PG because sci-fi animation can get a little bit scary. While I think it is tame, the movie does take an action heavy stance. It's not one of the more emotional maturity films of the Pixar Universe. But in terms of making a big-budget sci-fi action blockbuster, it is going to cover a lot of the same things that movies (in a non-meta sense) cover. For some reason, the movie gave me Alien vibes at times. PG.
DIRECTOR: Angus MacLane
I'm not quite sure about a lot when it comes to this movie. It's going to be extremely hard to write because I'm still piecing things together. The most concrete thing that I can write is "I'm not sure where the hate is coming from." Like, I get that it isn't a perfect movie. Like much of the Disney catalogue, I'm probably not going to revisit it on my own. At best, I can see watching it with my kids if they want to watch it again. But for me? I enjoyed the movie when I watched it and shouldn't that be enough?
I have a feeling that I know what is the problem and I really hope that I'm wrong. This movie might have a fandom problem. People love the Toy Story movies. Like, out of the Disney properties, there's something really beloved about Toy Story. Heck, even I enjoy these movies. (With the exception of Toy Story 2, which students have weaponized to comment how I look like the owner of Al's Toy Barn.) A lot of this is speculation on my part, so it might be a little unfair. But I know that this isn't the Buzz Lightyear of the previous films. The film, starting out with a brazen meta context, establishes that this Buzz isn't the Buzz of the series. Instead, it is the Buzz Lightyear that inspired a line of toys, one of which would be purchased by Andy. Tim Allen doesn't voice Buzz (although I'm not quite sure why not. I guess toys don't always sound like the film actors.) But there's something sacred about making something with Buzz Lightyear outside of the context of Andy and Woody.
While I think that Lightyear might ultimately be unnecessary, I do like the notion of using animation to tell a story that is traditionally associate with live action cinema. Because that's the goal of the movie. It isn't to expand on the mythology of the Buzz Lightyear toy, but rather to use a license to explore something that hasn't necessarily been looked at be fore. Now, I know that there's the "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command" show that also tried touching the same content from television. But Disney has always played it fast and loose with the television stuff, especially on the pre-Disney+ networks. (This is the point where I didn't feel like writing anymore, so I fell down a YouTube hole). But I think I see this movie as the opportunity that Pixar wanted it to be. If Buzz Lightyear wasn't sacred, I see the opportunity that is opening here.
I have this argument a lot when it comes to Star Trek. Star Trek has a foundational core to "Explore strange new worlds" and whatnot. But I know that Star Trek nerds are kind of mad at Paramount+ for having these shows that don't feel like Star Trek. And to that, I say, "Star Trek isn't one thing." It has to have some core values behind it and that's about it. But the format doesn't have to be anything. When thinking about Buzz Lightyear, most of the character's actual personality is from his unboxing. If we were looking at his core values, it all stems from his connections to the rest of Andy's toys. In an odd way, we witness Buzz's birth. We know what he was programmed to do and what he became given his environment. There's not much to add there beyond what we see in the films. So to do a spin-off of that character doesn't feel like it needs to be beholden to what Buzz learns at Andy's house. If anything, it's probably smart to distance the character of this film from the Buzz of the playroom. If there were too many similarities, it would just stress that Buzz was programmed to act that way.
But that asks the question, who is this movie for? I guess the answer is...me. I'm a guy who likes movies and happens to like the Toy Story movies (with the exception of stupid Al), but I don't have any investment in these films. If anything, I'm a big fan of genre and that's what Pixar made in this case. While I do acknowledge that I have a hard time imagining Andy going to see this movie in theaters and losing his mind over it, given it's closeness in look to films like Alien or Interstellar, I can squint and see an eight-year-old kid losing his mind over something like this. But the funny thing is that the movie dares to be pretty heavy for what is ultimately supposed to be an action movie from the '90s. It's kind of bananas that Pixar decided to ignore film trends and special effects stuff for the sake of making just a really solid sci-fi action movie. What a lot of '90s sci-fi forgot is that it is meant to be challenging. Lightyear is actually kind of a challenging film, offering complex moral questions and emotional stakes for the protagonist of the film.
The insane stuff is the time dilation problem. Buzz, because he bears the weight of something that may have been out of his control (although the movie never really lets him of off the hook for his mistake), sacrifices his sense of community to save that community. Every time he goes into space to test this new fuel that offers them hope, he loses four years to time dilation. That's not something that we'd really see in a '90s summer blockbuster. But it is something that sci-fi should talk about because it does create emotional stakes. That stuff is pretty heavy for a younger audience, maybe leading to the dislike of the film. Heck, I might even join the other side and think that this movie was made for people my age, who were Andy's age when the first Toy Story movie came out. But my kids seemed to enjoy it, so I'll use anecdotal evidence to sweep that under the rug. It's interesting, but even more so, it leads to a plot that ultimately doesn't have a clean answer.
Like The Lego Movie 2, Buzz finds out that he is the villain of his own narrative. I don't think that The Lego Movie did it well. I do think that Lightyear did it better. There's a line in Toy Story 2 (Yes, that Toy Story 2) where Buzz discovers that Zurg is his father. I was wondering how this movie was going to adapt to that. Buzz shouts out "Dad" when he sees an older version of himself, which I applaud. But this one ties closer to the central conflict. Buzz, fundamentally, is a good guy. But he's so desperate to be the hero of the story that he often can't see the forest through the trees. But there is the notion about being right. I deal with this problem a lot. I think it's actually a crisis in America now, being right rather than good. Buzz knows that the crash on the planet was his fault. He knows that he put people at risk who had done nothing wrong. Had Buzz been able to change the past immediately upon impact, he could have done something good. But Older Buzz is unable to empathize with people he hasn't met. It's the same thing with ignoring news that happens overseas. Yes, he knows that people had families and had led important lives in his absence. But because he is unable to see those people, they are abstract demographics to him. Young Buzz, on the other hand, saw the joy that Alisha had while Buzz was in space. She became real. As dark as that comparison is, it's the reason that we read The Diary of Anne Frank. People are incapable of emotionally bonding with statistics. However, we relate when the problem becomes real. Young Buzz and his interactions with Alicia and Izzy make them more than a statistic. It's very smart.
But if I am playing canon king, which I often do, I do find it hard to believe that Andy bonded with a movie like this so much. I mean, Lightyear --in world --might have been a mega blockbuster (unlike here). But it is way too sci-fi academic for an eight year old like Andy to bond with that hard. Didn't most kids Andy's age get really excited for Buzz Lightyear? It's a story about morality and the importance of dealing with the mistakes we made. It's about choosing to question oneself and one's path. I mean, an eight-year-old really getting that stuff? That being said, I can probably say that I didn't quite get some of the movies that I adored. Sure, Ernest Scared Stupid wore its heart on its sleeves. But I know that many of the elements of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? went over my head.
So it all makes sense. I wish more people liked it. It's a smarter movie than you would think. That being said, it is Pixar. With the exception of the Cars movies, they tend to be deeper than most. But it kind of fizzled, so I have to be alone in thinking that this movie was pretty solid.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.