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Space Jam: A New Legacy (A Movie Review)

Updated: Nov 27, 2023


Starring LeBron James, Don Cheadle, Khris Davis, Sarah Silverman, Sonequa Martin-Green, Ernie Johnson, Lil Rel Howery, Kyrie Irving, Chris Paul, Draymond Green, Kyle Kuzma, Chiney Ogwumike, Michael B. Jordan and the voices of Jeff Bergman, Eric Bauza, Zendaya, Bob Bergen, Jim Cummings, Gabriel Iglesias, Candi Milo, Paul Julian (archival recordings), Klay Thompson, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Diana Taurasi and Nneka Ogwumike.

Screenplay by Juel Taylor, Tony Rettenmaier, Keenan Coogler, Terence Nance, Jesse Gordon and Celeste Ballard.

Directed by Malcolm D. Lee.

Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. 115 minutes. Rated PG.

If you are going to revisit a popular family film franchise after 25 years, you should bring something new to it, right?

I mean, other than replacing the star, changing it from the most accomplished basketball player in the world at the time to the new most accomplished basketball player in the world. (Going from Michael Jordan in the original to LeBron James here – neither of whom are known for their acting, although in fairness James has more experience in film than Jordan did.)

And certainly, you would come up with something other than changing the classic Looney Tunes characters from traditional hand-drawn to computer animation about halfway through the film? I’m sorry, but the idea of turning the Looney Tunes characters into CGI rather than pencil and ink is just sacrilege. (I know there have previously been some shorts with the characters filmed in CGI, but that was sacrilege as well.)

We do appreciate the lack of a R. Kelly song on the soundtrack, but otherwise, what does Space Jam: A New Legacy really have to offer a new generation of fans that they can’t get from just streaming the original?

My big question after watching Space Jam: A New Legacy is simple: It took six people to write this?

Look, the truth is the live action stuff was pretty corny and much of the CGI basketball game was kind of silly. But… a big BUT… the middle section with hand-drawn animation is actually surprisingly clever and funny. It almost makes the film worth watching all on its own.

A section in which a cartoon LeBron James and some favorite characters crash through the Warner Bros. film archive and find themselves thrown into classic films and cartoons was particularly good – a Casablanca-era Ingrid Bergman saying “Play it, Sam” with the camera shifting to Yosemite Sam made me laugh out loud.

There was also a shrewd takeoff on Batman and Superman and several other WB properties (and a few from other studios). If the entire film were as clever as this, I would heartily endorse it. In fact, that whole middle section gives me a bit of a warm feeling towards Space Jam: A New Legacy. It turns out to be better than it could be, and that’s something, right?

By the way, for a film called Space Jam, there was no outer space footage in the film. The whole thing actually took place in a computer server, so it’s more like inner space or The Matrix.

The family footage in which LeBron tries to connect with his young son is kind of sappy, but I suppose it is necessary to drive the narrative forward. Even once they change over from illustrated characters to CGI basketball avatars, there are some funny moments, like a clever cameo by Michael B. Jordan playing up on his name similarity to the star of the original film.

The CGI characters still bugged me though. I know they are trying to lure a new generation of viewers, but I may never be able to unsee a CGI Porky Pig rapping – without a stammer – like a porcine Mel Tillis who loses his stutter while performing. (Yes, I understand that outdated topical reference is totally dating me, and most people going to see this Space Jam movie will have no clue who Mel Tillis was, but I’m sticking with the comparison. Look it up if you really want to know what I mean.)

Still, the middle section is clever enough to almost be a game changer for Space Jam: A New Legacy. It ends up missing the buzzer beater, but there was enough good play in the paint to make it a tight contest.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2021 All rights reserved. Posted: July 17, 2021.

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