‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ Is Mostly Harmless Fun For Kids (Movie Review)

25 years after NBA great Michael Jordan assembled an All-Star team that included Bugs Bunny and Bill Murray, the Tune Squad is back in Space Jam: A New Legacy. A bigger budget, much better animation, and more characters from the Warner Bros. universe will be in theaters this weekend and on HBO Max (for 30 days). Does current basketball star LeBron James have the right stuff for big-screen antics? Will Harry Potter show up for a game of horse? Is this tale of father and son actually emotionally affecting? There are only seconds left on the clock, so time for a three-pointer!


It’s apparently time for the Space Jam yet again (c’mon and slam!). As a non-sports guy who grew up in Chicago, 1996’s Space Jam was nevertheless required viewing. Film Nerd Pete wasn’t impressed. To be fair, I was probably too old to spend 100 minutes with Jordan and other live-action actors (like Wayne Knight) who shared the silver screen with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and the rest of the Looney Tunes gang. As a huge fan of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? this was just kid’s stuff. I just couldn’t get into it. To my hometown’s credit, they did not kick me out of the Windy City.

Fast forward to 2021, and I was surprised to find the original was better upon re-watch than I remembered. The new 4K release certainly boasted better clarity than whatever analog theater I was in back in the 90s. One thing I appreciate now is that the story sees Jordan more than willing to poke fun at himself as an NBA player who controversially tried his hand at America’s national pastime, baseball. It’s even woven into the plot. That’s why the Goon Squad doesn’t zap his powers. They were only looking at current players of the NBA. Thank goodness Jordan comes out of retirement to save Bugs. I still think it’s like a “C” for me, but I can see why anyone who was around 10-years old at the time has fond memories. Jordan is likable, the jokes are broad but work, and the runtime flies by.

I wasn’t quite sure what I would think of this New Legacy. On the positive side, LeBron James was fantastic in Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck from 2015. The superstar seemed even more comfortable on camera than MJ. Another perk of our current era, the CGI would be smooth and colorful (that’s no knock on Roger Rabbit, which relied on hand-drawn animation in the 80s and still rocks). I also liked how, in the trailer, instead of adding celebrity cameos by real-life actors of today, King James is hanging out with DC’s animated line-up, visiting The Matrix, and taking a trip to Hogwarts. This is sort of like what The Legos Movie did a few years back.

The result is a film still made for kids but features solid production design and just enough ‘new’ to justify using that word in the title. Seeing fully CG-rendered versions of Bugs and friends was a highlight. They’re more Pikachu cute than Sonic weird, which is a big plus. However, does all this new technology lend itself to a better script than the 90s version? Yes and no.

LeBron’s son Dom (Cedric Joe) is more interested in designing a basketball video game than playing with his pop in real life. Still, LeBron is out to teach both of his sons the fundamentals of the game. This is in keeping with the real-life star who believes routine and repetition are key to his success as a player. While his son never says it, the game he makes is basically Mario Kart or Rocket League with basketball, so it’s more an issue with interacting with real people that affects Dom. Conveniently, an ambitious A.I. on the Warner Bros. lot named “Al-G Rhythm” played by a hammy Don Cheadle lures Dom in to capture all the skill stats and likeness of LeBron and anyone else Al G desires. And so, the adventure begins.

Like how the 96′ OG suffered by comparison to Roger Rabbit, so does this 21st-century version when looking at the Legos series. Sure, Granny in The Matrix is fun enough, as is LeBron’s odd love for Hogwarts. But these are pretty much easy softball lobs. Despite a cast that seems up for a good game, there are no real stakes beyond “LeBron must save his kid,” which is merely serviceable. A big portion of the run time is LeBron helping Bugs collect the other looney from the many places in the WB universe. Is this crass branding on the studios’ part? Sure, but honestly, it didn’t really occur to me until the next day, thus proving the distraction of seeing Daffy Duck with Superman worked.

At least on a personal level, the pluses are just enough to make this a more enjoyable feature than the original Space Jam. I like how Dom’s videogame version of basketball adds in cheat codes, bonuses, and style points. A big robot player talks smack about King Kong, and while it’s not as clever as the big ape showing up in WB’s own Ready Player One, I chuckled despite my better judgment. Another level up for this sequel, Lola Bunny, now voiced by Zendaya, gets a little more to do and has of the best one-liners in the film.

I can’t imagine little kids of today won’t be engaged like the tykes in the 90s were. The rest of us can maybe spend our time trying to spot all the WB characters in the background. My fav was Pennywise. Not a slam dunk, and barely an easy layup, but Space Jam: A New Legacy was at least somewhat enjoyable.



1 Response to “‘Space Jam: A New Legacy’ Is Mostly Harmless Fun For Kids (Movie Review)”

  1. Malcolm Taylor

    Great review! Sums up my own feelings about the film. Took my 13 yo son to see it. We both enjoyed it. I actually enjoyed it more than the original, if only for all the updated animation, CGI and spotting WB characters in the BG! Unlike like you though, I enjoyed Cheadle’s baddie. But then, I’m a bit of a theatre ham myself, lol. I thought his performance translated well and transitioned into the super-jacked cgi version really well, presenting a formidable foe more believable than the original. I actually was more engaged and invested in the stakes of the basketball game in this one. As you point out, the cheat codes and style points were a really cool addition. Love your insights on Dom’s gaming. Definitely agree, good family fun!