It’s such an oddity that animation has become a breeding ground for controversy over the past decades. Projects from long ago to the present have been seen in a new, damaging light, showing more in interpretation or simply highlighting the blatant.
As the world changed, the populace held onto these stories, but discussed, analyzed, and at the very least acknowledged that plenty of them did not age well in this new societal climate. Every company has experienced this. Even Disney has had a ton of notably controversial animated films. Song of the South (1946) and Dumbo (1941) anyone? As Peter Griffin once said, “That’s good old fashioned family racism.”
But I digress.
Warner Brothers has definitely seen a considerable amount of controversies. Recently the company has come under severe fire because of the Justice League (2017) fiasco, but their animation department hasn’t missed a beat either. Namely because of The Looney Tunes. Since their conception the tunes have become a worldwide franchise, spawning over a thousand shorts, television shows, films, comics, games, and more. In fact I wouldn’t even call them a franchise or institution, but an essential way of life since their creation in the early 30s. There’s an extensive history involving these characters and the people who’ve animated, created, and owned them.
However throughout the decades they’ve always been present in some manner. Even playing sports. Hence their appearance in the classic Space Jam (1996) alongside one of the greatest athletes of all time; Michael Jordan, with also one of the greatest actors of all-time, Bill Murray, the tune squad played a kooky game of basketball against the towering Monstars, beating them and saving themselves from enslavement. Looking back on that time, we as an audience got a kick out of the story. The hand-drawn animation mixed with live action was impressive to witness. Plus the soundtrack was a palpable blend of hype, dance, and energy that not only matched the film perfectly, but remained that special soundtrack to enjoy years later. Hell I’m thinking about COME ON AND SLAM, AND WELCOME TO THE JAM as I type this. Always infectious and jammy!
Now, 25 years later, another game is upon us with Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021); the bigger and bolder sequel cranked up to maximum on the looney scale. Even with the nostalgia goggles on, I honestly wasn’t going to go into this as open-minded as I normally do with films because of the obscene amount of hatred and controversy this project received before it was even released. Rather insipid too. From the animators “changing” Lola Bunny’s design pissing off horny cretins because she wasn’t “sexy” anymore, to Speedy Gonzales being voiced by Gabriel Iglesias pissing people off, to Pepe Le Pew being cut from the film ENRAGING people, to LeBron James being involved angering sports fans because he left the Cleveland Cavaliers (And because he wasn’t Jordan, who declined being apart of this sequel since the beginning), it felt like every single move made with this project sparked outrage. And as mentioned before, it’s rather ridiculous. Not saying Pepe didn’t deserve better, mostly because this could’ve been an opportunity for the writers to break his sexual harassment ways and evolve the character, BUT let’s not sit here and act like he was anyone’s favorite. And if you want Lola to have voluptuous breasts, which she NEVER had to begin with, then just watch some animated furry porn. But again, I digress.
Anyway, what stopped this humble schmoe from viewing the sequel with cynical eyes was my little cousin, Marley, who was excited to dive into this. It dawned on me that despite the outrage, and other cynical, sanctimonious perspectives trying to bog this film down, it didn’t matter that much. At its helm, this is about cartoon characters playing basketball with a NBA legend. That’s it. So, I changed my stance and just viewed it exactly as it was meant to be. And the verdict? Fairly decent if I do say so myself. Despite some of the humor and performances being hit and miss, overall it’s a fun, hugely vibrant, endlessly colorful, and meticulously referential extravaganza that has something to offer for kiddies and adults who grew up watching these characters.
As the story goes, Lebron James’ son, Dom, is kidnapped by an ambitious A.I. named Al-G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle) who plans on using the legend to launch his software to billions around the world and gain the recognition he deserves. To do this, Al challenges LeBron to a basketball game against his powerful Goon Squad. James, with the help of Bugs Bunny, recruits the other looney tunes and reforms the Tune Squad to take on the Goons, get Dom back, and stop Al from launching his software and trapping everyone in his world forever.
While the beginning of the film plays like a highlight reel of LeBron’s most famous moments, once he’s transported to the “server-verse,” the story kicks up a notch and we get tons of uber-creative sequences that are bursting with enthusiasm. One of my particular favorites was Bugs/LeBron finding the now separated looney toons in different worlds to recruit them for the team. (Wile. E. Coyote and Road Runner in Mad Max Fury Road (2016) world and Daffy Duck & Porky Pig in Bruce Timm animated style Metropolis were especially fantastic) Despite these lively scenes, once we get to the actual basketball game, that’s when the pace and effects soar into overdrive, and doesn’t let up until the end, where there’s a simple yet authentic lesson learned. Because might as well, right?
The animation is majorly multi-layered. Traditional hand-drawn animation, 3D CGI animation, and live-action are near seamless together. Industrial Light and Magic even did the lighting effects for the characters. First time they’ve done that since Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) Foreground, background, whatever you want, there’s literally zero shortages of stuff to look at throughout this film’s runtime. Which of course brings me to the cameos and HOLY SHIT this is overflowing with them. There hasn’t been this many cameos and references in an animated film since The Lego Batman Movie. (2017) Best way to summarize it – if the character is owned or associated with Warner Brothers in any way past or present, you’ll see them in some capacity here. (Which was a messed up ordeal thanks to execs and creatives clashing over the entire process, but that’s a whole other conversation) And that goes for animated AND live-action characters. Have fun finding as many as humanly possible because there’s oodles there. I know we did.
Performance wise it was stellar hearing the Tunes’ distinct voices again, even if they were done by different people. Jeff Bergman and Eric Bauza provided a majority of the voices for the tunes (Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Sylvester the Cat, etc.) with Candi Milo as Granny, Fred Tatasciore/Jim Cummings as the Tasmanian Devil, and Zendaya as Lola Bunny. Bob Bergan, who voiced Tweety Bird in the last film, was the only original voice actor to return. They did a great job embodying these characters and definitely upped the nostalgia in my heart. Definitely brought me back to the 90s and even before that. Meanwhile, LeBron was…ugh. Since he’s essentially playing a stiffer version of himself, that’s exactly how he comes off. Which is a shame because if we got the playful, humorous, self-referential LeBron from Trainwreck (2015), it would’ve been amazing. However, unsurprisingly enough, this showcases the talents of Don Cheadle swimmingly, as he was able to match the film’s zaniness and vivacity with his portrayal as Al-G. Pretty much carries the film and is the best out of the live-action bunch. Easily. But then again he’s always good. Whether he’s wearing that Marvel armor or not.
Bottom line, when it’s all said and done, this is a goofy, corny, silly, and harmless sequel for the entire family to enjoy. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it’s not supposed to. It’s exactly what it is and does that extremely well with craziness, colors, and cameos galore. Sure it could’ve been better but it’s far from the worst ever either. Just get into the jam. I know I did, thanks to my little cousin, who couldn’t get enough of this and had a blast, creating another memory between us that’ll last a lifetime. And honestly, how could that be bad? Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put on some Quad City DJs…
“Everybody get up it’s time to slam now! We got a real jam goin’ down! Welcome to the Space Jam! Here’s your chance, do your dance! At the Space Jam…..Alright!“
Review written by Marcus Wilturner