by Jake Coyle
“In 1995, Andy got a toy from his favorite movie. That’s the movie.”
So begins “Lightyear,” a new Pixar release that takes a meta approach to the animation studio’s flagship franchise. It is not a prequel to “Toy Story”, but instead features the film that inspired the Buzz Lightyear toys in the first place. It’s a potentially clever bit of reverse engineering by The Walt Disney Company, which has reversed course after decades of soaring sales from its movies. We’re not really through the looking glass, but we may have been through Happy Meals.
It’s honestly a gamble – taking a fictional movie-in-a-movie and making it real – that I wanted to try first. Who hasn’t seen “Seinfeld” and is really looking forward to seeing “Rochelle, Rochelle” or “Sack’s Lunch”? Or those elusive Adam Sandler movies like the “Mer-Man” in Judd Apatow’s “Funny People”? I’ve seen “Home Alone” movies almost enough to convince myself that “Angels with Even Filthy Souls” is an actual gangster flick.
But the truth is, the appeal of all these fake-film cameos — like the ones that adorn Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” — is based on their brevity. So should ‘Lightyear’ have been a feature film or a Pixar short? The answer, I think, is the latter.
The “Toy Story” movies, once a nearly complete trilogy, were already headed toward infinity and with “Toy Story 4”, a sequel nine years later that probably did less of a need to close the narrative than the box. was inspired. Office essentials. But at the same time, forky. Forky made it forgivable.
What a compelling “lightyear” is hard to say, but there’s a dull, vaguely “Plains” feeling here that smacks of the straight-to-video spinoff. Yet unlike the “cars” circling, the “lightyear” bears the Pixar impression. And, ironically, it’s the first Pixar film in more than two years to exclusively screen in theaters. During the pandemic, “Luca,” “Soul” and “Turning Red” were all routed to Disney+ instead, sometimes reportedly against the objections of Pixar’s own animators.
But “Lightyear,” helmed by “Finding Dory” co-director Angus MacLaine (who made some of the “Toy Story” shorts and TV specials that has expanded the film series), comes to theaters just as summer. Movies are reaching the stratosphere again. , So it might be a bit cheesy to call “Lightyear”—the biggest children’s movie to come out in a while—a failed mission.
It’s a surprisingly self-contained film—that the opening title card is one of the only tethers to “Toy Story”—with “real” buzz (more human and voiced by Chris Evans, stepping in for Tim Allen). The not-toy version sits on a distant planet with fellow space ranger Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) and a spaceship full of people. Every time Buzz tries to rocket to Earth at light speed to get help, something goes wrong. Each test takes a day, but back on a distant planet, everyone else has been living for years. In a blip, Alisha (the first black LGBTQ character in a major studio animated film) becomes engaged, has a baby, watches her son graduate and grow old.
As with its classic science-fiction framework, “Lightyear” borrows from “The Twilight Zone,” “Star Trek,” Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” and others. It’s like Pixar made a straightforward sci-fi movie—one with an obvious affection for the genre but less than the big-hearted splendor of “WALL-E.” It can be said that the unconventional approach to “lightyear” allows Pixar to break out of the usual standards of animation studios. “Lightyear” isn’t likely to be ambitious or existential or make you cry. It’s just a tasteless film, not much different from the others.
“Lightyear” moves a bit further when a ragtag crew including Buzz Alisha’s granddaughter Izzy (Keke Palmer), accident-prone Mo Morrison (Taika Waititi, doing her best to add some comic life to the film), and Dale Soules. unites with. Criminal Darby Steele. Buzz’s most notable companion, however, is a highly intelligent robotic cat named Sox (voiced by “The Good Dinosaur” director Peter Sohn), a particularly familiar kind of Disney sidekick sure to kickstart a new business opportunity. is designed to do.
This may be the only cycle of life at work in “Lightyear,” a dead-end wrong turn in the typically infinite Pixar universe. Buzz, I’m a little bored myself. It’s a character that, because that’s not the buzz we know, he has to prove his worth as a hero. But to distinguish him beyond a chin that makes Jay Leno’s look smaller, Buzz — just like in the movie — tries to skate by on name recognition. It’s enough to make you wonder what Andy saw in him in the first place. Maybe someone showed him a “ratatouille”.
The Walt Disney Company’s release “Lightyear,” has been rated PG for Action/Risk by the Motion Picture Association of America. Running time: 105 minutes. Two out of four stars.
Follow Associated Press Film writer Jake Coyle on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP