Far from scaling the high that would let Lightyear make it to the list of Pixar’s finest, the film mostly invests its runtime of over 100 minutes in rehashing familiar Buzz Lightyear gags
It takes about 15 seconds at the start of the film for Disney-Pixar to give away why they made Lightyear. The movie, it is explained, actually exists within the cinematic universe of the little kid Andy we saw in the Toy Story franchise. Lightyear is a film based on Andy’s space ranger toy Buzz Lightyear, a film that the boy loved watching the most growing up. Now, do the merchandise math. If reel-life kid Andy’s love for Lightyear the film prompted him to buy Buzz Lightyear the toy, and if Disney rake in billions every year selling toys based on their movie characters, this new spin-off should obviously push fresh sales for the popular toy in real life, too.
Money matters come to fore while discussing a film primarily aimed at regaling children because Lightyear underwhelms creatively despite the hype it had garnered, in the way formulaic Hollywood spin-offs/sequels/reboots with an obvious eye at big moolah often do. The film is your regular animated entertainer served with lots of action and lots more CGI dazzle, but it runs low on surprises when it comes to plot and characters. Being positioned as a spin-off of the iconic Toy Story franchise makes the challenge tougher.
The adventure is kid-friendly and just about works for die-hard toon addicts, but it misses out on the magic that defined the Toy Story saga.
The film’s lack of ambition to push the envelope on the novelty of idea is all the more glaring because the backdrop did leave such a scope by presenting two different avatars of Buzz Lightyear. Chris Evans is the voice of Buzz Lightyear the hero in the film that Andy watches, just as Tim Allen had voiced Andy’s toy Buzz Lightyear in the old Toy Story hits. A film that imaginatively channelled possibilities of a story using both the avatars of Buzz might have been interesting. Instead, the script falls back on an assembly-line adventure about the space ranger and his team out on an intergalactic adventure trip, fending off attacks of robotic bugs. The simplistic premise was perhaps meant to be in sync with the fact that Lightyear the film is, after all, something that caters to the little boy Andy. In itself, however, the idea seems inadequate to mount a mega-budget Pixar biggie for the real-life audience.
Director Angus MacLane and co-writer Jason Headley have pitched the film as an origin story of astronaut and space ranger Buzz Lightyear — in other words, the aim is to give a glimpse of Buzz’s capers in space. The story opens with Buzz and fellow space ranger Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) landing on a strange planet with their spacecraft, which Buzz calls the Turnip. The craft is carrying scientists in hypersleep and an error on Buzz’s part leaves them stranded on the planet. The plot does not move much beyond this, and most of what follows is standard video game action. The crew of the ship wakes up soon enough and Buzz must find a way to get them home safely.
The film sets up a fast-paced narrative banking on that predictable and wafer-thin premise, with situational thrills and bits of humour filling in whenever the writers seem to run out of options to carry the plot forward. This is a film where Buzz’s robotic cat Sox (voice of Peter Sohn) is one of the funniest highlights — which says a lot. The film’s villain, the evil Zurg (James Brolin), is underutilised and there is no real conflict written into the plot, which is why Buzz gets very little motive worth fighting for. If the idea was to demystify heroism, it doesn’t happen because the screenplay is more concerned creating set-piece action sequences to keep the CGI team busy. The set-pieces, incidentally, are visually stunning and technically at least the film lives up to the Pixar legacy of serving impressive animation.
MacLane’s directorial approach reminds you of countless sci-fi and action hits. Although the director has avoided copying any particular film outright, random scenes take you back to Star Wars, Starship Troopers, even Top Gun: Maverick. The director, perhaps, needed a better script to work with. The narrative builds up adequately in the early parts but the second-half struggles to find enough story to tell. To cover this up, MacLane throws in a heavy dose of animated action. While Evans evidently gets to voice a range of emotions as Buzz, most of the supporting characters remain half-baked as the narrative continues giving precedence to style and special effects over story and characters.
For those who love mid and post-credit scenes, the film has three. Without giving away spoilers, at least one of these scenes suggests there is reason enough for Buzz and company to return with a follow-up. Only, the brains at Pixar need to ensure Buzz is less of a bore the next time, and give him an adventure more engrossing than the one he just tackled. Buzz Lightyear’s first feature film as a solo hero, after all, is lightyears away from the grand gala the buzz had promised it would be.
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