Lightyear

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Those confused by the canonical aspects of Pixar’s latest movie can take a breath, because in that typical manner that boasts the crisp, intuitive storytelling the studio has become famous for, everything gets sorted out almost immediately with naught but a simple title card. Lightyear, apparently, is the movie that Andy from Toy Story went to see that originally stoked his enthusiasm to own that famous, potato-chinned, action figure that gave sheriff Woody such a case of the existential wobblers and while this is Pixar at their most shamelessly commercial (a spin off, Pixar? Really?), this truly is a love letter to all things Sci-fi.
However, with this fifth (technically, I guess) outing for one of their most famous characters, has this ballsy reinvention by the animation giant inadvertently removed what makes the well meaning Space Ranger so beloved, or does Lightyear fly even higher, with his buzz still intact?

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After a mistake that ends up marooning his sizable crew on the planet he was exploring, Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear carries the weight of responsibility on those broad shoulders as he tirelessly strives to create a new hyper drive fuel cell through costly trial and error by being the daredevil test pilot. However, everytime he sets that sizable jaw and blasts his way through numerous failed missions, time is warped by the immense speeds he reaches and thus loses years everytime he comes back and while he keeps his head firmly in the mission, everyone gradually moves on with their lives, settles down and eventually gets used to the giant killer bugs and gropey vines that populate their new home.
Ironically, the time eventually comes where Buzz outlives even his friend and commanding officer Alisha Hawthorne and even the need for a Space Ranger in general as everyone but Lightyear has become cool with making the planet their home for good. Of course, Buzz can’t let this go and with the aid of Sox, a robot feline programmed to be his companion, endeavors to finish the mission even if it defies orders, but everything is ultimately overshadowed by the arrival of a robot army led by a massive purple invader dubbed “Zurg” who seem to be focused on nabbing Lightyear himself. Thankfully – or frustratingly as Buzz defiantly considers himself a lone wolf – he has help in the form of a team of incompetent Space Ranger enthusiasts led by Izzy, Alisha’s now grown granddaughter, but before that can each unlock their hidden hero qualities, they all proves to be as useful as a fart in a spacesuit.

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When Toy Story 4 was about to be released, everyone understandably questioned the actual need for it as the series had ended on a near-perfect note years before, however, with Lightyear we kind of have what could techincally be called Pixar’s first ever reboot as it gamely tries to recreate Buzz Lightyear as if he was an actual dude who has no problems believing he’s an actual Space Ranger because, well, this time he actually is. Reimagining a universally adore character while leaving out one of the main aspects of his character may sound worrisome and the switch from delusional toy to overconfident perfectionist isn’t exactly an upgrade (especially considering that’s the default personality of 75% of all action protagonists), but the canny casting of Captain America himself, Chris Evans, manages to offset the changes and the omission of Tim Allen.
Evans has done all this “man out of time” stuff before, of course, and the way the movie funnels Buzz’s growing isolation from the rest of the outpost by way of some Christopher Nolan style, Interstellar’s time skipping chicanery is neatly done as his mission cleaves years off the lives of everyone around him until he finds himself hopelessly obsolete. Pixar may be slacking a little with Lightyear when it comes to the typical heartrending stuff, but the gradual aging of Buzz’s best friend and fellow Space Ranger, Alisha, will stir some of that familiar emotional turmoil we’re used to.
However, despite the fact that Lightyear is a solid and perfectly serviceable space adventure with good performances, there’s still the nagging feeling that this is Pixar at it’s most conceptually bankrupt since Cars 2 as the convention defying plots of Luca, Soul and Turning Red (who all tellingly missed their cinematic dates and premiered on Disney+) are set aside for a standard space romp with a few interesting wrinkles.

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The look to the film is satisfyingly chunky (think if Halo was designed by Fisher Price) and contains endless callbacks to other, better sci-fi movies alongside some fan pleasing references to lines plucked right from the original Buzz’s adventures after “crashlanding” in Andy’s bedroom. Although it moves at a confident pace and is pleasing to the eye, Lightyear’s laser setting is firmly stuck on “good”, with the villainous twist being unpredictable but hardly seismic and the supporting cast being nowhere near as hilarious as you’d hope despite bosting Taika Watiti among the cast and having Sox flat out steal the film. But compared to Wall•E and the prologue of Toy Story 2, Pixar has a well documented history at doing future stuff way better and funnier and a sequel baiting post credit sting suggests that maybe any contining adventures may prove to have a more comfortable home as a Disney+ series. With that being said, is it wrong for me to now desperately want Pixar to make a throwback western starring the “actual” Woody as he rides around on Bullseye righting wrongs?
Amusingly, due to Lightyear’s reboot/prequel/spin-off energy, a couple of weird plot holes arise from the film’s unique premise such as Pixar would like us to naively believe that a mid-nineties summer blockbuster would feature a prominent, lesbian relationship (which is a lovely thought, but it’s also a shame considering there’s still noticable resistance in this day an age) – also, you mean to tell me that there was a Buzz Lightyear toy that the world lost its mind over but apparently no Sox? Inconceivable!

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As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, even when Pixar turns out a film that’s merely “good”, it’s usually still better than most other animated movies out there, but with movies like Encanto and Into The Spider-Verse regularly being put out by other studios, this is now no longer true and this updated look at one of Pixar’s most recognizable characters merely goes to finitiy, and not much further…

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