Welcome to the Jam! NBA champion and global icon LeBron James goes on an epic adventure alongside timeless Tune Bugs Bunny with the animated/live-action event “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” from director Malcolm D. Lee and an innovative filmmaking team including Ryan Coogler and Maverick Carter. This transformational journey is a manic mashup of two worlds that reveals just how far some parents will go to connect with their kids. When LeBron and his young son Dom are trapped in a digital space by a rogue A.I., LeBron must get them home safe by leading Bugs, Lola Bunny and the whole gang of notoriously undisciplined Looney Tunes to victory over the A.I.’s digitized champions on the court: a powered-up roster of professional basketball stars as you’ve never seen them before. It’s Tunes versus Goons in the highest-stakes challenge of his life that will redefine LeBron’s bond with his son and shine a light on the power of being yourself. The ready-for-action Tunes destroy convention, supercharge their unique talents and surprise even “King” James by playing the game their own way.
Being great takes hard work, dedication, and fanatic commitment. Nobody on Earth understands this sentiment more than four-time champion LeBron James. As we learn in the opening moments via a brief, insightful prologue to the story in “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” even in his youth, when all the other kids were having fun, playing video games, and basically just “doing them,” James’s focus was redirected and then forever remained firmly fixed on a singular goal: to be the greatest basketball player of all time.
Now, at the peak of his professional success, LeBron—a version of the icon, played by the one and only—may find there are few obstacles on the court that can surprise him. He’s seen it all. But, when it comes to raising two teenage boys, he still has a thing or two left to learn. For instance, when his younger son Dom (Cedric Joe) admits he’d rather attend a camp for video game design instead of basketball, his dad pushes him to strive for greatness on the court. “You never let me just...do me,” Dom replies.
In an effort to connect more with Dom, LeBron brings him along to a meeting on the Warner Bros. lot, where executives are excited to pitch him Warner 3000, a revolutionary new technology that can digitally incorporate him into an endless array of film and TV projects. However, LeBron declines, instead choosing to prioritize his basketball career over entertainment.
Unbeknownst to him, this decision does not sit well with the evil algorithm at the heart of Warner’s “server-verse,” an egomaniacal digi-villain named Al G. Rhythm, played by Don Cheadle. Al G. lures LeBron and Dom into the server room, where he essentially kidnaps them, sucking them into his digital domain and forcing them to go head-to-head in a basketball showdown for the ages. Can LeBron beat Rhythm’s revamped and totally amped Goon Squad and save his family from an eternity in the server-verse? Perhaps, but first he’ll need to learn to have some fun and, more importantly, to let others be themselves. And who better to teach him that lesson than Bugs Bunny and the Tune Squad?
The real LeBron James has always felt a special connection to “Space Jam.” “When I was 12 years old, I needed inspiration where I was growing up,” he states. “Michael Jordan was one of those people who gave me inspiration, along with my mother. When I think back on watching ‘Space Jam,’ always having a love for Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes, and then you add Michael Jordan, one of my favorite inspirations growing up? It felt like it was a match made in heaven for me.”
In the 25 years since the original film’s release, James has ascended to the top of his game on the court. Now, he finds himself in front of the camera, in an effort to carry on a legacy he’s proud to uphold. “It’s an honor for me to be a part of the ‘Space Jam’ world, to be able to reintroduce it to kids today and show them how unbelievable the Looney Tunes are, and how great our sport of basketball is, as well.” And, as in the first film, he teases, “There are also some things in this movie that will catch a lot of people off guard. That’s what’s exciting about it.”
The task of helming this massive cinematic undertaking fell to director Malcolm D. Lee, who embraced the opportunity to reimagine the concept for a much different world than the one we knew back in 1996. “This is more than ‘Space Jam,’ this is like Cyber ‘Space Jam,’” Lee states excitedly. “We’re in an era where everything is digital and electronic and on the web, you know? Everything’s about video games and virtual reality, and so our characters—LeBron James and his son—go into a video game. It’s a great way to reintroduce Looney Tunes to the big screen, with the help of one of the greatest basketball players to ever play.” Producer Ryan Coogler agrees, adding, “It’s a story with a lot of scope that has predicaments that you wouldn’t necessarily see coming. This film exists at the intersection of entertainment in a way that’s so incredible. But at the end of the day, it’s a story about family. It’s a father/son story.”
