Space Jam, Warner Bros., and the Abuse of Iconography

Content warning: In this post, I will be discussing Warner Bros.’ recent inclusion of A Clockwork Orange characters in the trailer for Space Jam: A new Legacy. Please be aware that in discussion A Clockwork Orange, it is necessary to bring up the acts of sexual assault depicted in that movie.


Recently, you might have seen that Warner Bros. released a trailer for their sequel – or reboot – of Space Jam, titled Space Jam: A New Legacy. All the reaction I’ve seen appears to be… fine? Generally, I don’t think anyone is getting anything that different from what what they might have been expecting.

However, where things start to get a bit complicated is the inclusion of various intellectual properties that Warner Bros., the studio distributing the film, has access to. Characters and iconography from Wizard of Oz, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, DC Comics, and Hanna Barbera. All of these many, many characters appear in the background as Lebron James and the Looney Tunes play basketball against goons to defeat Don Cheadle’s character – and please know that I’m cringing as I type out this character name – Al G. Rhythm. If you’re asking what Game of Thrones or The Flintstones have to do with Bugs Bunny and Lebron James playing basketball, I have to admit that I’m asking that as well.

There were a few notable reactions on Twitter, but one that really got me thinking was this one from Marcus of the YouTube channel Cosmonaut Variety Hour:

Perhaps the most perplexing inclusion was the presence of the Droogs from Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of A Clockwork Orange. In that movie, the Droogs are a gang in the Dystopian UK, and are shown committing acts of violence, including sexual assault. Certainly, it’d be odd to include these unsavory characters in a movie for children, but what makes this especially perplexing is the decision to remove the Looney Toons character Pepe Le Pew, a cartoon skunk whom one op-ed writer at the New York Times argued “normalized r-pe culture.” I don’t think I would argue that excluding Pepe Le Pew from A New Legacy is or is not the right decision, rather, I would only argue that including the Droogs, who are a much more problematic and troubling presence, is the wrong decision.

(Also, let me say this to cover myself now: With the rate at which studios operate, it would not be shocking to see them remove the Droogs; when compared to much more significant undertakings, like the visual effects in the Sonic the Hedgehog being redone in only a few months, I imagine taking out The Droogs would be nothing.)

The removal of Pepe Le Pew while still including the Droogs gives a bit of an indication that Warner Bros. is just fumbling in the dark, just including anything that is iconic and recognizable, even when it might be incongrouous to the tone the studio is intending to set in this movie. People have been comparing A New Legacy‘s use of familiar characters to the adaptation of Ready Player One, which was also produced by Warner Bros. and used some of the same characters that appear in A New Legacy, notably the Iron Giant. Ready Player One‘s use of the Iron Giant drew criticism for featuring the Iron Giant basically as a weapon, in clear contrast with the Iron Giant‘s clear antiwar message.

Also in the crowd at the fun Lebron James and toons-versus-goons basketball game are It‘s Pennywise, the War Boys from Mad Max: Fury Road, and Game of Thrones‘ Night King. So for those of you keeping track, that’s a shapeshifting alien that sustains itself on the fear and trauma of children, a post-apocalypse gang that harvests stragglers for blood while working to monopolize the world’s water for a tyrant, and a ruthless ice zombie embodying climate change and working towards the end of humanity. Just… why include these characters? Why do the people watching the Space Jam have to be recognizable characters? Why can’t they just be made-up characters who are just basketball enthusiasts? Doesn’t taking these characters out of their original contexts – which in many cases are quite grim – cheapen those properties they’re originally from?

Those are obviously rhetorical questions, and the obvious answers to them are: 1. These characters are included because they’re recognizable 2. Recognizable characters – even if utilized incorrectly – boost interest in the movie 3. Not using recognizable characters would have the opposite effect 4. Who cares if using these characters would weaken the movie, so long as it boosts Warner Bros.’ profits?

Warner Bros. is hardly the only guilty party. If I can point this to a similar reference from another studio, I’d point to Wreck It Ralph 2, where we have to watch as Ralph and his friend Vanelope go to the internet where they encounter Marvel superheroes, chat with the Disney Princesses, and get chased by Star Wars’ Imperial Stormtroopers. The whole sequence gets a little tedious; though, I have to give Wreck It Ralph 2 the credit that at least the Princesses come back to do something later in the movie, which is more than I expect from any of the characters in Space Jam: A New Legacy.

If anything, the trailer for Space Jam: A New Legacy doesn’t necessarily make me want to rewatch the original; if anything, it makes me want to finally break down and watch the Spielberg-Warner Bros. Ready Player One adaptation from three years ago. This isn’t an interest in seeing a well-executed dystopian world of a book I had read a few years ago, rather it is an interest in trying to explore and understand the messy, intellectual property clusterfuck that Warner Bros. rehashes every few years.

Be it a crossover clusterfuck like Space Jam: A New Legacy or Wreck-it Ralph 2, or be it a prequel like Solo: A Star Wars Story or Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I think that we should ask more of our movies than just two hours of “Hey, look at this! It’s that character from that thing you like!”

4 thoughts on “Space Jam, Warner Bros., and the Abuse of Iconography

  1. Andrew, I liked Ready Player One, and my kids, especially my son, liked Space Jam when it came out years ago. However, I can’t see the characters from the two being combined in any meaningful way. The trailer for this new movie seems odd. Do you know what audience they are targeting?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gosh, that’s the multimillion dollar question, isn’t it? I was thinking about this as I wrote this post, and surely it has to be people who watched the original, right? People who were kids when the first movie came out rather than people who are kids now. With all the easter eggs in the crowd, I just think it’s more clearly made for people of that era.

      One thing I didn’t touch on with Ready Player One is that, at least all of the familiar characters have a logical reason to be there. There is a lot of “Hey, look at all these familiar characters,” but at least it makes sense why people would be using an Iron Giant avatar – I feel like Space Jam is going to provide some nonsense reason as to why Bugs Bunny and Pennywise are at a basketball game together.

      As always, thanks for reading! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Now now, “I think that we should ask more of our movies than just two hours of “Hey, look at this! It’s that character from that thing you like!”” this is just expecting too much

    Like

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