after. These things really did happen, which makes the original Space Jam movie actually plausible, and I dare say that it was an extremely clever way of creating an entertaining biographical film loosely based on truth (which it was).
The name ‘Michael Jordan’ was on everyone’s lips. Whether you followed basketball or not, you knew who Michael Jordan was. And his merchandise and apparel were everywhere. Nike Air Jordan’s were a hot ticket item (they still are) and would make you the coolest kid in school should you be lucky enough to wear a pair.
But who is LeBron James? Sure, he’s a decorated basketball player and may be celebrated in the U.S., however, he is definitely not as beloved and recognised internationally. At least, nowhere near to the extent, praise and hype of Michael Jordan.
This brings us to Space Jam: A New Legacy.
The new film reunites audiences with our favourite wacky animals, The Looney Tunes. But sadly, it focuses more on the human characters which aren’t nearly as entertaining nor exciting to watch. Like the original film, everything comes down to a very important basketball match. But this is where the similarities end.
There is no real moving narrative that audiences can genuinely connect, relate to and root for. The only poor excuse for one is force-fed to us in a way that is extremely unwelcome and cannot save the film’s already terribly written story (or lack thereof). You know those old school (now cult classic) guilty pleasure bad movies that you love, even though you know how terribly cheesy they are? This film is not one of them and it will never be one of them.
The new film is completely disrespectful to its predecessor. Unlike the original film, LeBron James is animated for a major chunk of the movie. Animated Bugs Bunny and friends bonding with human and totally-not-animated LeBron James? You don’t see it. At least, not until the expected basketball match, and even then, I wouldn’t call it ‘bonding’. The Looney Tunes are rarely there. Blink and you’d miss them.
LeBron James’ acting isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s not good either. When he is animated, James’ voice acting is dull and flat. He never breathes personality into his animated self, and so when James is (finally) not animated, I found it very hard to care for him. The only ones who will thoroughly enjoy his performance are his existing fans from his sporting career, and thankfully for them, there are a few specific jokes that Lebron James fans will appreciate.
I also felt extremely uncomfortable during a point of the film where his son is being yelled at and he just glares, watches from a distance and does nothing. Whoever decided and agreed that this was a good idea to even put on-screen, failed this film. But this isn’t even the worst part. The worst part is Space Jam: A New Legacy is just a Warner Bros flex with all their entities and franchises mashed up as filler. It is clear they didn’t know what do with the story, and it’s an absolute eyesore that you cannot unsee, because it is ‘part of the movie’. While I do love and adore these franchises separately, I do not enjoy them being shoved into Space Jam and stripping Space Jam of its once unique and heartfelt identity.
Visually, the 2D animation is surprisingly refreshing. In fact, I love 2D animation. But the constant change in style of animation from 2D to 3D, and then throwing real people to stand alongside the animated characters only around the end of the feature, is both overstimulating and exhausting.
I also adore Don Cheadle and I am fully aware of his incredible acting talents, but even he looks bad in this. Cheadle is so beloved that when he is acting mean spirited as his character Al G. Rhythm (it’s meant to be a play on the word ‘algorithm,’), it just comes off as adorable. Kind of like an angry little bunny rabbit or child having a tantrum. You never take his villainy seriously, as he is unfortunately unconvincing as the bad guy. You never really feel that any of the characters are in true danger either.
I can’t even begin to understand who this film was for. If it were for the fans, they wouldn’t have made this huge, hurtful, horrible joke that had me hopeful and then quickly broke my heart into a million pieces. If it were for the kids, there wouldn’t have been so many (extremely unnecessary) references to older films and franchises that kids wouldn’t even recognise.
I feel like they took something I have dearly loved and treasured. Something that I had kept in such a good condition and cherished for many years, and they scrunched it up, threw it in the bin, picked it out of the bin to flatten it, then put it through a shredder, threw it in the bin again, and then finally set the bin on fire.
Space Jam: A New Legacy doesn’t deserve to call itself ‘Space Jam’. It contains absolutely nothing that you love from the original and is not worthy of any attention. As a fan of the original film, yes, I was curious, but now all I feel is pain. I suppose, if you do want to see the sequel, wait for it to come out digitally or physically, be it on streaming services, Blu-ray or DVD. But it really isn’t worth checking out in cinemas. I wouldn’t recommend seeing Space Jam: A New Legacy, unless you want to set your heart on fire, or if you have absolutely no attachment to the original. Watching this film, for me, is a lot of time wasted that I will never get back. And it still hurts.