The Unifying Theme of the 'Space Jam' Franchise: Hating On Disney

The Unifying Theme of the 'Space Jam' Franchise: Hating On Disney

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the upcoming sequel Space Jam: A New Legacy starring LeBron James, Bugs Bunny, and precisely zero sex criminal skunks. Mostly, folks have been complaining that the “gross” new trailer exposes that the project is a nakedly corporate-friendly advertisement for Warner Brothers’ streaming service HBO Max, complete with a Game of Thrones planet and cameos from WB characters ranging from Pennywise the murder-clown to the Droogs from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, for some insane reason.

While, yes, this is abjectly terrible, it also seems somewhat odd to criticize the commercialization of a franchise that began with a goddamn sneaker ad. Also, this latest grotesque indulgence is in keeping with the theme of the original film, which, one could argue, is purely about screwing over the Walt Disney Corporation. The villain of the first Space Jam movie is essentially Disney; when we first meet the evil aliens, they’re headquartered at the blatantly Disneyland-like theme park “Moron Mountain.”

The nefarious Disney stand-ins’ evil plan is basically just gobbling up intellectual properties; they want to absorb the Warner Bros. characters into their empire in order to boost theme park attendance -- which makes sense given that the two animation studios have been rivals for almost a century. The villains’ plan also involves monopolizing an entire sport, draining the talent of the NBA’s top players. Perhaps not coincidentally, Disney had just gotten into the professional sports business with an NHL team in 1993, three years before Space Jam hit theatres. There’s even a joke about it in the movie.

And only the year before, Disney bought ABC, and with it, a majority stake in ESPN. So the Looney Tunes are presented as heroes of the story purely because they’re the one thing Disney can’t have. More pointedly, Space Jam is full of pro-union messaging, even specifically featuring an “emergency cartoon character union meeting” in “Union Hall 839,” named after the real-life animation guild who were historically targeted by the notoriously anti-union Walt Disney, a guy who once claimed that the guild was “taking orders from Moscow.”

So A New Legacy is almost certainly an artistically bankrupt attempt to sell you a streaming service, but that kind of makes sense, given that one of HBO Max’s biggest competitors is Disney Plus. Perpetuating Warner Bros’ feud with Disney is pretty much the central theme of Space Jam; a one-sided conversation between two mega-corporations. And regardless of how it may bump up against your nostalgia, having The Iron Giant pal around with Khal Drago is ultimately of a piece with that message.

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Top Image: Disney

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