Maverick Carter, LeBron’s longtime friend and business partner, and CEO of The SpringHill Company, also serves as a producer on the film. Carter believes now is the perfect time to revitalize the “Space Jam” name, and that James is uniquely situated to usher in its return. “I think now is the right time to reintroduce this world because we’ve landed on a story that’s really amazing. As everyone knows, when you’re making a movie or TV or anything, the story is what really matters. This story landed in a place that I truly believe LeBron—as an actor, as a basketball player, as a human, as a father, as a son—is uniquely positioned to be at the center of. It’s a totally new film that really has a message and deals with issues that the world can relate to.”
Actor Don Cheadle relished the opportunity to be part of this modern intersection in entertainment. “The concept is really interesting, all these elements coming together. I mean, come on, there’s family, there’s basketball, there’s all the Warner Bros. IP, there’s this spectacular world to behold. And inside of that there’s real characters that are hitting real human emotional beats. I thought it would be pretty fun to be a part of all that.” In addition to handling the fun and the family themes inherent to the story, Producer Duncan Henderson admires Lee’s adept ability to work within the hybrid film’s different modes. “Malcolm is great, we couldn’t have been in better hands,” he says. “He has a terrific sensibility for comedy and finding and mining those moments. He can just take a scene and go with it and is a great partner.”
With this intricate blend of classic and CG animation work, high-concept storyline, and industry-hopping star power, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” represents a booming new voice in entertainment cinema. This is made even more significant by the fact that that voice originates from a collection of talented black artists, a powerfully positive step in mainstreaming Hollywood filmmaking. “In the film, you have an all-American family represented by LeBron James and the actors that play his loved ones,” says Lee. “That’s a traditional family even if, traditionally, audiences might not think of them as such because they happen to have brown skin. But everybody relates to family—fathers and sons, or just parents and children in general. I think it’s an infinitely relatable story.” When it comes to reflecting what real families around the world look and act like, James concurs, adding, “I think this film will attract families from all across the board because a kid could be two years old, and his grandma who’s taking care of him, who’s in her 60s or 70s, can also enjoy the film, remembering watching the Looney Tunes cartoons, and feel joy again.” Of course, the film has another universal draw, one James is undeniably grateful for and humbled by: “Basketball. Basketball is the greatest sport in the world in my opinion, and we are all over the world. You look at the professional leagues and you have people not only from America but from everywhere. Basketball taps into so many different households because the game just resonates with so many people in the world. And then when you add these classic cartoon characters and their humor… I mean it’s all about smiling, and being happy, and laughing together. Those are the ingredients to success.”
One could arguably travel to the farthest reaches of the world and struggle to find someone who doesn’t recognize the name LeBron James.
“He has an endearing quality to him that a lot of athletes of his caliber just don’t have,” says Coogler. “Everybody respects what he’s done on the basketball court over his career. When you look at the guy outside of that, it just means so much more. It’s just really exciting for him to be the star of this film, for him to be the vehicle of people’s reintroduction to these characters.”
James enjoyed the process of playing a fictionalized version of himself, finding moments of truth nestled between elements that resemble much of his real life. “This is a fictional version of me, but it’s also kind of who I am as well,” he admits. “Even though it’s going to be on the big screen and you’re going to see me in a different light of parenthood and a different light in terms of being a basketball player and a leader and things of that nature. But I also think it will work well for the character as I was able to implement a lot of things that I actually do when the cameras aren’t on.”
