New from Peter Spedale on Be Movie See Movie: Movie Review: Lightyear

Ah the power of IP can’t even elude Pixar. The studio, famous for its original storytelling, was clearly backed into a corner by Disney and forced to grovel to the machine. The result is Lightyear, a perfectly fine summer entertainment that will be great for kids, but is closer to a mediocre Dreamworks effort than a movie from the studio that gave us Wall-E, Inside Out, and Turning Red.

Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear, if y’all remember from 1995, was based on a “real” space ranger. Lightyear the movie is about that Buzz (Chris Evans), a space ranger checking a nearby planet, T’Kani Prime for its inhabitability with his best friend/space ranger partner Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba). After a mishap Buzz believes he caused, he, Alisha and the rest of the humans on board their ship are stuck on T’Kani Prime for the forseeable future, until the space rangers can find a fuel mixture that will let them travel home. Desperate to finish the mission, Buzz tries various formulas with the help of his emotional cat companion Sox (Peter Sohn), which send Buzz a little further forward in time. He sees Alisha’s family, including granddaughter Izzy (Keke Palmer), and her cadet friends Mo (Taika Waititi) and Darby (Dale Soules) grow up in just a few minutes of Buzz’s life. Also, as fate would have it, Buzz’s nemesis Zurg’s (James Brolin) spaceship arrives when Buzz gets back, providing another threat to everyone on T’Kani prime

If my theater was any indication, Lightyear’s gonna be must see entertainment for young kids. The plot moves along at a decent clip, passing time through very colorful montages, driving home the complex nature of time travel to an under 10 year old crowd simply and efficiently. There’s numerous chases, explosions, and laser shootouts where I could see kids eyes getting bigger and wider with each moment. Peter Sohn’s Sox is a highlight, a wonderful addition to the strange Pixar characters with his matter of fact but soothing delivery of his lines: I chuckled everytime Sox did a calculation. The “real” Buzz Lightyear is decently written and easy to root for as a hero, but Alisha and Izzy are the MVPs of the movie, steady hands (Alisha) or unsure heroes rising to the occasion (Izzy). Adults probably won’t be awed by Lightyear, but they won’t be bored either, and might get a kick out of watching their kids watch the movie.

But it becomes clear that Lightyear lacks that special Pixar sauce their great films create. IP is the easiest thing to blame, but there’s plenty of great films within franchises (Thor Ragnarok, anyone?). The biggest sin is there is little emotional payoff in Lightyear. Those fun montages I mentioned above? They skip over the life Alisha lived, which hint at a full, joyful experience that made her wise, but which the audience never sees, undercutting Buzz’s arc as the story progresses. Buzz spends all of his time trying to “finish the mission.” A more adept film would have changed his definition of what the “mission” was slowly, beautifully, as he saw all these people around him making new lives and homes on this “uninhabitable” planet. But in the name of speed and bright lights, we gloss over the key part of the movie, stifling Buzz’s character arc and thematic message. Lightyear is one of the rare times I was pretty nonplussed walking out of the theater, a bummer of a realization around an otherwise perfectly fine moviegoing experience.

Sometimes you gotta ease a kid into a Finding Nemo or a Bambi. Lightyear is a nice space bridge to get a kid there. It will lay the movie foundation for kids today, so then the parents can unleash Toy Story on them. I can’t wait to see the surprise when Buzz Lightyear shows up 20 minutes into that movie after seeing Lightyear, they’re gonna flip out.

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