The things that we love as children don’t always age well. It could be the jokes, the narrative approach, or even the blending of CG: any or all of these things may not gracefully leave your youth or adolescence as well as we do. Sometimes, though, in spite of all of the things that don’t work anymore, we still love the thing. 1996’s Space Jam is one of those movies that hit a cultural sweet spot and continues to be beloved by those who saw it as kids. The acting isn’t great, the live-action doesn’t blend well with the animation, and it’s *clearly* an advertisement for Michael Jordan’s return to basketball, yet, chances are you still know the lyrics to “Basketball Jones” and will understand what someone means when they ask if you’re ready to slam jam. This may not describe you, but it most certainly describes the people behind and in front of the camera of the LeBron James-led Space Jam: A New Legacy, a film that “no one asked for” and I’m personally delighted we have it. Though the criticism upon its theatrical and day/date HBO Max release of being a pop culture propaganda machine and the inclusion of some truly gnarly villains is valid to a degree, these are about the only complaints leveled against it that makes any sense by my tracking. It has a more cohesive, emotional story than the first, the comedy is far more natural, and James understands the assignment far better than Jordan. If you feel as I do, then get ready to watch the Tunes take on the Goons any time you like with Space Jam: A New Legacy available on home video as of this writing.
If you want to know about A New Legacy without spoilers, head over to the theatrical review. Moving forward, you never know what we’ll dig up in the Warner Server-verse.
Set within the same universe as the 1996 film, A New Legacy follows a young LeBron James as he journeys from young b-baller to NBA champion, raising a family of his own alongside wife Kamiyah James (Sonequa Martin-Green) with the values of competition that made him who he is. This isn’t a problem for older brother Darius (Ceyair J. Wright) or young sister Xosha (Harper Leigh Alexander), but, for middle child Dom (Cedric Joe), competition on the court isn’t what drives him. In an attempt to connect with Dom, LeBron takes him to a meeting at Warner Bros. Studios to learn about an A.I.-driven entertainment program that LeBron will be the face of, something which excites Dom technologically and LeBron not at all. Arguing on the way out of the meeting, LeBron and Dom don’t notice that they aren’t taking an elevator back to their car, but to the WB basement where the servers are kept. From there, they are tricked into entering a portal that digitizes both of the James men into the Warner server, placing them face-to-face with Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle), the program which runs all of WB’s Entertainment Division and that has designs on getting the recognition it deserves. Using the division between father and son, Al challenges LeBron to a basketball game, a harmless thing at first until it becomes apparent that Al isn’t just looking to take LeBron’s place as King of the Court, but King of All, wiping out scores of the WB server in the process.
The story within A New Legacy goes even deeper than the above, which is why close to a full hour of story goes down before LeBron’s done gathering the Looney Tunes together and the battle against Al begins. The script from Juel Taylor (Creed II), Tony Rettenmaier (The Light Thief), Keenan Coogler, Terence Nance, Jesse Gordon (Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), and Celeste Ballard (Wrecked) contains greater stakes than the predecessor, so it takes it time to lay that groundwork. LeBron is great at basketball, but not so great at parenting, but he does try. He obviously cares a great deal for Dom, but he can’t speak Dom’s language, setting up their rift. Similarly, Dom feels like he has to live up to the rep of his father, but, if he’s going to do it, he wants to do it his way, something LeBron isn’t fond of. The script goes out of its way to hammer into LeBron that following the rules only matters when everyone else is, too, and that, sometimes, you have to embrace play to win. There was none of this conflict in the original, mostly because the conflict was more simple, even if just as bizarre: alien wants to enslave both the Tunes and Jordan to work at his entertainment planet for the rest of their lives. Here, though, the challenge to play ball is made because Al itself desires something: recognition. It’s not viewed as a real thing, but a service provider and it longs to be seen, to be valued, and to get its time in the spotlight. Cheadle certainly makes a meal of the performance, having a great time with a ridiculous concept, but it also gives Al the necessary pathos so that there’s a reason behind the 1s and 0s. This makes the three-way emotional conflict far more weighted and interesting as it plays out, even if it goes almost entirely the way we expect for a family film. By the end, it all feels earned, rather than a simple win. LeBron and Dom are changed through the experience, interestingly so is Bugs Bunny, whereas Space Jam didn’t offer such a conclusion. The players got their skills back, but that was it. The break in status quo empowers A New Legacy to be a richer experience for the entire family.