As a result of the film’s blending of live-action photography and digital animation, James often found himself acting with yet-to-be-drawn co-stars, a creative hurdle for even the most seasoned performer. “It’s challenging when you’re doing a scene and you have to visualize a lot of the Tunes being there. It becomes about being able to use your imagination. I think as adults we sometimes lose our imaginations as we get older. So I’m just bringing that back into my life right now, just trying to be able to spice that imagination back up, which is a pretty cool thing as well.” If James is the soul of “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” the film’s heart can be found in Cedric Joe, who plays the character of LeBron’s tech-savvy middle child, Dom. Dom shares his dad’s all-in enthusiasm for his passion; the trouble is, for Dom that’s not basketball. Instead he dreams of being a videogame designer, but he struggles with speaking up for fear of disappointing his dad. However, once they are pulled into the Warner 3000 server-verse, it’ll take both of their singular skills to find their way out.
“Dom is in love with videogames and coding. He is good at basketball but that’s not his main priority,” explains Joe. “Dom wants to build videogames and that’s what he wants to show his dad he can do, but his dad doesn’t really care about videogames because that’s not his priority. His dad is about basketball, and so he wants his sons to play basketball.”
Working alongside a world-famous athlete could prove distracting for any actor, regardless of age or experience. Joe recalls auditioning for the role and the advice he received from his parents before meeting James. “I was more excited than I was nervous. I was getting advice from my mom and dad telling me, ‘Don't be star struck. Don’t be nervous.’ But I was really comfortable around LeBron. He’s a funny guy. He’s just cool to be around.
“I think all ages should see this movie,” adds Joe. It does have a message, that parents should sometimes open their eyes and see that their kids or other people can do more, that they have more skills than what you might think they have. Don’t underestimate people. Just listen.”
Dom faces a complex corruption when he unwittingly falls into the hands of Al G. Rhythm, a CGI humanoid who is desperate for his own fame. The self-proclaimed ruler of the Warner 3000 server-verse, Al G will stop at nothing to trap LeBron’s greatness in the server. Dismissive of the Looney Tunes, the all-powerful Al is looking to maintain home court advantage when LeBron and the Tunes team up to go head-to-head against his Goon Squad. To ensure that edge, he taps Dom - the game’s (and the Goons’) original designer - to serve as the leader of his team.
Says Cheadle, “Al G.’s like, ‘Why doesn’t anyone pay attention to me? I put on this pageant, this amazing show. I’m doing all the work, and everybody that I’m putting in front gets all of the credit. Everybody else gets all the shine. When is it my turn to be in the sun?’” Coogler was adamant about securing a theatrical veteran like Cheadle for the role of Al G. He even went so far as to offer Cheadle the role before the original script had been completed.
“We’re really excited about Al G. Rhythm,” he tells us. “We can’t wait for the world to meet this character who we’ve been seeing Don Cheadle bring to life up close and personal. He’s a guy who’s been designed to determine what products should get made when it comes to entertainment at Warner Bros. He’s off-the-charts intelligent. And then you have Don, who’s one of the most talented actors of our generation.”
James agrees. “Don Cheadle is a legend in the movie world. I could be biased but I am speaking the facts. He’s an unbelievable actor and his resume speaks for itself. What he brings to the movie is something that’ll catch a lot of people off guard. He brings a lot of humor, a lot of passion, a lot of fun, and a lot of craziness that the movie definitely required. He’s the perfect person for it.”
The backbone of this family story can be found in the backbone of any family, it’s mother. Sonequa Martin-Green plays Kamiyah James, LeBron’s wife and mom of three. Kamiyah has to juggle older son Darius’s desire to follow in his dad's size 16 footsteps, while her younger son Dom is more focused on being a gamer than playing an actual game on the court. Kamiyah tries to gently coax LeBron into recognizing Dom’s true talent and finally seeing his younger son for who he really is.
“What I love about this new iteration is that not only have they modernized it in a brilliant way, but they’ve also put family at the crux of it all,” says Martin-Green. “It’s such a cornerstone of the story and it’s all about what you’re willing to sacrifice for your family. It’s all about seeing your family for who they really are. I love my role in that because I get to be a voice of reason in that way for LeBron.”
