Buzz Is Real but Not Much Fun
A large part of the fun and playfulness of the Toy Story films has always been the self-aware recognition that a human child’s playthings are inanimate objects that come to life when humans aren’t around – a great bit that has always served the franchise well.
The new Pixar movie Lightyear, a spin-off of Toy Story, completely ignores that distinction and makes the Buzz Lightyear character a real person. Sure, Lightyear opens with a prologue telling us that this was Andy’s favorite movie back in 1995, and that the Buzz Lightyear toy was from that movie. But stripping that foundational element from this spin-off leaves it sadly, feeling as if it has nothing to do with the Toy Story franchise.
Unless you’re okay with that separation, you’ll probably find yourself a bit underwhelmed by Pixar’s new sci-fi adventure that acts as an origin story, of sorts, for the Buzz Lightyear character.
Lightyear follows the legendary Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Chris Evans who takes over for Tim Allen) on an intergalactic adventure where we find him, along with his commander Alisha Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba), and a crew of more than 1,000 scientists and technicians heading home to Earth from their latest mission.
When Buzz detects a signal from a previously uncharted, potentially resource-rich planet, he makes the call to reroute the mission to the barely hospitable planet where an accident destroys their exploration vessel’s fuel cell rendering it inoperative.
As the crew accepts their fate and settles in for the long game, Buzz is consumed by the desire to fix his mistake and get everyone safely back to Earth. The key to getting their space ship up and running is perfecting the fuel cell that will get them up to hyper speed for the journey home. However, each test run lasts four minutes for Buzz, but four years for everyone back on their host planet. After each attempt, Buzz returns to find his friends and crew mates tour years older, having families, and eventually dying.
The film’s villain comes in the form of a giant robot who visits the planet with ideas of stealing their fuel cell technology for his own nefarious purposes. The robot’s identity is actually a quite nice little twist that will get the attention of the adults and sci-fi fans in the audience, but will undoubtedly confuse the youngsters with its heavy time dilation element. The math is complex, but hopefully Buzz’s summation will help when he says, “the faster I fly, the further into the future I travel.”
As expected, all the wholesome messaging we’ve come to expect from Pixar – things like believing in yourself, the importance of family, and the value of teamwork – is there. In addition, the CGI is some of the best the studio has ever done. But sorely missing is much of the whimsy and fun we’ve come to expect from a Toy Story film, particularly in the cocky ineptness of the old Buzz which brought about a playful mockery from his friends. In Lightyear, that familiar Buzz has been replaced by a less likable and more stubborn space ranger who ignores his friends and defies authority.
Another sorely missing element from director/co-writer Angus McLane’s Lightyear is the signature heart and humor we’ve come to expect from a Pixar film. While the occasional amusing quip from Buzz’s motley crew of space ranger colleagues – including Taika Waititi as Mo and Dale Soules as Darby – dots the landscape from time to time, nothing really sticks. Even the film’s court jester, a robotic sidekick cat named Sox (voiced by Peter Sohn), misses more often than not. In addition, it would be easy to point out the script’s (from MacLane, Matthew Aldrich, and Jason Headley ) inability to effectively tug on the ol’ heartstrings with real human emotions, but I’m not quite certain an attempt was even made.
Nonetheless, as previously mentioned, the CGI work here is absolutely stunning in both its beauty and technical prowess. Some scenes are so realistic it feels like animation over the top of conventional camera work, however, not sure if the video game look and feel is necessarily a good thing, as impressive visuals can only carry an anemic story so far.
“To infinity” … *yawns … “and beyond!”
(Released by Disney | Pixar and rated “PG” for action/peril.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.