There’s so much “Space Jam” hype this weekend because “Space Jam: A New Legacy” — which stars NBA legend LeBron James and the Looney Tunes — is available for everyone to watch in theaters and on HBO Max.
Naturally, the film will draw comparisons to the original “Space Jam,” which starred NBA legend Michael Jordan, who teamed up with the Looney Tunes to take on other NBA legends from the time of the film’s release.
So far, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” hasn’t done well in terms of critical reviews. The film has a 36% on Rotten Tomatoes right now based on 97 reviews, which is a solid sample size. Critics slammed the film for being too much of a commercial for Warner Bros. and its corporate advertisements. One review compared it to the bad sequels and reboots of the past, such as “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2” and “Little Fockers.”
There’s definitely some nostalgia for the original “Space Jam.” It came out at a time when Jordan was a mega-world star and the NBA was beginning to grow exponentially in the United States. Most ’90s kids were obsessed with the movie because it combined the love of Jordan and basketball with the cartoon heroes of the Saturday morning television-viewing ritual.
But all these years later, the question still remains: Was the original “Space Jam” good?
What the reviews said
Critics didn’t necessarily love the original “Space Jam.” The film has a 44% of Rotten Tomatoes based on 80 reviews, which is barely better than the new film’s score. Critics blasted the film for being too catered to NBA fans and Looney Tunes, calling the film a cash-in moment for Warner Bros. Sound familiar?
“Space Jam is so obviously a work of the marketing/demographic-hunting mentality that it’s rather surprising to find that the brazen creature gathers a certain charm as it rolls along,” wrote Kevin Jackson of Independent Sunday in October 2011, which was 16 years after the release.
Similarly, Ryan Gilbey, of The Independent, wrote in 2011 about the film’s connections to its marketing attempts, saying “Space Jam is nothing if not a product made by men who gauge a film’s success by how many soft toys it spawns.”
“Space Jam” hit a little better with audiences, though. The audience score on Rotten Tomatoes for the movie reached 63% based on more than 250,000 ratings. So clearly the film resonated with audiences rather than reviewers.
Still, it’s interesting the major criticisms of both films surround the same point — “Space Jam” and “Space Jam: A New Legacy” are films that are meant to market Warner Bros. and products, rather than tell an interesting story or be an inspiration to children. Both films were knocked for the same reason.
So what did the Deseret News think of ‘Space Jam’ originally?
I decided to dig up our old review of “Space Jam” from the original release. Chris Hicks, a longtime Deseret News columnist, entertainment editor and movie critic, wrote about the film.
Anyway, he said the film was “actually not a bad idea, and there are some funny bits of business along the way” and was “technically dazzling.”
However, he ultimately wrote that the film had a weak script.
There are far too many places where the film bogs down and becomes quite dull as sight gags fall flat, quips collapse and Jordan’s expressionless performance becomes a liability.
He also wrote that the film wasn’t exactly suitable for all children.
And why do we have to have jokes about spitting and flatulence and other vulgarisms in a movie aimed at children?
Still, there are some amusing bits of business, and it’s quite a sight to see Michael Jordan bounced around by the aliens as he is literally rolled up into a ball.
So is the original ‘Space Jam’ good?
For “Space Jam,” I definitely lean more toward the audience score when it comes to my review. It’s corny, a little weird and sort of dated if you’re watching it in 2021. Some of the references won’t make sense for the modern youngster (do kids even know who Bill Murray is anymore?). The storyline still checks out — though it’s a little more interesting if you know about Michael Jordan leaving the NBA for baseball — and the comedic timing on some of the jokes still work.
But I mean, “Space Jam” is not an Oscar-winning movie, and it was never meant to be. Neither is “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” Truth to be told, those aforementioned critical reviews are more on the nose than anything. The “Space Jam” franchise isn’t about making a stellar movie that’ll air at the Sundance Film Festival and win over critics far and wide. They could make that film, I’m sure. But that’s not the point of “Space Jam.”
The point of “Space Jam” is to grow basketball.
Yes, the franchise has often looked to market Warner Bros., the NBA and other products to the masses, specifically children. But there’s nothing wrong with children learning more about LeBron James, Klay Thompson and Damian Lillard, who all star in the new film. There’s nothing wrong with educating fans about the dominant Charles Barkley or the underrated Muggsy Bogues in the original film.
“Space Jam: A New Legacy” hits the point of “Space Jam” on the nose with its title. “Space Jam” furthers the legacy of basketball and its stars. It furthers the legacy of the Looney Tunes. It expands the way children can interact with basketball and its history.
Look, I get it. The film is a marketing plot in a lot of ways. But it’s a chance for basketball’s youth to learn more about the game and hook the next generation of stars. And that, surely, is worth your time.