As for representation, Martin-Green and her director feel the same way. She offers, “To see a black family being successful, to see a black family unified and to see them loving each other, to see them being a tight unit...that’s definitely what we are.”
Of course, we can’t forget about the Tunes. The timeless cast of Warner’s kooky characters is led by the infamous Bugs Bunny, the only other face in the film that might rival James’s in recognizability, and Lola Bunny, the only one who can rival LeBron’s skills on the court…
Always ready with a wisecrack or a one-liner, Bugs—voiced by veteran Jeff Bergman—has a reputation for speaking his mind…even if it costs him. This time, after mouthing off to Al G Rhythm, Bugs has been banished to the outer reaches of the server-verse, where the spotlight never shines. And being alone is making him extra looney. So, when LeBron comes to him for help in assembling a dream basketball team to defeat Al G, Bugs is ready to bring the gang back together – proving you can still be a team player without sacrificing your individuality. The only one of the Looney Tunes who really knows a hoop from a fruit loop, Lola, voiced by Zendaya, already boasts some legit basketball skills and, with LeBron coaching, has the makings of a real court star. Having recently made her breakout move, though, Lola prizes her independence and is reluctant to get tangled up with the Tunes again, especially Bugs, who she understands better than anyone. But they’re family, after all. So, when LeBron is looking to assemble a team in Tune World, and Bugs reminds her she’s their best player, she’s ready to suit up and provide the assist they need to bring it all home.
Along with Bugs and Lola, the filmmakers treat audiences to a much-needed reunion with timeless Looney Tunes like Marvin the Martian, Foghorn Leghorn, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester, Gossamer, Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, Granny, Yosemite Sam, Taz and Elmer Fudd.
And of course, Daffy Duck. They don’t call him Daffy for nothing. He may be the Tune Squad’s coach, but this bird’s number-one job has always been self-promotion. Daffy is always looking for an angle or a spotlight, and a chance to be on the winning team…no matter which side that might be. So, score him an A for effort and bonus points for personality, then get out of his way because you never know what this manic mallard will do next.
Naturally, the zany Tune Squad wouldn’t be the same without the distinct voices fans know and love, which, as is often the case, required far fewer voice artists than animators to bring to life. Eric Bauza voices a long list of characters, including Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Foghorn Leghorn, Elmer Fudd and Marvin the Martian. In addition to Bugs, Jeff Bergman lends his pipes to Sylvester, Yosemite Sam and a few of their less-looney toon pals. Candi Milo is Granny, Bob Bergen is Tweety Bird, Fred Tatasciore is Taz, and world renowned stand-up comic and actor Gabriel Iglesias is Speedy Gonzales.
Standing in LeBron and the Tunes’ way is the infamous Goon Squad, a team of digitally rendered super-ballers rounded out by some of the world’s most elite professional players. After challenging the King to his winner-take-all exhibition game, Al G uses Warner 3000’s revolutionary scan-in technology to transport his roster into the server-verse. But, with Dom’s help, Al G goes a step further, “upgrading” his real world superstar squad into a team of deadly-from-the-field superhumans, all with their own unique twist.
Anthony Davis, forward for the Los Angeles Lakers and real-life James teammate, becomes “The Brow,” a super-enhanced digital version of himself. The Brow possesses off-the-charts speed and strength, along with a 30-foot span of bright blue wings to ensure that he rises above his competition on the court. “The original ‘Space Jam’ is definitely one of my favorite basketball movies,” says Davis, “so when the opportunity came there was no hesitation that I would love to do it. This will go on past me, past the next generation. It will be instilled in history forever, you know? I’m excited for that.”
Diana Taurasi, nine-time All Star, four-time gold medalist, three-time champion and 2009 league MVP, becomes “White Mamba.” White Mamba’s body morphs into an actual mamba, enabling her to glide, coil and strike like never before, making her one deadly defender on the court. “I think it’s amazing when a movie can run parallel with life and the evolution of sports,” says Taurasi. “I think LeBron has been at the forefront of that, and for Nneka and myself to be in this movie and represent, really, the other half of basketball…it’s pretty special.”
