How LeBron James' 'A New Legacy' pays homage to (and departs from) Michael Jordan's 'Space Jam'
Welcome to the Space Jam, LeBron James style.
Twenty-five years after Michael Jordan commanded a slam dunk at the box office taking the court with Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes gang in 1996's "Space Jam," James enters the beloved film arena with his own take, "Space Jam: A New Legacy" (in theaters and HBO Max Friday).
A new generation's basketball GOAT once again battles for his very existence against impossibly formidable Goon Squad opponents. The hybrid animated "New Legacy" follows many of the original's major beats, from childhood openings – boyish Jordan dreaming of stardom on a North Carolina basketball court, young James learning early lessons in Columbus, Ohio – to the epic games.
"We made our own movie, paying homage to the past. We did copy that structure," says director Malcolm D. Lee. "But we didn't want to call it 'Space Jam 2' because it's not truly a sequel. It's a new version, a new legacy,"
How does James carve his own path? We asked the filmmakers.
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Does 'A New Legacy' jam in space?
One clear difference between films is the battle realm. Jordan was originally kidnapped by Bugs and the Tune Squad to win a high-stakes basketball game against malevolent space aliens, the Monstars. "New Legacy" features James and his fictional youngest son Dom (Cedric Joe) pulled into the "server-verse" of Warner Bros. Studio's computer system by egomaniacal digital villain AI-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle). Digitized LeBron transforms to various WB properties, riding a "Harry Potter" Quidditch broom and a "Game of Thrones" dragon.
"Computer Jam" doesn't have that same ring.
"It's inner space, cyberspace. We're in some space. It's still gonna be 'Space Jam,' " says Lee.
The computer kidnapping and eventual game highlight the enhanced father-son story in "Legacy." "LeBron ultimately says, 'I see you, you should be yourself,' that's the overall message of the movie," says Lee.
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How has the basketball game changed?
LeBron and the Tune Squad play against a revamped, updated Goon Squad, which includes motion capture digitally amped versions of Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson along WNBA stars Diana Taurasi and Nneka Ogwumike. Even the game is digitally juiced, with a scoring system that awards insane video game bonuses for court-style points, dunks and rejections.
The score jumps to 752- 37 and only gets worse. James displays his real crunch-time focus, as Cheadle saw up close during filming. "It was great to see his game face that I've seen from watching him play for so long, but like an inch away from my face," Cheadle says.
LeBron saved his court theatrics forthe cameras. While Jordan famously trained for his return to basketball playing pick-up games against NBA stars on a specially built "Jordan Dome" while filming "Space Jam," James instead focused on his personal training for his eventual MVP-earning NBA championship run in the 2020 bubble season. "LeBron was never playing pick-ups, he was wisely saving it for the movie," says Cheadle. "The last thing anyone wanted to do in a pick-up game was like, 'Oops, I low bridged LeBron. Sorry guys!' "
Why was Lola Bunny changed in 'Space Jam'?
Original "Space Jam" character Lola Bunny signifies societal changes undergone in a quarter-century. The "heartthrob of the hoops" revealed skills and her midriff (sultry-voiced by Kath Soucie) in the original. Lola Bunny returns in "a standard Tunes uniform, voiced without affectation by Zendaya, and literally trains to be a Wonder Woman Amazon warrior before hitting the court.
"The original Lola bunny was a great character. But she had very human characteristics that I felt objectified her. We wanted to go a different direction, particularly thinking about the rise of female basketball players and how little girls look up to them," says Lee. "I wanted her depiction to be a leader, feminine and strong. But less objectified, less sexualized. It was the right call. Even if a lot of people aren't going to like it. For a family film, this was a good revision for Lola Bunny."
Skunk Pepe Le Pew, whose cartoon unwanted amorous advances have come under criticism, had his "Space Jam" return cut. Lee chalks that up to the scene not "really working."
"You can't include everybody. You had to make room for what was working best," says Lee. "He just happened to be a casualty. There are other characters that didn't make it too."
Does the film settle who is the true GOAT?
"New Legacy" does not dwell on the inevitable debate of which basketball titan – Jordan or James – is truly the greatest. Though it does feature a verbal diss from Cheadle's Al-G Rhythm questioning James' seat in the pantheon. "I improvised that. Just to needle LeBron," says Cheadle.
In real life, Cheadle rejects the debate. "Those questions, so is he better than Jordan? Where does he sit on the pantheon? What metrics do you want to use to say "greatest" or "best"? Neither. They're both one of one."