Nostalgia and outdated pop culture are a heck of a combination, and usually, one that doesn’t end too well. Warner Bros’ reboot of Joe Pytka’s cult comedy Space Jam (1996) looks to be testing this formula as far as it can go based on the new trailer for Malcolm D. Lee’s Space Jam: A New Legacy. Revisiting the original as an adult, I came to three conclusions: 1) nearly all of the ‘90s pop culture references are obsolete now, 2) professional athletes should probably stick to the court rather than experiment with acting, 3) the soundtrack is still the best part of the movie.
But before we could joke about the sequel being an obvious, easy cash grab; some highly distracting and possibly obtuse hypocrisy in the trailer was quickly acknowledged on social media platforms like Twitter, Tumblr and Reddit. Unlike the first film, which just featured all the classic Looney Tunes characters, plus some new cartoon faces alongside basketball superstar Michael Jordan; this new flick is tossing everything at the wall and including nearly all of the properties the studio currently owns next to LeBron James.
This includes the Scooby-Doo gang, the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz (1939), Jim Carrey’s alter-ego in The Mask (1994), Pennywise from It (2017), Batman, Superman and Matrix villains, Mama Fratelli from The Goonies (1985) and even the title character of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). Someone at Warner Bros clearly saw Phil Johnston & Rich Moore’s Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018) and Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One (2018), and thought, “Yes, let’s make a Space Jam sequel as an excuse to do our own version of this.”
Why is the gang from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE in SPACE JAM 2?! What is this movie? pic.twitter.com/Ez0eDyBBPG
— Jamie Lovett (@JamieLovett) April 3, 2021
This would be only amusingly obvious if it weren’t for some more controversial character cameos also spotted in the new trailer: the Droogs from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), the War Boys of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and the White Walkers of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” (2011-19). The first two are from R-rated movies and the third a TV-MA cable series, and all feature graphic violent content. Why are these characters making appearances in a family-friendly fantasy-comedy? It would be one thing to have them as blink-and-you’ll-miss-it background Easter eggs for the parents watching the movie, but the Droogs are front and center of a whole shot. These additions are not only peculiar, but almost hilariously bewildering after Warner and Lee went out of their way to claim the new movie would be more progressive by having Lola Bunny less sexy and more girl power heavy, plus snubbing Pepe Le Pew’s presence.
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Lola’s altering is whatever to me. Looking back on the first Space Jam, she was a bit alluring, but also portrayed as a good basketball player, so the sex appeal didn’t make much of a difference for me as a kid. Pepe’s absence is not surprising, since the character’s schtick is very dated. For those who don’t remember or are unaware, Pepe is a skunk with a French accent who is constantly trying to woo a female cat, Penelope, with whom he is smitten. The only issue is she’s disgusted by his stench and constantly trying to rush away, while Pepe is oblivious to both his odor and her repulsion. Watching some of the old Pepe cartoon shorts contemporarily on YouTube, it is a little awkward to see the skunk so physically up in the cat’s personal space while she’s not interested in him at all, even if the gag is toward his delusion.
What’s funny is Pepe originally was featured in Space Jam 25 years ago, but with all his flirtations and advancements missing. For generally politically incorrect content in their classic cartoons, Warner usually begins the shorts with a special disclaimer as a warning and reminder that the studio’s current views aren’t relevant to half a century ago. This is generally a tactic I prefer over a studio like Disney that has a habit of hiding their controversial material like it doesn’t exist. But if that’s the route Warner Bros is choosing to go with Pepe Le Pew this time around, at least be genuine with it and don’t make it completely obvious it’s only performative when you feature R-rated famous movie/TV characters inappropriately in a PG-rated comedy.
Have you seen the new Space Jam trailer? Has pop culture finally put too much emphasis on nostalgia? Let us know in the comments!
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