Klay Thompson, all-star shooting guard and another three-time champion, becomes “Wet/Fire.” Wet/Fire creates his own weather hazards on the court with his ability to shoot flames or splash waves of water into the path of the opposing team, a true force of nature with the rock in his hands. “To have the opportunity to be in a legacy project like this, especially that meant so much to me as a kid, that’s what drew me in.” says Thompson. “ It’s gonna be amazing. Great athletes, great actors, and more importantly, lots of fun.”
Nneka Ogwumike, six-time All Star, former Rookie of the Year, League MVP, and a champion herself, becomes “Arachnneka.” Arachnneka adds the power of an arachnid to her legendary speed and agility, discovering that it’s easier to pass, shoot and multiple-dunk when you have six arms. “For them to include female athletes in this film means that we’re evolving,” says Ogwumike, “but I also think it’s interesting for the young players or young people that are into basketball, sports, that didn’t watch the original. Now they’re only going to know a ‘Space Jam’ that has women athletes in it. So, I find we’re kind of turning the dial in a different way.”
Last but certainly not least, Damien Lillard - six time all-star and one of James’s greatest playoff challengers - becomes “Chronos.” A second-quarter surprise from Al G’s Goon Squad, his appearance triggers “Dame Time,” locking the opposing team into slo-mo while he runs circles around them.
James was happy to bring a cast of fresh faces to the film’s Goon Squad roster, specifically players he’s had the opportunity to watch and admire. “In my real day job I get the opportunity to build relationships with a lot of great athletes in my sport,” says LeBron. “So, to be able to have Klay Thompson, Anthony Davis, Diana Taurasi, Nneka Ogumike, Damian Lillard be a part of this process, it’s humbling. To be in the position to reach out and ask these great role models to bring the great things they do both on and off the floor to be a part of a legendary process, it was…thank you guys. Thank you.”
Rounding out the cast, Khris Davis stars as LeBron’s friend and manager, Malik; Ceyair J. Wright is elder son Darius James; Harper Leigh Alexander appears as LeBron’s young daughter, Xosha; and Xosha Roquemore appears as 13-year-old LeBron’s mom, Shanice. The film also features a few surprise cameos—both on-screen and via voiceover—as well as the unexpected pairing of real-life sportscaster Ernie Johnson, Jr. with Lil Rel Howery as themselves.
“Space Jam: A New Legacy” presents a new age take on the classic Tunes vs. Goons showdown, not only in its high concept storyline and revitalized cast of characters, but also in the animation techniques utilized by the filmmakers to bring the Tunes into the modern forefront.
“We have everything,” says James. “It’s live action here, it’s CG animation there, there’s 2D in this sequence...There’s so much going on in the movie. I think it’s going to keep the audience of kids and their families off balance. I think that’s one of the greatest parts of the whole movie.”
Coogler agrees, stating, “Malcolm and the whole team really take advantage of all of the cutting-edge filmmaking technology. Like LeBron says, we have motion capture, we have traditional 2D animation, and we have some of the craziest techniques that actually had to be developed for this film.”
The filmmakers felt a certain responsibility to the classic cast of cartoons and worked diligently to strike a balance between dynamic revival and respect for the original characters. While the practical sets were built and captured primarily on the Warner Bros. Studios Lot, the challenge of bringing to life this behemoth of animation—the Warner 3000 server-verse and the multitude of content within—fell to veteran animation supervisor Spike Brandt and Devin Crane, who served as both co-animation supervisor and animation production designer on the film.
“I think it was important for us to capture the essence of each of these Tunes,” says Crane. “These characters have been around for a long time now, some of them 80 years plus, so it was important for me, almost as an ambassador for these characters, to make sure that we upheld the legacy. I grew up with all these characters as a little kid. It was important for me just to make sure that you could feel the history.”
