Like its beloved predecessor, the new Space Jam, subtitled A New Legacy, features a host of familiar Looney Tunes characters. There’s Bugs Bunny, of course, and Daffy Duck and Yosemite Sam, all of whom starred alongside Michael Jordan in the original 1996 film. Back then, the commingling of two worlds—the NBA and kids’ cartoons—felt exciting and fresh. More than two decades later, however, commingling is far too quaint a word to describe the veritable orgy of Warner Bros. properties that are stuffed into the sequel, coming to theaters and HBO Max on July 16.
Enumerating the cameos in the just-released trailer is a Herculean task requiring a PhD in entertainment micro-mythology, or at least a savvy grounding in Easter Egg detection. In addition to Bugs and Daff, there’s King Kong, the Iron Giant, Yogi Bear, the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo, and even the dystopian blokes from the X-rated A Clockwork Orange, which, yes, was released by Warner Bros. The only character missing, it seems, is Harry Potter, most likely owing to franchise protection rights fiercely guarded by the J.K. Rowling team.
The IP mosh pit is no longer surprising. We’ve seen it before in the Lego Movie, Wreck-It Ralph (recall the hilarious Disney princess scene) and even Who Framed Roger Rabbit. But as Hollywood conglomerates compete ever more ferociously for subscribers to their streaming services—where lately all of their big movies are debuting thanks to COVID-19—the battle has turned more shameless. Other times the upfronts are downright awkward. Recall Viacom’s poorly received Super Bowl commercial for Paramount Plus, in which a motley crew of CBS, Nickelodeon, and Paramount faces—Dora the Explorer, Patrick Stewart from Star Trek, Tom Selleck from Blue Bloods, late-night host James Cordon—trudge up a snowy peak (Paramount Mountain). Even Snooki, of Jersey Shore fame, was there to deliver a tired joke: “This sucks.”
As for the Space Jam 2 spot, it feels less like a movie trailer than an ad for HBO Max, where dusty content representing each embedded cameo can be found. The actual movie may prove otherwise, but judging by the trailer, any sense of narrative appears secondary to the desire to cram in Warner Bros. intellectual property. So much so that the real draw of the film, LeBron James, barely gets a word in edgewise.
The strategy itself isn’t difficult to understand. While tech companies such as Netflix, Amazon, and Apple have seemingly endless money to plow into original shows, new IP, and nine-figure contracts for big-name showrunners, legacy entertainment conglomerates like WarnerMedia, Viacom, and Disney have one big advantage: their decades-old film vaults. Disney’s IP riches are so vast, and so familiar, that it’s hardly bothered with traditional commercials for Disney Plus. In one perfunctory spot, Samuel L. Jackson simply says, “Show ’em what we got,” followed by a blur of premium brands: Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic. The names speak for themselves. Behind the scenes, of course, the House of Mouse is busy milking each of its properties for every last dollar as it churns out new Marvel and Star Wars spin-offs for Disney Plus.
Not all intellectual property is created equal: Watching Viacom’s faded stars convene on Paramount Mountain felt more like an indictment than a celebration. But WarnerMedia, a subsidiary of telecom giant AT&T, has its fair share of splashy franchises: DC Comics, Harry Potter, Lego, Sherlock Holmes, and, yes, Looney Tunes. Here’s hoping that the company sticks to celebrating each of those in their own right instead of clashing them together for maximum revenue-generating effect. The result, as Snooki has noted, can suck.