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Why did Space Jam 2 make us feel space sad?

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We got a real jam going down with guest Adam Pally on this week’s Galaxy Brains.

Graphic featuring a photo of Adam Pally and Bugs Bunny Graphic: James Bareham/Polygon

Whether you like it or not, it’s time to slam, now. Welcome to the Space Jam. Again.

In a boon to Elmer Fudd fans everywhere, NBA superstar LeBron James resurrected the classic Warner Bros. animation/live-action hybrid franchise. The key difference between the original and the sequel is that instead of actually, you know, going to space, our Looney Tunes heroes are trapped inside a graphical representation of the Warner content server buried deep under beautiful downtown Burbank.

This is where it gets confusing. Essentially, the new Space Jam movie exists in a world where the old Space Jam movie also exists. You can see it as one of the movies the Warner executives pitch adding LeBron to in the first part of the film. So, if the first Space Jam is a movie inside the Space Jam 2 universe, then why doesn’t LeBron James acknowledge that he’s seen the movie? Why doesn’t he get excited about putting the Looney Tunes together to play a high-stakes basketball game when he knows they have already done this before and won?

Maybe I’m trying too hard to understand a kids’ film, but most movies aimed at children (think Pixar) make a ton of sense and are intricately plotted, well-written screenplays. What went wrong here? Why did the latest Space Jam make me feel Space Sad?

In a new episode of Galaxy Brains, Jonah Ray and I are joined by actor, comedian, basketball fan, and host of the Ball Sometimes Lie podcast, Adam Pally. Adam brings his first-hand experience acting with animated characters, his keen sense of storytelling, and his wit to our ham-fisted attempt at understanding Space Jam: A New Legacy.

Adam: If this movie takes place in pop culture, then they would know what’s going on. The logic was a little off for me. It was like halfway meta. If we’re supposed to believe that LeBron and his family have every social reference that we know today in the real world, then they would know that there’s a movie that came out where this has happened before. So I feel like they missed a real moment to acknowledge that. And then I felt that they missed a real moment in the fact that if the old Space Jam exists, how come we couldn’t watch Michael Jordan play LeBron? That was the time to do it.

Dave: Michael Jordan should be inside the server.

Adam: Yes, of course. That’s the debate we all want to see in the sequel.

Dave: Hear me out, Adam: You were in Sonic the Hedgehog. Are you going to put Tails and Knuckles in the sequel that you’re also in? Yes. You’re not putting in the first one. You save them for the sequel. So maybe Jordan versus LeBron is going to be Space Jam 3.

Adam: They’re not going to do a sequel like this — you do one and then you wait 20 years.

Jonah: The sequel wouldn’t even really be a Space Jam. It could be more of a Looney Tunes: Back in Action, like Looney Tunes in the real world.

Dave: Because Bugs now lives in the real world after dying.

Adam: I actually really hated that part, honestly. This movie falls directly on the executives, the blame. I know they fired the director midway through. It feels like no one knew how to pull this one out? So they just threw everything at the wall. And in doing so, it became unnecessarily cluttered.

Dave: The basketball doesn’t make any sense to me because it is a video game. Ultimately, this is not real basketball rules. This is sort of like an NBA Jam kind of situation. And I get why they do that. I get that it’s kind of like a cartoon world. But I’m also sort of trying to understand what the stakes of the movie are the whole time.

Adam: I liked that. I liked The Lego Movie vibe of everybody’s their own individual and doing things differently. And so LeBron has to learn how to play basketball in a different way. Right. By thinking of the most fun thing to do will win him the game. And I think they got there eventually. But I feel like it was like really cluttered. We didn’t need all these weird, like, villains.

Dave: And I really fucking hate these monsters.

Adam: The Goon Squad screwed me up.