“Never reference a good movie in the middle of your crappy movie.” – Tom Servo, Experiment 822: Overdrawn at the Memory Bank
Space Jam: A New Legacy was released this month. It’s by far the worst movie I’ve seen in 2021 and may be one of the worst ever.
I, like many people, saw the original when I was a child. It’s not a masterpiece but it was at least charming and had emotional stakes for its characters. Additionally, there was no padding. It was a tight 90 minutes and made actual jokes.
But A New Legacy is nothing but a commercial for WarnerMedia and its intellectual properties, including properties that no child would be familiar with. Now, it’s possible for a family friendly property to effectively spoof adult media. But Space Jam doesn’t even make jokes about these franchises. The filmmakers take footage from the original (like the “Play it Sam” scene from Casablanca) and awkwardly rotoscope a toon into the scene. Is watching Granny do the exact same thing Trinity did in the first Matrix movie funny? By itself, the idea could be made funny, but simply copy/pasting over a character is lazy.
Why take this approach? As far as I can tell, this movie only exists to promote what WarnerMedia owns and to promote its streaming service that hosts these properties. But, as I watched the movie and saw the Droogs from A Clockwork Orange (as in, characters who thought raping, stealing, and murdering people was a fun night on the town – the perfect characters to reference in a family film) and one of the nuns from Ken Russel’s The Devils (I seriously have no words for this one), I realized WarnerMedia really could have gone much further.
And I say, why not? Let’s put Looney Tunes in even more WarnerMedia properties. We have a lot of classic franchises and intellectual property in the Warner vaults. Let’s look at some of the properties Space Jam excluded and how they could have been incorporated into the final film.
Dirty Harry – This extraordinarily successful franchise has been dormant since the last entry was released in 1988 (a planned 2007 video game was cancelled) yet remains one of the most influential action series of all time. It’s influenced everyone from director John Woo to famed comic book writer Frank Miller. Even Jackie Chan played a version of the titular Harry Callahan in The Protector. And yet, in this massive WarnerMedia IP dump, Dirty Harry is nowhere to be seen.
I don’t know why. The first film’s rather cartoonish examination of good versus evil would fit right into the Looney Tunes canon. I would have redone the bank robbery and the ”Do you feel lucky” speech with Yosemite Sam replacing the injured robber. “Well, consarn it varmint, now I gots to know!” Sure, it’s not exactly a joke, but that’s par for course with A New Legacy.
Eyes Wide Shut – Certain people made a big stink (pun intended) when Pepe Lepew was cut from the movie. I wasn’t one of them. He’d always been a one joke character who, even as a kid, seemed utterly clueless about how people perceived him. Besides, it was weird to me that, when the shoe was on the other foot, Lepew was as desperate as his victims to remove himself from the situation. Shouldn’t he be glad that half-drowned cat he’d been chasing for six minutes finally wanted him?
So the filmmakers had a point in excluding the character. Lepew’s schtick, these days, is a misogynistic farce and his inability to take “no” for an answer isn’t funny. But there are ways to get around that with WarnerMedia property, and I believe I’ve found it – make him Red Cloak from Eyes Wide Shut.
Have Lepew confront Tom Cruise in that horrible French accent and demand the password to the house. Maybe he wouldn’t have joined in the final game, but the pairing still makes sense to me. Eyes Wide Shut is about a man shocked and frustrated to find out his wife has her own sexual desires beyond him. He thus tries to live out his own fantasies and is scared of what he finds.
In other words, it’s the perfect place to insert the infamously horny Pepe Lepew.
The Wire – One thing that surprised me about A New Legacy was its underutilization of WarnerMedia’s television properties. There’s a scene from Game of Thrones, sure, but nothing from any of the other HBO properties or even the Turner cable stations.
This is an odd decision because the film was released on their HBO branded platform and those series are some of the most critically acclaimed of all time. Look at The Sopranos or Chernobyl or even Deadwood, Veep, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. The latter is a particularly weird omission because, in that show, Larry David portrays himself as a toon going through a massive midlife crisis.
