Lightyear is not the movie that inspired Andy to Want a Buzz Lightyear Toy
Much to Disney and Pixar’s protestations, I do not believe Lightyear is the movie that inspired Andy to ask, and his parents to buy, a Buzz Lightyear toy back in 1995. While the idea of a space ranger resonates, the overly sophisticated plot and mean Buzz from an alternative timeline demonstrates a post-millennial sensibility.
When gruff old Buzz arrived in act three, Lightyear stopped being a kids movie and became something existential that little children should not be burdened with. They may want to explore who they are, but they should not be confronted with a future of wrong choices the hero devolves into a stock villain.
I didn’t see that twist coming, and you know what, I didn’t want to.
What I wanted was a Buck Rodger’s style space opera that made Buzz Lightyear the hero that a little boy would look up to. Even Elsa redeems herself by the end of Frozen, and she has to put in a lot of work. For Buzz to suffer through time dilation, the loss of friends and loved ones, and then having his body and mind duplicated, confronting himself with ire when only one will survive, just, wow, too much Pixar.
John Lassiter may have found himself a member of the #MeToo generation of old white guys behaving badly, but his creative side would not have let this movie be made. Lightyear sucks the joy out of Buzz Lightyear to the point I’m not sure I will ever enjoy Buzz the way I did before.
The frolicking, clueless toy should have been inspired by an icon—and yes, Buzz-prime does suffice, but in the end, his obsession goes too far to pull off his ambitions. All of his “I can’t give up” ends up leading him to giving up.
As we know, Chris Evans is a guy who can, “do this all day,” and he does a very good job with what he’s given. While there was nothing wrong with Chris Evans playing Buzz, it doesn’t seem right that Tim Allen wasn’t called upon. This is animation. An aging actor need never age—and Allen is as full of voice as ever.
Visually, I found Lightyear as stunning as other Pixar outings, with rich details completing the purposefully not-too-human human characters. And those characters were also rendered beautifully and respectfully. The music by Michael Giacchino provided a perfectly space opera vibe, but the movie’s script let down the other creative departments.
Lightyear is not without heartfelt moments as Buzz connects with first his crashed crew, and then their descendants. I see the “lost in space plot” as the central flaw percolating through the film’s issues. Being lost in space combined with time travel and alternative universes exacerbates the complexity, creating a mess that eventually makes Lightyear less than both a children’s movie or an adult film.
WWGLD (What Would George Lucas Do)
Rather than wowing themselves with possibilities, Pixar needed to craft a simple through line with some adventure. Play off time the way Star Trek or Star Wars usually does. There is no need to explain anything in a children’s movie. And given the big assertions in all of Star Wars, not much of a requirement in a space opera either.
Pixar attempted to make Lightyear into a harder SciFi film than it every needed to be. The Millennium Falcon jumps from one place to another without much more than hand waving and a reference to a jump to light speed. Planet killing rays from Death Stars and Death Planets take minutes to reach targets, not years. Let Buzz crash, have him do some heroic stuff, including saving his crew and returning them safely to Earth, and let it be done.
Flashy flying, plenty of talking into the wrist (to actual effect rather than a prompt for snide side eye) would work. Come on, don’t make fun of the Captain’s log. Not every movie has to be a commentary on all the movies that came before it. A good, unexpected throwback can be welcomed, but don’t undercut the thing that supposed to be the thing that later gets undercut.
I feel like the opening title that says this was the movie Andy saw was added later by somebody who that that would be a good thing to say. Some making-of feature on Disney+ will likely let us know eventually.
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Still Pixar people can imagine what it was that Andy saw at the movies, perhaps a drive-in. We already know what drove Star Wars merch: cool heroes, beautiful heros, cool ships, and cool villians—and, oh, cool aliens. And yes, some obscure thing called The Force.
The reason those things sold was because George Lucas and team wallowed in them. They didn’t undercut to offer commentary. They went for broke on all cylinders and delivered a space morality tale with a lot of aliens and ships and laser beams.
I’m sure Andy saw Star Wars. If he saw Lightyear after Star Wars I think he would have asked for a Darth Vader action figure, not a Buzz Lightyear. He would understand Darth (at least that Darth, not the Obi-Wan Kenobi version) but I don’t think he would have related to Buzz Lightyear.
Maybe Next Time
Of course, merch for all kinds of films sells, so perhaps Andy’s tastes weren’t as sophisticated as I give him credit for, but I maintain my conviction that this wasn’t the film Andy saw. It was perhaps from an alternative timeline where the angst-ridden negativity of the second decade of the 21st century arrived early. The Andy of Toy Story saw another film, a film which I hope someday to experience in all its joyful glory.
If nothing else, the alternative reality play gives Pixar an out to offer another version of the film without waiting for decade. Maybe Lightyear should be a series that runs on Disney+ as a rerun of a 1995 series that this universe never saw. If that was good and fun, it would fix everything.
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