Accomplishing this nostalgic update took “tons of research,” Crane recalls. “You start getting into your research and getting specific about things. You’re always looking for something new, trying to find stuff that hasn’t been done before. I think that’s the most fun part. You start doing paintings and working with your art teams and just throwing stuff out there, just to see what could be interesting, what could be new. We’re looking at the shots and trying to pepper in all these Easter eggs and fun characters from throughout the Looney Tunes history and the H&B [Hanna Barbera] legacy, and there’s just stuff you’ve never got to work with before, like King Kong, Iron Giant, the Gremlins, the Flintstones… That makes it all the more fun.”
When it came to the actual animation, utilizing a combination of modern-day CG imaging technology and hand-drawn 2D animation, the filmmakers were able to create a world that feels both classic and cutting-edge. “The one thing we were really passionate about was making these Tunes feel real,” says Crane. “I think that all of these Tunes are real to us. Audiences have grown up with these characters, Bugs Bunny and Daffy and Porky...you know who they are. I think the insurmountable responsibility of that is making sure you don’t lose those personalities. It’s how they behave, how they stand, how they move. And then also making them feel real to each other, knowing that these aren't just CGI characters or 2D characters. For them, they are real, and they’re living.”
For the animators, perhaps the biggest challenge was the epic game between the Goons and the Toons, which Lee envisioned as the most outrageous and epic basketball game of all time. The Server-verse showdown between LeBron’s underdog Toon Squad and Al G’s more-than-stacked Goon Squad became a super sequence that showcases loads of on-court action, as well as a surrounding Toon World audience of characters from every corner of the Warner IP library.
To create the stunning visual landscape required on and around the court, visual effects supervisor Grady Cofer and his team worked with production designers Clint Wallace and Akin McKenzie who, together, pulled out all the stops, building a huge court and surrounding it with green screen that they could then turn into the virtual game of the century. The stage was essentially a massive mocap environment, approximately 120,000 cubic feet, with over 100 cameras set up in it. In filming all of the action that took place on that court, they were also downloading the motion of all the characters, all of the performers, with star LeBron James prominently captured up front.
One of the most memorable elements of the original “Space Jam” film are the iconic Tune Squad uniforms, which have become a staple at pick-up basketball games and sporting events since the film’s original release. In re-envisioning the Tune Squad’s new fit, the film’s producers knew they needed something special if they were to create something equally lasting.
Costume Designer Melissa Bruning relished the opportunity to take on the Tune Squad’s new look, bringing to the project a fresh perspective and confidence in the design elements of a world far different from the one we know when His Airness first teamed up with Bugs and the Tunes. “I would say there’s no sort of connection to the original look, except that it’s a basketball uniform. It’s an entirely new script, new talent, and the world has changed a lot since ‘96, especially in the world of basketball. Even down to the shoes, it’s a different animal then it was before.”
The Tunes’ new jerseys reflect a more modern aesthetic, one that grabs your attention with a popping color scheme that stands out, but at the same time harkens back to a classic piece of Warner Bros. iconography, the bright, spiraled facade in which Porky Pig would infamously declare, “That’s all folks!” This combination makes for a true eye-catcher on screen. In their game-time gear, the Tune Squad resembles a bright beacon of looney-ness, a diverse-yet-cohesive unit. A team.
This design concept of diversity-meets-unity was a key point for Bruning. “I worked with animation a lot because it had to look good on all the Tunes, and the Tunes have very different colors in their “Tune skin.” Lola’s very peachy. Bugs is very gray, but what kind of gray do they want to use? Porky’s pinky. Gossamer’s red. So, whatever color we picked for LeBron, it also had to look good when all the Toons put it on.” And while it may now be 2021, in basketball, shoes are still of the utmost importance, a tenet Bruning held onto throughout the film’s costume design phase. “I can make boots or Renaissance shoes, but I can’t make a sneaker,” she jokes. “Our relationship with Nike was vital. We needed shoes for all these All-Stars, for our photo doubles, for LeBron, and for our motion capture performers—those had to be in shoes covered with mo-cap fabric. All of that was provided by Nike. They worked closely with us, and without that collaboration...I don’t know many stores that have size 15, 16, 17, 18 sneakers!”
