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“Lightyear” Review – The Buzz Lightyear origin story nobody needed

“In 1995, Andy saw a Buzz Lightyear movie, which made him obsessed with the character. So we made that movie,” the opening crawl to Pixar’s Lightyear reads. And frankly, I do not see how a movie like this could have been such a phenomenon that Buzz Lightyear action figures would literally take up a whole aisle of a toy store.

The other movies in the world of Toy Story must be an utter-snooze fest if this predictable, heavy-handed and frankly forgettable film has so much merchandise. In the hands of a more experienced director – this film could have been at least…passable. It could have been a genuinely campy joy.

Instead, Lightyear feels as though Pixar veteran (but rookie director) Angus MacLane was given the reigns to helm a project the company knew couldn’t fail. Of course, the least ‘challenging’ film to the status quo gets a release in theaters – when every part of it reads as a pumped-out direct-to-video cash grab, except for the visuals.

Lightyear may be the first film that I actively loathe. No, wait – that was Toy Story 4.

Summary

Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear chooses to make a detour and his ship on an alien planet. The crew is marooned. So, Buzz attempts to find a way off the planet using a newly developed hyperspace fuel.

But the four-minute test flight is a failure – and due to time dilation, 4 years have passed for everyone on the ground. Buzz continuously tries to find a way off-planet with years passing as he does – a colony develops and his friends have full lives.

Eventually, he and his robot companion, Sox, find the right composition but the flight causes two decades to pass. In that time, the evil Zurg invaded the planet with his army of robots. And it’s up to Buzz, his closest friend’s granddaughter, an elderly convict, and a naive recruit to stop him.

The Good

Most of this movie is downright mediocre if I’m going, to be honest. The animation isn’t one of them.

The Animation

So – what’s interesting about Lightyear is that in the Toy Story universe, it’s a live-action film. So, it’s animated ‘realistically.’ There aren’t any crazy designs for the humans. The lighting is kind of dingy to fit in with the terrifying deathtrap of a planet the crew finds themselves on.

It’s an interesting idea, and I did really like the visuals. They’re unique among Pixar’s repertoire. It evokes the feeling of other early sci-fi movies. It doesn’t read or feel like a cartoon in many ways, which makes for an interesting vibe. But unfortunately, that’s the most interesting thing about it.

The Representation 

The best thing Lightyear has going for it is the gay representation. It’s not a major focus of the film. But it’s also not a throw-away piece of dialogue that can be edited for foreign markets.

Buzz’s closest friend Alisha Hawthorne is gay – after Buzz’s first trip, she says she “met someone” and Buzz immediately replies, “What’s her name?” It’s not a twist or a surprise she’s gay. It just is.

She gets married, has a kid, and a grandkid. Hawthorne is generally very happy with the life she gets to have on her new home planet. Sure, she dies – but it’s of old age. It’s a very sweet little love story, that we don’t get to see nearly enough of.

Alicia’s granddaughter, Izzy, doesn’t have a confirmed sexuality but is easily a much more compelling character than Buzz himself. She is eager, with a desire to live up to her grandmother’s legacy.

She has a fear of outer space and has lived her whole life on this planet. While Buzz wants to return to Earth, she just wants her home to be safe. She has a personality, actual wants, and desires and isn’t just some generic white male military protagonist.

The Bad 

I know a movie is bad when I, 100% unironically like the comedic relief more than the main character. Buzz isn’t an unlikeable protagonist per se, he’s just very dull. I can’t understand what Andy or heck, any other kid, saw in him. There is no way that a whole aisle would be full of toys of this character.

Sox would be the favorite. But, for real – Buzz just isn’t a compelling character. He isn’t exciting, dramatic, or even particularly heroic. And to make matters worse, the same goes for Zurg.

I don’t know why Disney stopped making actually evil for the heck of it villains and began putting in twist villains and antagonists who aren’t really evil instead – but they’re suffering because of it. While the struggles against tradition and oneself can work in some films – it doesn’t work in a sci-fi space epic like Lightyear.

