With the new Space Jam movie coming out, we decided to let our resident Space Jam nerd Todd give you a run down on the new movie vs the old one. Firstly, before you read any further, SPOILER ALERT. If you want a surprise when you watch either of these movies for the first time, turn away now.
But if you’re ready to get into it, here we go, straight into it. If you’re struggling to remember 1996 and you need a barometer to show you how much has changed in the last 25 years, watch both of the Space Jam movies. Wow! The original movie from 1996 was the right mix of childhood fun, basketball/NBA/Michael Jordan amazingness, Looney Tunes nostalgia and real-life/animation blending that we hadn’t really seen (done well, at least) since Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Space Jam: A New Legacy is… complicated! I can’t help but feel for the kids watching this movie if this is what they are relating to on a daily basis. One part Oedipus complex, one part Artificial Intelligence morality struggle, one part kidnapping, one part computer game, one part shameless Warner Bros/DC universe plug. It’s a wild ride, not necessarily a bad ride, but wild nevertheless.
For those of us old enough to appreciate this movie on all its levels when it was first released, you’re aware of its play on nostalgia from day one. Jordan fans and basketball lovers were left lost and disillusioned when he retired from the NBA in 1993 to play baseball, so for the movie to centre around his retirement from, and return to basketball pulled at the heartstrings even then.
The premise of the movie was simple enough: an evil cartoon alien (voiced by Danny DeVito (of course, who else?!)) wanted to steal the Looney Tunes to perform at his space amusement park, Moron Mountain. The Toons challenge his pint-size alien henchmen to a game of basketball in an effort to win back their freedom. When the henchmen steal the mojo’s of Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues, Larry Johnson and Shawn Bradley, the Toons recruit Michael Jordan to help with the challenge.
Rewatching this as an adult, the considered cameo roles from Larry Bird as well as Barkley, Ewing, Muggsy, Johnson and Bradley provided a real chuckle. The scenes where Larry Bird riffs with Bill Murray on the golf course was awkwardly funny. While watching Barkley, Ewing, Muggsy, Johnson and Bradley go through their journey of losing their talent to the aliens and then consulting doctors, psychiatrists, & co was subtle, comedic joy.
This was a looney movie. Of course it was, it was supposed to be. Michael Jordan getting sucked into the Earth and down to Toontown to save them from a team of slave-driving, mojo stealing aliens was exactly what you’d expect from the Looney Tunes. And subsequently getting to rejoice in the nostalgia of the Toon Squad, while getting to see Jordan do his thing on the big screen is simple enjoyment at its finest.
A New Legacy
As a stand-alone kids movie based around the Looney Tunes, I enjoyed this movie. If you keep an open mind and forget the original you can appreciate this movie as a Looney Tunes adventure with LeBron James in a supporting role. Don’t read into it, don’t analyse it, don’t think about it. Just sit back with some popcorn and get absorbed in Bugs and Lebron having a CGI adventure that can only exist in Hollywood.
If however, like me, you can’t help but compare the original, then... I mean… really... COME ON! To say they murdered the original concept is an understatement. They don’t even play basketball in this film! Instead, LeBron and the Toon Squad have to play a bastardised computer game version of basketball created by his on-screen son, Dom.
They are challenged by an anthropomorphised AI program (played by Don Cheadle) that has kidnapped and groomed Dom to turn against LeBron. Dom thinks he’s playing against his father for respect. But what’s at stake is actually the survival of Dom and the thousands of people who have been kidnapped to watch this game of Dom Ball. Oh, and the game is being played in a digital Serververse and everyone was kidnapped through the LiDar scanner on their phone... lost yet?
And then?! And then... halfway through this farce, when they tease a Michael Jordan cameo and Michael B Jordan steps out of the shadows instead, I nearly threw something at the screen. Nothing against Michael B Jordan, he’s great, but to pull that off at a time when you’re already aching for some semblance to the original movie... Not. Cool.
Let’s finish on some positives... Porky Pig unloading in a rap battle was pretty funny. Some WNBA and NBA stars make a quick appearance. And Bugs and ‘toon LeBron’s journey through the WB/DC universe earlier in the movie was fun. Oh, and to his credit, for a beginner LeBron has a warm presence on screen and knows how to act, he might have another career on his hands when he leaves the Lakers.
Give both movies a run in chronological order. But be prepared for a rewatch of the original after you finish A New Legacy just to return some balance to the universe. Perhaps watching the movies in your new SWAG Boxers Original Space Jam clothing will keep you warm and your soul centred. You gotta love LeBron James, he’s a good guy and a master of his craft. But at the end of the day, LeBron and all the WB/DC universe throwbacks can’t replace His Royal Airness.