Very early on in the events of Space Jam: A New Legacy, a young LeBron James finds himself at a low point in his nascent basketball career: playing The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle on an original Game Boy in the year 1998. Young LeBron, distracted by the so-so platforming of a Bugs Bunny game, bricks a game-winning shot and learns a hard life lesson.
It’s a fine cameo for the Game Boy, one that seems to have had its retro-gaming authenticity misinterpreted by more than a few people. Viewers are crying foul that the Game Boy played here isn’t capable of full-color graphics, even though that’s not what the movie actually purports to happen. (The Game Boy also appears to not be switched on in some shots, which is definitely a flub.)
Nitpicking aside, this is a great opportunity to learn about the wild history of the Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle series of video games, which if you aren’t aware, involves a twisted knot of animated IP that rivals the second Space Jam in terms of crossover complexity.
But let’s dive into the scene and why some people appear to be confused.
Young LeBron’s teammate and friend, Malik, gives him an original Game Boy as a hand-me-down gift. Malik got an upgrade — “the new color one,” which could mean a then-new Game Boy Color — so LeBron gets his deprecated tech. Despite the monochrome black and green screen, however, lil’ LeBron is captivated, so much so that the ancient graphics of The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle become more colorful, more detailed, and accurately voiced in his mind.
Bugs Bunny gets into LeBron’s head in a way that wrecks the kid’s concentration, so much so that Coach C (The Wire’s Wood Harris), basically tells Young LeBron that he needs to drop the video games if he wants to excel at basketball. The Game Boy winds up in the trash, which seems like an extreme measure. Whatever happened to paying it forward, LeBron?
Concerns about accuracy aside — yes, the movie does show full-color graphics happening in LeBron’s mind, and no, that doesn’t appear to be an actual The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle cartridge in the slot — Space Jam: A New Legacy’s Nintendo cameo is a jumping off point to learn more about the Crazy Castle series. So that’s what the rest of this story is about.
The game featured in the movie is the Game Boy version of an NES/Famicom title with an identical name: The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle. Yes, the game’s splash screen simply reads “Bugs Bunny,” but the games’ box art shows the full title, including the totally unnecessary “The.”
The original The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle for NES is a reworked version of a Who Framed Roger Rabbit licensed game (titled Roger Rabbit) from Japan developed by Kemco. In a twist, however, the Game Boy version of that game is based on a Japanese Mickey Mouse game titled Mickey Mouse.
The sequel, The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle 2 for Game Boy, was likewise based on Japan’s Mickey Mouse 2. In Europe, however, Mickey Mouse 2 was reworked as a game based on the Danish interactive TV program Hugo, which I had zero exposure to until today.
Then, the Crazy Castle character licensing saga gets weird. Kemco’s Japanese Famicom release Mickey Mouse 3 becomes Kid Klown in Night Mayor World when it hits NES in North America. Mickey Mouse 4 is then turned into a Real Ghostbusters game for Game Boy in North America, and also Garfield Labyrinth — yes, starring the lazy, lasagna-loving cartoon cat — in Europe. Mickey Mouse 5, however, is a Mickey Mouse game all over the world!
Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle 3 (no “The” this time) is in turn based on Soreyuke!! Kid: Go! Go! Kid, a sequel to Kid Klown in Night Mayor World. Soreyuke!! Kid: Go! Go! Kid (and Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle 3) were Game Boy exclusive, but the folks at Kemco re-released it for Game Boy Color. In a major pivot, Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle 4 was just Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle 4 everywhere.
In one final puzzling twist, the fifth Crazy Castle game starred Woody Woodpecker(!), as Kemco nabbed licensing rights to Universal Studios’ properties.
Having only seen the first three minutes of Space Jam: A New Legacy, this is all I can tell you about the film’s retro video game connections. The Space Jam sequel is now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max, and I’m told it’s the future of entertainment.