I’ll be honest, Space Jam was never a nostalgic piece of my childhood. I went into Space Jam: A New Legacy without much hope, since I thought the premise was bizarre. However, I also went in open-minded, and I am a mom after all, so I thought I’d be able to look at it through my children’s eyes. Honestly, I didn’t hate it.
To be fair, “didn’t hate it” is probably not what Warner Bros. was going for when they made this sequel to the 1996 film Space Jam. If you check out the scores across IMDB, Metacritc and Rotten Tomatoes, they suggest that the movie is a definite flop. But this movie wasn’t made for the critics. It was made for the families, the kids from the 80s and 90s that grew up with Looney Tunes and Space Jam, and literally any regular viewer that follows anything Warner Bros.
If you look at Space Jam: A New Legacy through the eyes of those people, and not the critics, the score jumps up drastically. Luckily, between being a critic and a parent, I get the best of both worlds. Yes, I can see where the movie lets people down, but I can also see how it lifts them up, makes them smile, and pulls on those nostalgic and parental heartstrings.
Space Jam: A New Legacy follows the fictionalized life of LeBron James and his son Dom (Cedric Joe) on a journey through parenting and following your dreams. How can a story like that go wrong? Of course, chaos ensues, and they get mixed up with Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle) and they are dropped into a virtual world where James is left to hunt down a team to battle against the Goon Squad.
Lebron James leaves something to be desired in terms of his acting abilities. I could identify with his parenting struggles, and the story plays on every ounce of mom guilt I’ve ever had, unfortunately, James’ physical acting and facial expressions weren’t quite up to snuff to consider the acting decent. When the film switched over to animation, however, his voice acting was absolutely good enough to get by, helping out the overall film quality.
Cheadle, on the other hand, had me entertained the entire time. He was campy, but that was what the role called for. His transition from nice-guy to bad-guy was sudden and frequent, and I found myself genuinely mad at him for manipulating a child. To me that says he must have been doing something right.
The major issue I can see people having is the constant Warner Bros. plugs. The entire movie is an ad for the company, not to mention product placement like Beats by Dre and E3. This comes off overtly obvious which can definitely take away from the enjoyment of the movie. For children, they likely won’t understand any of the references, so as a kid's movie, it makes no difference.
However, I started the film annoyed by it, but once it switched over to an animated LeBron James, I found the constant references fun. From that point of the movie on, they used popular Warner Bros. titles like Harry Potter, The Matrix, DC Comics and even Mad Max like they were alternate Looney Tunes universes—planets in this case. We see James recreated in each universe, like Robin for DC and Wez for Mad Max, and our favourite Looney Tunes characters are as well. It was a nice twist on an otherwise obvious advertisement.
The characters from each universe are also part of the crowd at the big DomBall game. This made for a fun game of Where’s Waldo so-to-speak for any adults joining in on the Space Jam fun. The Flying Monkeys from Wizard of Oz and the Night King from Game of Thrones were my favourite by far, but I’m sure each time you watch the movie you will be able to spot new characters from all sorts of different Warner Bros. properties.
These little hidden easter eggs, and several celebrity cameos (Michael B. Jordan), will keep the film fun for adults, while the animated comedy is there to please the children. Yes, Looney Tunes is a nostalgic franchise for us, so of course there were lots of smirks and chuckles, but I can see our children falling in love with the characters we grew up with too.
Even though you are inclined to enjoy your favourites like Bugs Bunny and Tweety Bird, the writing leaves something to be desired. The subject matter between parent and child is there, and does get the points it wants across, but in a way that seems more scripted, and less natural than it should.
Sonequa Martin-Green portrays James’ wife, Kamiyah, and does well. Even with the cardboard cut-out kind of script, you can see her genuine care for her husband and children, even sharing a conversation or two that I’m sure I’ve had in my day-to-day life. Cedric Joe does his part as a child that feels unheard and misunderstood, and is believable in most scenes. My favourite supporting role of the film goes to Malik (Khris Davis). He is a ball of over-acted anxiety and even though it was at best cheesy, I still found myself smiling when he was on screen.
Space Jam: A New Legacy hit the mark if you’re looking at it for what it is, a kid’s movie full of one off quips and animated comedy. It by no means will be winning an Oscar, and probably isn’t a movie I would personally watch again, but my kids would, and in that alone, Warner Bros. achieved what they set out to do.
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