“Space Jam A New Legacy” plays a lot like “Ready Player One” — a near constant stream of references to other pop culture phenomenon, proving a theory of mine that something that needs to reference a lot of other, better things is probably soft on its own content.
Iron Giant, Superman, Wonder Woman, King Kong, Trinity from “The Matrix,” and just about every other character from Warner Bros. catalogue showed for cameos in the sequel to 1996 film “Space Jam;” it got so obnoxious that I almost checked out when the leads from “Rick and Morty” showed up.
NBA great LeBron James plays an overbearing father to his youngest son, trying to turn him into a basketball star instead of the video game maker the boy wanted to be and the boy joins forces with a sentient algorithm in the Warner Bros. computer servers played by Don Cheadle, a high-caliber actor who must’ve really wanted to hang out with LeBron.
I like the idea of a sentient algorithm causing trouble for the world, but then again, that’s just another pop culture reference — to Hal 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” a property Warner Bros. doesn’t own.
“Space Jam: A New Legacy” is a wholesome children’s movie probably best enjoyed by families with children who don’t have their own smartphones yet because those kids who do have devices will be posting how lame it is shortly after the opening credits.
Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. Zelle: firstname.lastname@example.org. Venmo: @newsmanone. PayPal: paypal.me/paragraphstacker.
Confession: I’ve never seen “101 Dalmatians” in any form — not novel, not cartoon, not live-action remakes. Maybe the cartoon never replayed on “Wonderful World of Disney” when I was kid.
The others I missed on purpose. I prefer my live-action cartoons to have action figures.
But Disney Corp. finds a way to repackage intellectual properties until they eventually appeal to everyone.
The two Emmas
Short of adding lightsabers and a claw-vs.-shield fight between Wolverine and Captain America, casting Emma Stone in the lead role is the best way to get my money.
The fact that my other beloved Emma, Emma Thompson, plays opposite Stone in “Cruella,” a film of dueling villains is homemade whip cream atop the bowl of fresh strawberries.
Those two actors bring enough dynamo to the screen that I’ll forgive a lot of mediocre storytelling.
That’s good, because there is plenty of mediocre storytelling to be forgiven.
We meet Cruella (Stone) when she’s Estella, a mischievous girl whose free spirit is too creative for the school’s stiff-collared headmaster who expels Estella after too many blots on her record.
Estella’s mother, Catherine (Emily Beecham), decides to move to London and stops to ask Baroness von Hellman (Thompson) for money with assurances she’ll keep her mouth shut.
The Baroness sicks her three dalmatians on Estella’s mother, who falls to her death — the first of far too many tedious anthropomorphized CGI dog escapes in the film.
The moment is the film’s lowest point. Catherine’s death is dark and treats life too cheaply for what is otherwise a jocular outing filled with heists, punk rock, and cartoonish hijinks.
Estella flees to London, where she falls in with young thieves Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser). The trio get by with small-time heists until Jasper finagles a job for Estella, a talented fashion designer, at the Baroness’ department store.
The Baroness rules like the Iron Lady. She is the HBIC and spews meanness the way machine guns burp out bullets in an 80s action movie. Thompson is a good enough actor to believably render casual cruelty, but it all gets to be too much.
Thompson doesn’t do anything wrong with the Baroness, but then there isn’t much for her to do. We learn much of Cruella’s motivations, but the Baroness is given no depth of character other than she’s a meaner, older, and less creative version of Cruella.
“Cruella” does with Thompson’s talent what I thought impossible: The film makes her character generic.
Estella adopts the secret identity of Cruella and stages a series of intricate flash mobs to embarrass the Baroness’ in the middle of seasonal shows, causing to lose her stranglehold on the London fashion scene.
Actor or mannequin
The set pieces are well done, and Stone and company pull them off with pinnace, but there’s too many of them.
After a while, it feels like Stone is less like an actor and more like a mannequin for oddball high fashion with a ripping soundtrack.
The confrontations of the Baroness and Cruella feels like a Tom and Jerry cartoon.
The Baroness finally discovers who Cruella really is, captures her, ties her to a chair, and tries to murder her in fire.
There’s are a few more twists. I won’t spoil them, but they’re wholly predictable if you’ve ever seen a movie before.
Overall, it feels like watching “The Devil Wears Prada” again with a Disney Co. skin overlaid on the product.
I admit I am a muggle when it comes to high fashion. I recognize it as art.
Like most art that’s not between the panels of a comic book, I don’t understand it and feel like asking questions about it will lead to people trying to make me feel stupid.
“Cruella” isn’t so high an art that I feel stupid for not understanding it, but I do feel a little stupid for not waiting until it was free on Disney+.
Three things I loved about “Cruella:”
The two Emmas.
The terrific classic rock and punk soundtrack.
And the Oscar for best use of a garbage truck in a car chase goes to … .
Two things that could’ve been better:
Too many scenes with CGI dogs doing cartoon things.
Beware: I curse. A college classmate once said of my language that when I go into the bar, the sailors leave. My language is so blue gangs of Oompa Loompa’s have tried to roll me down to the juicing room before I explode.
I note this because a reader emailed me to say she would never read anything I posted again because I used profanity in my recent column about tennis and the news media’s attempt to bully Naomi Osaka over her mental health issues.
The reader was polite. She believes the use of profanity is a trait of low intelligence.
That’s an old canard, spread by people who want to control what and how other people speak. That group includes a lot of people.
Science favors cussers
Studies show people who swear likely are to have a greater vocabulary than those who don’t.