The best cameo in Space Jam: A New Legacy
Before the movie Space Jam: A New Legacy even came out, the sheer amount of cameos, Easter eggs and crossovers promised by the movie was raising eyebrows. Most critics were not impressed. With the movie in general, but also with the commercialism of the movie, as made clear by Rotten Tomatoes critic consensus (where the movie has a paltry 31% as of this writing):
Despite LeBron James' best efforts to make a winning team out of the Tune Squad, Space Jam: A New Legacy trades the zany, meta humor of its predecessor for a shameless, tired exercise in IP-driven branding.
The Internet, always on the lookout for new and exciting clickbait, has plenty of lists breaking down each and every cameo in the movie (oftentimes complete with a link to a review decrying the annoying amount of IP branding at the end; here's ours!), and if you're more inclined to skip to the end, there is plenty of discussion about what the worst cameo is. But what's the best shout out in Space Jam: A New Legacy? For your consideration, how about the one to Wolfwalkers?
During an early scene, a Warner Bros. executive played by Sarah Silverman is seen reading Variety, which covers the movies, so it's in character. However, the issue shown is from November 2020. Besides pointing out that some sort of reshoots were going on for the movie at least as late as November, and actually being a bit of a continuity error (the movie is explicitly set during the summer), the November 2020 issue of Variety featured this cover. Now, it is quite possible the magazine is just a prop, and that was just the issue at hand, but the scene is shot in such a way that the cover, while not distracting, is noticeable. And, as previously discussed, this is a movie which has literally been advertised as having a lot of Easter eggs, so if it's noticeable, it's probably supposed to be.
The cameo is interesting as Wolfwalkers, its studio, Ireland's Cartoon Saloon, and its American distributor, GKIDS, are not in any way associated with Warner Bros. Wolfwalkers is a truly independent film. Furthermore, it is an exclusive on the Apple TV+ streaming service, essentially a rival to Space Jam: A New Legacy's home streaming service of HBO Max. This is not an exercise in "IP-driven branding", to use Rotten Tomatoes' phrasing.
Wolfwalkers is a hand-drawn, 2D animated movie, and despite the fact that the CGI animation is used for the climactic basketball game in Space Jam: A New Legacy's, it also features a lot of old-fashioned 2D animation. In fact, it probably features more of this type of animation than has been seen from a major American animation studio's release since Disney's 2011 feature, Winnie the Pooh, which was released July 15 of that year in America, making it exactly one decade and one day old on Space Jam: A New Legacy's release date of July 16 of this year. This type of 2D animation is becoming a rarity in America, so it makes sense they would appreciate a success with the medium, even if it technically came from a rival. One of Wolfwalker's directors, Tomm Moore, shared a similar sentiment in reverse on Twitter, saying he would go to the movie in support of its use of 2D animation, despite not actually being a fan of the first Space Jam. In animation, it's a small world, after all.
Besides being just another of the 200+ cameos in Space Jam: A New Legacy, accolades Wolfwalkers has garnered include a nomination for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, Best Direction for Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart at the Annie Awards, Best Film from the Irish Film and Television Academy and Best Anthromporphic Motion Picture Ursa Major from the furry fandom itself (and was also chosen as the best movie of the year by this contributor). It did a little better on Rotten Tomatoes than Space Jam: A New Legacy, with a score of 99%, critics praising Wolfwalkers for its
…mesmerizing Celtic-inspired adventure, … epic ethereal fantasy matched by profound philosophies and stellar voice work.
And a distinct lack of cameos by Gleep and Gloop of The Herculoids.
To be fair, Apple and GKIDS did give Wolfwalkers an expensive Oscars "For Your Consideration" campaign, one of the upshots was a cover on the widely distributed movie news magazine Variety. Hey, a little IP-driven branding never killed anyone, right?