Because get this straight – Zurg is an older Buzz from an alternate future. When it came time for the reveal, I said, “What the fuck?” in the theater. Luckily, I don’t think the parents heard…But seriously, what the actual fuck?

Zurg wants the crystal Buzz has so he can go back in time and erase his mistake. And frankly, that’s just not interesting. 

“Our” Buzz doesn’t suffer from really any kind of moral dilemma – he pretty much instantly realizes he’d be erasing his team from existence if he did.

The whole premise of the film is that this is the film a child fell in love with – and I truly cannot buy that. A child could like this movie. But I cannot picture this dull film being a box-office success.

It reads more like the gritty, live-action reboot of a beloved children’s cartoon made by a soulless corporation as a nostalgia cash-grab than anything else.

Buzz says several of his lines from the original Toy Story in the film, in a clumsy attempt to connect the films – but most of the time it doesn’t feel natural. I don’t know what MacLane was trying to go for in this film.

If I wanted to create a film that would inspire a successful children’s franchise in – I’d have a spunky protagonist, an over-the-top evil for the heck of it villain, and some impractical but cool fight scenes AND  have the talking cat robot as the comedic relief.

Not whatever Lightyear is…Also – this is the welcome back to theaters Pixar has given us? This? 

I’m disappointed. This film is better off as a straight-to Disney+ deal. 

The Scoop

This movie would be forgettable if the twist of Zurg’s identity wasn’t so cliched – and the main character had like half of a personality. But – also, I don’t know what I expected out of a film that is based on a fictional toy…One that already inspired a cartoon series.

Buzz Lightyear of Star Command is far from the greatest animated series ever made. But I can buy the explanation that the show canonically inspired Andy to get the toy that started the series…Instead, MacLane explained – the toy is based on the animated series which was based on Lightyear, which…somehow makes even less sense.

He saw the movie but then got the toy based on the cartoon? How quickly did the TV series come out after the movie? Was it already somewhat of an established franchise? Why is Lightyear depicted as a dark live-action film that tries to be deep when its main theme is all about teamwork?

Nothing about Lightyear’s background or production creates anything resembling a coherent picture. Even if the character of Buzz Lightyear had not existed before Lightyear – this would still be a dull movie, with an uninteresting protagonist, maybe like 2 funny jokes, and pretty much no good fight scenes.

It’s an hour and forty minutes of my life I won’t get back.

And that’s the scoop.

……………………………..

Grade: D

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Release Year: 2022

Length: 105 minutes

Producer: Galyn Susman

Director: Angus MacLane

Screenplay: Angus MacLane, Jason Headley

Written by: Angus MacLane, Jason Headley, Matthew Aldrich

Editor: Anthony J. Greenberg

Voice Actors: Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, James Brolin, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules, Uzo Aduba, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Efren Ramirez, Isiah Whitlock Jr.

3 thoughts on ““Lightyear” Review – The Buzz Lightyear origin story nobody needed”

  1. Very good review. I knew this would be a cheap nostalgia grab and I’m not surprised. Kudos for referencing the original Buzz Lightyear cartoon because I definitely remember that show and this current movie looked nothing like it. I’m also trying to avoid obvious Gunbuster comparisons with time dilation being a plot point. This just looks soulless even by Disney standards. Wait, this Zurg is an alternate evil version of Buzz? Does anyone not remember the obvious Star Wars parody moment in Toy Story 2 where Zurg quotes Darth Vader before him and one of the other Buzz toys play catch later on? Unbelievable. This sounds like one of those lame Disney sequels, but it just happened to get a theatrical release. It’s no wonder I’m so bored with Hollywood and most forms of mainstream Western animation.

  2. That’s too bad. I was honestly looking forward to seeing this.

    The best thing I’ve heard about this film was how adamant Disney was that they wouldn’t remove the LGBT scenes even if certain countries demanded it. That’s honestly something I didn’t expect from them since they’ve usually been accussed of being anti-LGBT.

    If only they did it in a better movie.

    It’s unfortunate that Disney still haven’t learned their lesson about villains. I like sympahetic villains as much as the next guy, but it’s not subversive anymore if everyone’s doing it.

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