There was some confusion when the trailers for this film came out. We all knew Buzz Lightyear as the initially deluded and pompous deluxe action figure from Andy’s toy-box but here he was as a real man in a real adventure, albeit still animated, and it wasn’t clear how this all fitted in. Was this related to Toy Story, was it some kind of origin tale, was it a total reimagining of the character, what was next – a Sooty meets Hello Kitty Incredible Journey style movie with the two of them escaping the Yakushima Ceder Forests, pursued by Tony the Tiger? WHY CAN’T THEY JUST LEAVE THINGS AS THEY ARE?
As it turns out it is quite simple. This, we are told, is the movie Andy saw in 1995 that led to him wanting a Buzz Lightyear doll for his birthday.
It’s simple yes, but sadly only the smallest amount of pedantry is needed for it this idea not to work.
Here, very quickly, are my issues with this set up:
1. Why would an action figure based on a movie character have a totally different voice (Tim Allen has been replaced by Chris Evans)?
2. If a kid in an animated world goes to see a movie, how can the animation in that movie be better than the animation that animated that animated world?
3. Sadly a film made in 1995 would probably not have had Buzz’s fellow Space Ranger be a woman and she certainly wouldn’t have been openly gay.
4. If this film was the inspiration for the toy we all know, then why the hell did the that action figure look like this:
when it should actually have looked like this?
Nope, it would have been better if they’d returned to one of the tactics they’ve already used and either had the whole thing take place in the imagination of a child like the opening of Toy Story 3 or in a contemporary computer game as with the start of Toy Story 2. I mean it’s almost as if the entire purpose of this film is actually just to make more money out of an established Disney character and indeed to sell new versions of the toys. The how and why of it all was an after thought. Indeed, this flawed explanation of how this relates to the other Buzz is literally tagged on to the start of the film.
Let’s try not to be too cynical though. In fact while at the cinema it became apparent to me that this isn’t just about the kids and the merchandising. You see, I was chatting to the guy taking food and drinks orders before the movie (this was Everyman dahling, not Odeon) and he informed me that his colleagues at the staff screening had said that this was their best film of the year. Momentarily surprised by this, especially since Top Gun Maverick was playing right in the next screen, it dawned on me that if you’re in your twenties or younger (as most cinema workers are) then this movie is your Top Gun Maverick; this is the nostalgic return to the classic features from your younger years.
While it is technically a prequel, Lightyear does play out a lot like a legacy sequel. Even though there is a totally different set up, this picks up on a lot of elements from the Toy Story films, especially the second one, and the ways in which these are worked in bring just as much satisfaction as the new Top Gun or Ghostbusters.
This certainly isn’t the film of the year and I still struggle to see how anyone could say so, no matter their age, but while I have my issues with its reason for being, I don’t think it is the soulless retread that some have accused it of being either. There has been some criticism of the House of Mouse distributors for this making it into cinemas while Pixar’s other recent films, which showed greater ambition and innovation, have gone straight to Disney+. I don’t have an issue with this though. It is not as good as Turning Red but I preferred it to both Luca and Soul and it is more cinematic than any of them. The spacescapes look great and the action and characterisation are compelling. There is that inclusion of the gay couple as well which is great; we’ve not come that far from 1995 for this not to be significant for representation. It should also be noted that most of the supporting players are black (although the best one is ginger and white). Lightyear certainly has a lot more to offer than just the answer to the questions of whether or not Buzz is bald under that purple balaclava.
If this makes money I wouldn’t rule out seeing Lightning McQueen in the next Fast and Furious film.