Bruning embraced the opportunity to reimagine what has become a fixture of the entertainment zeitgeist. “I like being a part of pop culture,” she says. “I like knowing that this is going to be something that people will remember. As I was shopping for this film I was still running across T-shirts and different things from the original film. I’m very excited to see a flood of everything we’ve worked on for the past three or four months come to light when this movie opens.”
As for working with James, Bruning felt an immediate kinship, regardless of any height discrepancies. “I love LeBron. He’s the tallest friend I have,” she laughs with sincerity. “He’s great. His body is a bit like sculpture, so you can’t approach it in an ‘off the rack’ sort of way. Even as we do fitting, something fit on, say, a photo double, but it won’t fit LeBron the same way. So it was always very customized. He was always happy, had a smile on his face, was very professional, and was fun to work with.”
“I think that will be something that I will smile about a lot,” James surmises, “when I see kids walking around with either a Tune Squad jersey or a book bag, a Tune Squad T-Shirt with myself and Bugs on there. I just think that’s so cool because not only do they love what Melissa’s done on the screen, they want to take it further, like I did as a kid, and be a part of the craziness and the wackiness of the movie even after they leave the theater.”
Another factor of the original film’s success that the “Space Jam: A New Legacy” filmmakers sought to embrace was its musical element. Much like the original Tune Squad jersey, the original soundtrack took on a life of its own after the film’s release in 1996. For this modern reimaging, they knew they’d need something that could live up to those original jams, while still offering a sound that contemporary youth audiences could connect to. “The soundtrack had to be epic,” states Malcom D. Lee. “It’s fantastic. Great music throughout.”
Keir Lehman and Morgan Rhodes, the film’s music supervisors, were well aware of the challenge ahead of them. “I think it was a good challenge,” Rhodes states. “I think the challenge was to create as great a sonic experience for people as the first time around. Those songs on the first soundtrack are so memorable, people love them, people talk about them all the time, so we wanted to create that same moment; we wanted people to leave the viewing experience saying, ‘Man, I remember this song, I remember that song.’ And I think we’ve done that. I think we’ve achieved something really memorable, that people will be talking about for a long time.”
The duo knew that finding a unique sound would involve mixing new, more contemporary aesthetics with a healthy dose of Looney Tunes nostalgia. “We definitely wanted to make it fun for the Looney Tunes,” says Lehman. “You know, a little bit of a callback to the classic sounds that we grew up hearing in the Looney Tunes cartoons. But a lot of the sounds in the movie are definitely fresher. We wanted to bring them into our current day and into the future a bit as well.”
Rhodes agrees with this sentiment. “Even with this very deep story about father and son, we wanted to keep it fun. And we were reminded of that by effects, by characters floating through space, by LeBron going through space, by the server-verse, by games between Bugs Bunny and Lola and Porky Pig. So that helped us keep the vibe light.”
In searching for songs that would evoke the same kind of memorability stoked in the original film, Rhodes and Lehman drew on new musicians and fresh voices, as well as a few veteran artists, a true melding of the classic and the contemporary.
“We had a lot of fun with it,” says Lehman, “because a lot of artists right now grew up with ‘Space Jam’ and have a real connection—an emotional connection—to it. Of course, we were then able to tune into more current sounds and fresh artist who are really popular now but still give a nod to the classics from the first film, incorporating those elements into this new version as well.”
Lehman notes that those modern sounds meant “using a lot of hip hop and R&B, pop music—things that feel modern and also timeless. We have music from 24kGoldn, who is blowing up right now and making great music that is connecting with youth, and Lil Uzi Vert, who turned in an amazing flip on ‘Pump Up The Jam,’ a classic played in arenas and stadiums during games, that he took to another level.”
“I got really excited about the song with Kirk Franklin and Lil Baby called We Win,” says Rhodes. “It came together really organically.” Lehman reveals that the Big Freedia song that is heard in the film was a find, owning that the track comes in during a pivotal time in the film: the big game. “It’s a great song and it plays just as the Tunes are behind and have to figure out how to play together if they’re going to win against the Good Squad. The song needed to reflect the boost of energy they need.”