Where I will concede is (a) LeBron claims to be a Looney Tunes fan yet is constantly surprised by their looniness and (b) the use of the WB catalog to make up the audience for the game. Do keep in mind that I have no issue with the number of WB characters as the event is staged within the WB server, so no narrative rules are broken *and* it’s notable that of the characters seen on screen, the villains are almost all by Al. On the one hand, this helps code the side of the court as in the vein of villainy, but, on the other, it also means that the audience for this PG film may have some questions about who are all these characters behind Al? The questions are fine, but the answers are the unsettling bit as what we can recognize includes Pennywise from It, various incarnations of the Joker from the Batman films, the Droogs from A Clockwork Orange, and more. Joker is easier to explain given the animated tales available, but the Droogs? GOOD LUCK WITH THAT. Obviously those figures are meant to elicit a chuckle from parents, older audiences, or the pop culture savvy, but it’s still pretty darn creepy. Beyond this, I have no issue with their inclusion, or any of the other characters who appear in the ever undulating wave of WB characters because, personally, I found it less an advertisement for HBO Max and just the perfect way to give the game an audience that wasn’t just the humans beamed into the server. If there is one true complaint, it should be that the Wakko kids weren’t involved in the announcing. I dig Lil Rel Howery, but it would’ve been hilarious to have those kids covering the game. Do keep in mind, though, that when it comes to Space Jam and A New Legacy, my interest isn’t in the ballers, but the Tunes. So to see Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner pop up in Fury Road is not only not a problem, but it caused an involuntary WITNESS HIM to erupt on my second and third viewing (much to the confusion of my 6yr-old who’d asked to watch it). I will also concede that Bugs does Lola dirty after she worked so hard to join the Amazons and it’s a little weird that she’s the first one Al transforms from 2D to 3D.
In short, the integration of the old with the new was very much my jam (no pun intended) and I will continue to have a rockling good time with it. Especially as long as my son does.
Regarding the special features, that’s a bit of a mixed bag whose appreciation will depend on personal preference. For instance, included in all formats of the home release are 5 deleted/alternate scenes totaling over seven minutes. These are a hybrid of completed scenes with animatics which either expand on what’s in the film or reframe it. The longest of them is “Next Level,” an expanded scene showing Dom at the All Star NBA Cares Shoot Around getting the body data from the players, but that also gives Khris Davis’s Malik more to do as we see a conversation between him and Sarah Silverman’s WB Executive discuss the potential WB meeting. This also gives us a different introduction to Al, highlighting just how influential he is behind the scenes at WB. The last of them, “No More Secrets,” does include a moment that might’ve been deemed “too scary” for young audiences, even if it does try to get played off as silly by the end of the scene. As for the other four featurettes, they are only included on the 4K Blu-ray Combo release, the Blu-ray, or the digital release (though not via Movies Anywhere’s website, for some reason). These four sequences are cleverly titled “First Quarter: Game On,” “Second Quarter: Teamwork,” “Third Quarter: Out of This World,” and “Fourth Quarter: The Looniest” with each averaging about seven minutes. When you consider the glimpses of behind the scenes footage, as well as the knowledge you pick up about the making of the film, the combined bonus features are fascinating and do expand on the experience. It’s obvious to anyone watching the film that it’s a mixed-media experience, but what isn’t clear for the average observer is the mix of live-action, mo-cap work, and animation that were overlayed to create as seamless an experience as possible. Their structure, however, is varied and frenetic, almost as though each featurette is made up of a series of smaller ones that they edited together to make seem cohesive. For example, they explain a bit about the amount of work (time & staffers) required to make the background characters come to life, but none of the selections are explained as to who or why they made the cut beyond “being familiar to audiences.” Considering the critical response, having some inside baseball on the thought process would’ve been appreciated. That said, it’s clear from watching these that the crew and cast not only appreciated the original film, but tried their best to make something that would carry that love forward.
Since Warner Bros. Home Entertainment was kind enough to send a 4K UHD copy for home review, it’s important to comment on how well the visuals translate from theatrical to physical home viewing. Do keep in mind that the HBO Max stream was available in 4K UHD, but any stream is handicapped by that fact that it is streaming, meaning it goes through decompression before arriving on your screen. The physical edition doesn’t have to go through that, so there’s no evidence of artifacting when blacks are used or any glitches (other than the kind which simulate computer issues). The clarity in images shines the most in the property-jumping LeBron and Bugs go on, as well as in the throw down on the court. Not to mention that the sound on my 5.1 system was clear, balancing the audio and dialogue, which matters considering the overlapping nature of the jokes. A highlight moment being when the countdown clock hits zero and the court forms: sounds like it’s coming from everywhere.
When I mentioned above that I watched the film twice release weekend, that wasn’t a joke or exaggeration. My eldest son had just completed a week-long virtual STEM camp and I thought it would be a fun way to celebrate the end of the camp. Watching it with him at home would make my second time that week watching it and it was fun enough to do again. That he would then ask to watch it (his second time) before the weekend was through delighted me because it gave me a chance to find even more easter eggs. He didn’t take to Space Jam at all, but there’s something about A New Legacy that resonated with him. As a critic, that communicates that director Malcolm D. Lee made the film he wanted to make as his target audience enjoyed it enough for a revisit. This is, of course, anecdotal as there are likely plenty of kids who may not have taken to it like my son, but it certainly feels that way. Even more so, it now gives me an entry point to introduce him to other Looney Tunes stories so that he can learn whether it’s rabbit season or duck season, what it means when we sing “Kill the Rabbit,” or even come to realize why one of his grandfathers is called George. Sounds like a win to me.
Space Jam: A New Legacy 4K UHD & Blu-ray Special Features:
- First Quarter: Game On (7:36)
- Second Quarter: Teamwork (7:50)
- Third Quarter: Out of This World (8:10)
- Fourth Quarter: The Looniest (7:08)
- Five (5) Deleted Scenes (7:35)
Space Jam: A New Legacy DVD Special Features:
- Five (5) Deleted Scenes (7:35)
Available on digital September 3rd, 2021.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD October 5th, 2021.
For more information, head to the official Space Jam: A New Legacy website.