A quarter century after it first came out, Warner Bros.’ Space Jam is getting a sequel, and over the weekend, the studio released a first look at the basketball / cartoon mashup. I expected it to show off a fun sports comedy—what I didn’t expect was that it looked an awful lot like a Ready Player One sequel as well.
Like the first film, it will feature a major basketball player—LeBron James—playing alongside cartoon characters as he works out how to get free of a computer simulation that he finds himself in.
The original Space Jam featured Michael Jordan—then playing for the Chicago Bulls—who’s recruited by a team of Looney Toons characters who are trying to play their way out of a weird contract to escape a deal with an interstellar theme park called Moron Mountain.
In this film, James has been pushing his son Dom (played by Cedric Joe) into playing baseball (Dom wants to build video games instead), and the two find themselves sucked into and trapped in a virtual world run by a program called Al-G Rhythm (played by Don Cheadle). His only way to escape is to team up with the Looney Toon gang in a game against Al-G’s own team. Hijinks ensure, and presumably, all involved will learn some heart-felt lessons about the nature of life and following one’s dreams, no matter where they go.
That’s all set against the virtual world that they find themselves in—Warner Bros. IP land, where all of the studio’s properties are at their disposal with a bit of cross-company synergy. After an argument, James’ son storms off into a server farm and he soon finds himself falling through a digital universe of Warner Bros.’ IP, aka, the Serververse.
As he does, we pass by a planet representing HBO’s Game of Thrones—depicted with the opening credits literally orbiting it, Kansas and Oz, as seen in The Wizard of Oz (which is poised to get its own new IP expansion at some point in the nearish future), and of course, planet Looney Toons.
James learns that the only way out is to play basketball, so he has to figure out an “elite team” to get Dom back, and his initial wishlist includes a list of exclusive Warner Bros: holdings: Superman, Gandalf, King Kong, and the Iron Giant. Bugs Bunny suggests his own team of classic cartoon characters, and when game time comes, there’s a whole lot of synergy on display: There’s appearances from the Mystery Machine, the Iron Giant, Drogon(?), the Flintstones, Yogi Bear, King Kong, Pennywise, and a whole bunch of others.
All of this, of course, looks a bit like Warner Bros.’ other big IP mashup: Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, which brought together a ton of properties in a digital world. Ernest Cline brought out a sequel to his 2011 book last year (Ready Player Two), and while a film sequel to that book is already under way, I’m not sure that we really need that now.
Space Jam 2 is set to hit theaters and HBO Max on July 16th.