Julien Neaves, Editor
This weekend we got our first trailer for upcoming Space Jam sequel Space Jam: The New Legacy. The new film sees basketball Star LeBron James teaming up with Looney Tunes characters for a basketball game to rescue his son from an evil overlord (Don Cheadle) in a cyberspace world.
The trailer looks interesting and James does seem to be bringing a lot of personality to the role. But the inclusion of non-Looney Tunes characters from other franchises did give me a Ready Player One vibe, and I’m not a fan of Ready Player One. I do love Looney Tunes though, so I will be checking it out when it’s released July 14. You can check the trailer out for yourself below:
The trailer inspired me to revisit the 1996 original with basketball’s GOAT Michael Jordan. And here we are. With a Monstar-sized SPOILER ALERT here’s my retro review in four shots:
Shot #1 MJ Gets Animated
Only in the 90s could someone come with up an idea to do (*deep breath*) a fictionalised account of Michael Jordan’s retirement from basketball in 1993 and 1995 comeback and mix it with him being kidnapped by the Looney Tunes to assist in a basketball match against aliens who want to enslave them in an intergalactic theme park called Moron Mountain (*whew!*). The concept sounds like a joke that just went too far.
But Jordan was (and arguably remains) the most popular basketball player in the world and the Looney Tunes characters have been cracking up audiences since 1930, so someone at Warner Bros. thought the combination would mean dollar signs. And they were right as the film grossed more than $250 million worldwide and is the highest-grossing basketball film of all time. Sorry Air Bud.
And more than 24 years later the plot remains a strange one. But as a viewer you have to throw logic, physics, and reality out of the window and just go with the off-the-wall set-up. Now Jordan may be a six-time NBA championship winner and accomplished businessman but acting does not appear to be one of his talents. You can see he is trying but his performance comes off stiff and unnatural. It works in one way as a straight man to the wackiness all around him but MJ sucks energy out of scenes instead of adding to them.
The film features five basketball players—Charles Barkley (Phoenix Suns power forward), Shawn Bradley (Philadelphia 76ers center), Patrick Ewing (New York Knicks center), Larry Johnson (Charlotte Hornets power forward), and Muggsy Bogues (Charlotte Hornets point guard)—whose abilities are stolen by the aliens. These players deliver much better performances than Jordan and are responsible for some of the funniest live action moments in the film. The psychiatric scenes with Bradley, Ewing, Johnson and Muggsy are a lot of fun, and Barkley especially is quite comical. The scene he plays a game with some teen girls and gets embarrassed is still hilarious to this day. “Begone!” The sad look on his face is priceless. Former basketball player Larry Bird is also here for a bit and displays some surprising comedic timing.
Outside of the NBA Bill Murray, aka one of the funniest actors ever, delivers as a fictionalised version of himself that dreams of being in the NBA. He lights up every scene that he is in. Wayne Knight plays bumbling publicist Stan Podolak and while his antics might entertain younger views his shtick gets old very quickly. Theresa Randle is also here as Jordan’s wife but she is barely in the film. The young cast playing Jordan’s children also do well with their small roles (no pun intended).
Shot #2 Those Looney Tunes
As mentioned above I am a big fan of Looney Tunes and their wild brand of comedy is on full display. Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck are the main players here and voice actors Billy West and Dee Bradley Baker bring them to life well. Bugs is his usual sardonic self but loveable loser Daffy has always been my favourite character, and he had me cracking up throughout, whether he was terrified by Jordan’s dog, being disgusted by Jordan using his shorts from college, or getting zero applause when he came on the court. The other Looney Tunes residents are here as well like Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Sylvester Cat and Tweety Bird and so forth, and each get their little moment to shine. One of my favourite visual gags is Elmer and Yosemite doing a take on Pulp Fiction. Classic!
The animation is one of the highlights of the film and the characters and the environments look vibrant and pop with colour. The Looney Tunes look modern and crisp but that classic style still comes through. I also enjoyed the look of the gruesome Monstars and the grotesque and greedy Moron Mountain owner Swackhammer, voiced delightfully by Danny De Vito. And having Marvin the Martian as the referee was an inspired choice, I must say.
Now would be a good time to talk about the bunny in the room. Recent images of Lola Bunny in the Space Jam sequel show a decidedly less sexualised version of the character, and a lot of people were not happy. And rewatching the film the super sexy Lola is a bit much. Now sexy characters Warner Bros. cartoons is nothing new (there’s an entire Looney Tunes sketch dedicated to just that and it is a running gag in Animaniacs) but here it feels like Lola’s whole raison d’etre other than being a love interest for Bugs. Even her whole “Don’t call me doll” thing falls flat. She gets angry and then plays basketball more aggressively? Okay then.
And to be fair to Warner Bros. Lola received both a physical and personality makeover since The Looney Tunes Show (2011-2014), so this is nothing new here. So yeah, I have no problem with a less sexy and better written Lola Bunny.
Shot #3 Monstar Soundtrack
It would be remiss of me not to talk about Space Jam‘s rocking and six-time platinum soundtrack. Hearing Hit ‘Em High (The Monstars’ Anthem) by B-Real, Busta Rhymes, Coolio, LL Cool J and Method Man, when the Monstars took the court had me pumping my fist and bumping my head. That one still hits very hard. I also enjoyed classic hits like Pump up the Jam by Technotronic and Seal’s pore-raising cover of Steve Miller Band’s Fly Like an Eagle.
As Senior Writer Sommer put it the film features a beautiful song by a disgusting human being, namely R. Kelly and his Grammy Award-winning I Believe I Can Fly. And the song works well in the early scene of young Jordan shooting hoops with his father, and remains lovely and inspirational. Just try not to think about the man who sang it and you should be fine. But yeah, as your eyes enjoy the sweet Looney Tunes animation your ears will be entertained by one slamming soundtrack.
Shot #4 Intergalactic Game
As I said the animation is well done here and the integration between the live action and animated characters is relatively seamless. But when they attempt to animate the live action folks things go very awry. When the Monstars turn MJ into a basketball it looks very odd and off. And when Wayne Knight gets blown up like a giant balloon float it looks kind of ugly. Thankfully there is very little of this so it is not too distracting.
While I am not the biggest sports fan generally nor basketball fan specifically, I can still tell the basketball here is not exactly that great. The film spends most of the time on Looney Tunes lunacy and when Jordan does get to show off his skills it is some pretty basic stuff. Even the final shot of him stretching his arm to score while being held down by the Monstars is more silly than spectacular. So I will warn b-ball fans looking to see some great moves here you should keep your expectations low.
That said Space Jam remains a fun, funny and whimsical family adventure that mashed two disparate worlds and came out with pretty decent results. Only time will tell if Space Jam: The New Legacy will replicate that formula.
Editor Jules’s Score: 6.5 out of 10
Julien “Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. I can also be found posting about TV and movie memes, news and trailers on Facebook at Movieville. And to stay on top of all Redmangoreviews articles you can like and follow us on Facebook here.