The release of the first trailer for Lightyear, the Toy Story spin-off centered on the franchise’s beloved Space Ranger, prompted a tweet from its frontman who was received like the ramblings of a sphinx.
“It’s not Buzz Lightyear the toy,” written Chris Evans. “This is the origin story of the human Buzz Lightyear the toy is based on.”
Evans’ words actually make sense – Lightyear the Movie, he wanted his followers to know, is about the character himself, not the action figure voiced by Tim Allen in Toy Stories 1-4.
If the tweet reads like nonsense, I’d say it has a lot more to do with the convoluted, creatively bankrupt concept than the actual syntax. (A film based on a fictional toy may seem less flimsy, less immediately objectionable, than a film based on Pop Tarts Where Flaming Hot Cheetosbut not a lot.)
In Hollywood’s quest to turn everything it touches into IP, audiences are increasingly enmeshed in a Gordian knot of not just sequels and prequels, but also spinoffs, reboots and ‘requests’ also – and now this.
Just as well, writers Jason Headley and Angus MacLane, who also directs, seem to have found a cleaner hook since Evans tweeted in December 2020. An opening intertitle announces Lightyear as the movie that spawned the action figure. action – that is, the film that led Andy, the beloved owner of Toy Story’s original rag-tag toy gang, to abandon Tom Hanks’ Woody and associated cowboy memorabilia in favor of more flashy spaceman merch.
With my apologies for being a buzzkill (ahem), I have to say that I can’t imagine Lightyear inspiring such fervor in kids today.
Not least because Headley and MacLane – having made a point of figuring out exactly where this movie is supposed to be in the Toy Story universe – totally fail to live up to the premise.
Though he borrows frankly from the classics of interstellar travel (Star Wars; 2001: A Space Odyssey), Lightyear offers little of the goofy, heroic charm that made the animated figure so endearing.
Allen’s character’s lofty proclamations about reaching Star Command and his mission logs were amusing because they came from a little plastic man, unaware of the true nature of his existence. “You are too much !” an exasperated Woody yells at an undeterred Buzz in one of the 1995 film’s most memorable moments.
But there is no such irony in the earnest dedication of the new – or should it be old? – Buzz. (In that sense, Captain America is probably a good fit for the role.)
When he finds himself marooned – along with his commander and friend Alisha Hawthorne (Orange is the New Black’s Uzo Aduba) and a giant spaceship of fellow rangers – on a hostile planet with their fuel source, a “hyperspeed crystal”, destroyed, Buzz sets out to bring them all home.
That means embarking on a series of back-and-forth missions in order to test his jerry-rigged crystals (the process is akin to making a multi-flavor Slurpee, why not?). Unfortunately, the vagaries of time dilation mean that each time Buzz returns, everyone else is years older and more and more settled on the planet he wants to escape: Fleeting Glimpses of Alisha’s Wedding , the birth of his daughter and his 40th birthday. by in a montage.
(The film’s lesson in the dangers of workaholism will surely resonate with children everywhere.)
When the creepy Transformer-esque Zurg (voiced by James Brolin) enters and begins wreaking havoc (for reasons unknown), Buzz swings around to fight him – the hero assisted by an obligatory cute sidekick, the robotic cat Sox (Peter Sohn), and a group of cadets helmed by Alisha’s granddaughter, Izzy (Keke Palmer, Hustlers). (It’s up to that team, complemented by Taika Waititi and Dale Soules, another Orange is the New Black alum, to handle a lot of what passes for laugh lines in this film.)
This conflict fizzles almost as gracelessly as it was introduced: the revelation of Zurg’s nefarious motives fails to make sense of the arch-rivalry that characterized the relationship between the toy versions of him and Buzz.
Which brings us back to the fact that this film ultimately fails to embody the mythology it claims.
In Toy Story 2, Woody discovers that he is the product of an old TV show called Woody’s Round-Up, excerpts of which suggest a riff on Howdy Doody, with a Woody puppet happily tossing his rootin’-tootin one-liners. ‘.
In contrast, nothing about Lightyear suggests it could have been directed and watched by Andy in 1995, except perhaps for the boring animatronic cat. (His catchphrase: “beep boop beep boop.”) Nothing about Lightyear suggests that, had the boy seen him, he would have fallen in love with space travel. Even though the landscapes are beautifully rendered and Michael Giacchino’s score is often moving, there’s none of the silly flash promised by the character’s neon green and purple iconography.
Perhaps there’s no better distillation of the gap between the toy Buzz and the “human” Buzz than the way “To Infinity and Beyond!”, a loving parody of the The emphasis of a high camp hero, here becomes a serious assertion shared by him and Alisha, signed by a slight flick of the index finger. The line should shoot up – it’s exciting and meaningless! – but Headley and MacLane insist on making it heavy. They bring it right back to Earth, or whatever planet they’re on.
Part of Woody’s task in the original Toy Story is to coax Buzz through the existential crisis that accompanies the eventual reveal of his PVC identity. “Being a toy is much better than being a Space Ranger!” Woody lets go. You said it, mate.
Lightyear is currently in theaters.
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