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Lightyear Review

“To infinity… and beyond.” - Hawthorne & Lightyear

Lightyear | Disney Movies

Initially, I had a problem with this movie. (But it’s not the one you might think – more of that later.)

I’m a big, unashamed fan of Pixar and their output. Let’s face it, if you’ve read any of my stuff, like EVER, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of animation, be it classic hand drawn or computer animated. I’ve actually been alive long enough to have witnessed the transition. But when I heard that the upcoming movie from Pixar was a Buzz Lightyear solo film, my heart sank just a little. Surely, having brought the Toy Story franchise to a satisfying conclusion – those characters had earned their rest. Surely, the creative geniuses at Pixar had some more original concepts than to milk those characters dry. Wasn’t this a clear case of going to the well once too often?

How wrong was I?

I really should stop doubting or trying to second guess Pixar because I’ve been proven wrong every single time. Other phrases that have come back to haunt me over the years include “talking CARS?” then there was “what - film about rats? Nobody will watch that” and “they made a film about FISH? Are they crazy? And let us not forget “Turning Red… a film about puberty? How awkward.” I was wrong each and every time.

As usual, Pixar have a magical way of making things that shouldn’t work, work. They’ve adapted an uncanny skill for utilising animation to tell really high concept and challenging elements in their films better than anybody else ever has. Psychoanalysis in Inside Out, near death/life after death in Soul, and indeed Puberty in Turning Red – to name just a few. That’s without considering the ecological message of Wall-E of the heart-breaking romance, marriage and loss of Carl and Ellie Fredricksen in Up. Pixar, in truth are masters of storytelling. And Lightyear is no exception.

The cord with the Toy Story films is both established AND cut in an opening caption, which explains that in 1995, Andy saw a film that made him want the Buzz Lightyear toy. This is that film. And instantly we’re set, and it makes sense why Tim Allen isn’t providing the voice for Buzz, Chris Evans is. Because this isn’t Buzz Lightyear the toy, it’s Buzz Lightyear, action movie hero. And really, who better than Captain America himself to voice him.

Before I go any further, there is, of course, a large elephant in the room that needs addressing. This is the controversy I alluded to at the top of the article. The problem that a certain faction of the planet’s population has in that Lightyear contains a shot of a same sex couple kissing. Cue baying mobs of Trump supporters and mouth breathers going online, accusing of Disney/Pixar not only promoting same sex couples, but of grooming children. Honestly, there are times I despair of the human race, and this is one of them. The exact same allegations were being hurled at Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness a several weeks ago. It seems Disney/Pixar or Marvel, or Star Wars just can’t win. They’re either being non-inclusive and unrealistic by not acknowledging that there is indeed diversity in the world, or they’re culturally appropriating and virtue signalling when they do. Having seen the film, I wasn’t offended, or affronted. I didn’t feel groomed or brainwashed. I don’t think anybody with an ability to reason would be.

So, what did I see, in this film which seems to have divided critics and audiences?

I saw a cinematic rarity. A science fiction comedy which takes elements of Star Wars, Alien, The Black Hole, Lost in Space and several more. The film has actual science in its core, and the film has heart and redemption. I saw Buzz Lightyear display the same kind of tendencies he did in the first Toy Story film. That’s a lot of stuff to unpack in this review.

As the film begins, Buzz is a Space Ranger, aboard a large spaceship containing hundreds of people in cryogenic sleep. The ship has been diverted there automatically, to explore detected life forms, as per Alien. In trying to take off, Buzz makes an error and they’re stranded there indefinitely while repairs are made to the hyperdrive system. A colony is established while they try to replicate their crystalline fuel to travel in hyperspace.

Buzz tries to make amends by being the pilot to try the new fuel in a four-minute flight – but due to the theory of relativity, although he doesn’t quite achieve hyperspace speed, what was a four-minute flight for him takes four YEARS for the rest of the colony.  As he tries various versions, each four-minute flight means that years fly by for the colony, and he sees his best friend and commander, Hawthorne, get older, she meets her partner, they raise children and then grandchildren – until one day she’s not there to greet him anymore, having passed of old age a couple of years prior. This was as delicately and sensitively handled as the marriage of Carl and Ellie in Up.

When, later in the film, Buzz has the opportunity to go back in time and prevent this ever happening, there’s a very real moral dilemma. Although he and Hawthorne dreamed of ending their isolation on the planet and re-joining the Space Rangers the question is; does he have the right to change the past, and deny Hawthorne the life where she found her soul mate and life partner who she raised a family with?

These kind of questions and concepts really elevate Lightyear beyond the usual summer blockbuster fare, and certainly beyond the capacity of those who’d be offended at the sight of a two second same-sex kiss, but then – those tend to be the same mouth breathers who dismiss all animation as just kiddie cartoons.

Buzz Lightyear Battles Zurg In Pixar's Lightyear Trailer | Movies | Empire

Amongst the elements I’ve described, there’s the development of Buzz himself. At first, stoic, wanting to do the heroic thing alone with no team behind him, until he realises that he really DOES need not only a team behind him, which include Hawthorne’s feisty but with a phobia of space granddaughter, but also Darby Steel – an attitudinal senior citizen on parole, and Mo Morrison a meek, gentle and clumsy soul – but he needs a family too. And this is exactly the same realisation which came to the toy Buzz in Toy Story.

Visually, Lightyear is possibly the most stunning film I’ll see this summer. With every film, Pixar elevate the art of digital effects to an absurdly beautiful level. Every frame of this film is immaculately realised. Amid the hectic action and epic battles with Zurg, there’s always the breath-taking beauty of the visuals. That’s something I’ve come to not only look forward to, but depend upon and appreciate deeply from Pixar – the exacting attention to every single detail whether it’s front and centre of the screen, demanding your attention and full focus, or peripherally at the side or in the background.

All in all, another instance of Pixar knocking the ball out of the park with their first wide cinematic release since Onward, which was the last film I saw at the multiplex nine days before the first Covid lockdown in March 2020. Much as I’ve enjoyed Soul, Luca and Turning Red at home during the pandemic, it feels right to welcome Pixar back on the big screen.

As for a rating, this can only go one way as both an animation nerd, a science fiction geek, and a fan of great storytelling….

Rob Rating - 10

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