But that’s not even the biggest missed opportunity in the movie. The Wire has become one of the most revered television shows in history since its debut. Even President Obama named it as one of his favorites.
It’s the perfect IP for WarnerMedia to promote, but they didn’t even bother referencing it here. One of the most iconic characters in television history was ignored. I am, of course, referring to the legendary Omar Little.
Replace Omar with Elmer Fudd. Both whistle “A-Hunting We Will Go” to themselves and are barely seen without a firearm. Both are seeking something to kill, no matter the moral questions it raises. The more I think about it, the more I think the latter would work comedically even if they don’t rewrite the scripts. Can you imagine characters from The Wire yelling, “Elmer comin!” It’s frankly better than what we got in the final movie.
Six Feet Under – I’m not as familiar with Six Feet Under except for its classic finale, but if your goal is to advertise classic WarnerMedia properties, it’s something that you should mention.
That finale has been spoofed many times and is an obvious candidate for parody in Space Jam. Is it too grim? Perhaps. The pondering of one’s mortality is an abstract concept the average six-year-old wouldn’t get, anyway. But Pennywise is terrifying to children but he’s watching the climatic basketball game at the end.
I’m thinking, instead of another Matrix spoof, stick Granny in that finale. We see a young version of her driving a car, flashes of the other characters, and it ends with her on her death bed – cataracts included.
It would have struck the same note as spoofing Casablanca’s most famous scene to me – taking a legendary scene and unnecessarily polluting it. Now, Six Feet Under isn’t as good as Casablanca – few things are – but Space Jam doesn’t care about quality. Every single IP is treated equally in this movie. Austin Powers exists on the same level as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? It’s all about reminding people this thing you remember still exists.
A Nightmare on Elm Street/Friday the 13th
There are zero references to Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger in this movie. Considering the fame of these characters – not to mention the fact that equivalent shows like Tiny Toons and Animaniacs both spoofed these characters back in the day – I’m shocked.
Even New Nightmare compares Freddy to Santa Claus. They’re just characters that are absorbed into people’s minds, whether they’ve seen the movies or not. Plus, for now, most of the Nightmare movies are on HBO Max. (The rights to the Friday the 13th franchise are infamously convoluted, as of this writing, only three of those films are on the service.)
However, this is one example where I don’t believe a separate sketch would be appropriate. But the fact they weren’t even watching the final basketball game surprises me. That would have been the perfect background cameo. I would have loved to hear Freddy mock the Looney Tunes during the game and even joining in to make a joke against the Toon Squad.
Perhaps Voorhees could have been the one to remove Freddie from the court? Why not? Freddy vs Jason is a popular entry into both franchises and seeing them together again would certainly get a certain segment of their audience excited.
Besides, compared to some of the characters they did include, Freddy and Jason are far more recognizable to kids and Daenerys Targaryen. This whole thing is a Warner’s commercial, so why not?
Magic Mike – Yes, WarnerMedia owns Magic Mike. And, considering how rife for satire that franchise is, I’m legitimately surprised they didn’t reference this one in Space Jam.
For people who’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, Magic Mike is about male exotic dancers. There is nothing inherently wrong with that plot – and I’ve personally never watched the movie – but the concept is seemingly funny to a lot of people. Especially after the release of the first film, bad comedians used its existence as a punchline to…prove they liked women, and thus didn’t want to see a shirtless Channing Tatum?
That’s beside the point. The point is inserting a Looney Toon into the proceedings would at least be visually funny. The more the character leans into the setting, the funnier it gets.
What if Foghorn Leghorn was one of the dancers? What about Porky Pig? What about Beaky Buzzard, who’s too shy to go out and perform?
That last idea would have some comedic value. He’s forced to go out and can barely move due to his anxiety, but the crowd still loves it. At least it would be an amusing reference no matter what the creators did. Again, it’s not for kids but when characters from The Godfather show up, no one should expect family friendly material throughout.