Aside from the soundtrack, the film’s musical landscape is lent its more tailor-made moments by composer Kris Bowers. Says Rhodes, “I have to give a lot of credit to Kris, who really helped to carry the narrative with this this beautiful score that included sweeping dramatic moments, subtlety, small flourishes…working with Kris really helped to carry those tonal shifts.”
Bowers was intrigued by the same “melding” approach that drew Lehman and Rhodes to the production. “With a project like this, we wanted to figure out how we could combine the traditional orchestral sound with some modern production elements and things like that,” he recalls. “We were really trying to discover what the unique musical thumbprint would be. I think Malcolm really wanted to honor the original Looney Tunes sound and wanted to heighten the idea that we’re bringing LeBron into this Looney Tune world, so it was about trying to find a way to make that sound feel as traditional and full as possible, but then adding videogame elements that were light and more textural.”
When scoring a picture, Bowers first searches for what he calls the “heart” of the story. On “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” he found it in the father-son story at the core of the film’s narrative. “For this it was really about LeBron and Dom’s connection, this father-and-son theme that we wanted to establish, and so for me it was about watching the film and finding a scene where I could really get into their relationship. A moment where I was really pulled emotionally by their chemistry and dynamic. Then I started to use that theme almost like bread crumbs and just kept piecing the theme throughout the rest of the film.
“With score I’m just trying to play something that makes me feel the same way that the film does,” he continues, “and once I find a melody or chord or some sort of sound that really starts to get me close to the way the film feels, that’s usually when I know I’m on the right track.”
In working on this film Bowers harbored an emotional connection to the material that consistently summarizes the mindset shared by the film’s many makers and collaborators. “Working on this film has been an emotional rollercoaster,” he says. “I feel like just getting it in the first place has been pretty wild to me. This is such a huge film and to be working on a project that’s this big and this large of scale, it just felt like a huge honor. To be trusted with this score and trusted with this process...It still doesn’t feel real to me. Scoring a project that evokes a film that really meant so much to me and so many others as a kid. I think it’s helped connect me to my childhood self in a really fun and beautiful way. I think audiences will find that the film does that, too.”
Just as principal photography wrapped on the film, James stepped up to the cast and crew on set to sum up the collective energy and ethos behind the gargantuan production. For many, it felt like being in the locker room, post-win, with James giving a rousing victory speech that honored his teammates—the cast and crew—and revealed his gratitude. Like so many who’d taken the journey with him, he likened it to a kid’s dream coming true and was hopeful that today’s generation of kids would watch and feel the same, respecting the gravity of the moment Lee had called for the final “cut.”
All seriousness aside—his costars are Looney, after all—James hopes audiences will experience “a lot of craziness, dizziness and laughing, with hysterical knee slappers and stomach holds you can expect from Bugs and all the Tunes. It’s exciting for me and my basketball family to be a part of this, but hopefully families throughout the world will hop up on this fast-moving train and enjoy the ride.”
Carter asserts, “I believe when people see this movie they are choosing to laugh, to have a good time, but also enjoy that there’s a real story here, real issues being dealt with, but being dealt with in a very comedic and funny way. That is the job for us as storytellers, as comedians, directors, producers… We’re here to deliver messages, and even bring issues up that need to be discussed, but in a way that’s very entertaining and very heartfelt and make you laugh but also make you think.”
Lee summarizes, “As filmmakers, as entertainers, what we hope for this film is that it will have a very broad reach so far as the global audience, both because of all the touchstones of Warner Bros. properties, like the Tunes and the other fun elements we dropped in, and also because it’s infinitely relatable. It’s a family movie at its heart, featuring a legendary sports figure in LeBron James, and with universal themes that everyone can relate to. Everybody has family, and everybody struggles with the differences within their family, but at the end of the day there’s love, there’s care, there’s acceptance.”