The running joke about Disney-Pixar movies is how they imbue feelings into objects and lifeforms that don’t often display them clearly. The world of Nemo is about how fish have feelings. Ratatouille is about how rats have feelings. Cars is about how automobiles have feelings. Even Pixar’s logo, a small anthropomorphized lamp, seems to have feelings.
Likewise then, Light year is about how white men have feelings.
Light year focuses on Buzz Lightyear. You probably know Buzz as the main character of the famous 27-year-old toy story franchise about a boy named Andy and his batch of secretly sentient action figures, dolls and toys. However, Light year is not an ongoing solo adventure of this little plastic hero (who was voiced by Tim Allen). According to Disney and Pixar tradition, Light year (2022) is the true 1995 sci-fi movie that inspired Buzz Lightyear toys in Andy’s universe. Andy saw Light year and wanted the action figure his mother bought him in the original Toy story.
Buzz Lightyear in the toy story movies is simply a toy representation of that original, fictional Buzz Lightyear (who is voiced by Chris Evans). Despite their differences, a common idea of the two Buzz Lightyears – bold, stubborn, strong – is understood by Andy and by us. That’s a pretty lofty concept for a kids’ movie.
Light year itself is a gentle reflection on the value of friendship, an origin story that gives the titular character a sense of purpose and a speedy ride through an often beautiful cosmic world. There’s also a hilarious robot cat named Sox; I am frightened by my own fondness for the Sox. In all, Light year is easily in the top half of the Disney and Pixar filmography. It’s a charming and sometimes extremely funny space adventure.
Yet there’s something beneath the surface that compromises Disney and Pixar’s competent storytelling. It is the idea that Light year exists to not only give us an independent film about the feelings of this space ranger, but rather to take advantage of Disney’s highly lucrative intellectual property. For a character whose famous words are “to infinity and beyond”, Light year feels predictable, content to play within the plum Disney confines rather than pushing Disney and Pixar into an exciting future.
If you think of Light yeartoo much existence, your brain may begin to itch with questions.
Light year is animated like Andy from toy story is animated, Andy also perceives Light year like an animated movie, or is it live action? Can Andy, who is 6 years old at the start of the first toy story, even understand what the film is about? And how it goes Light year even exist in our own universe, 27 years after its debut? How did he get here? And why is he here?
Like a faceless god, the film gives no concrete answers to these questions. Instead, it gives us a story of failure (sort of) and friendship.
This Buzz Lightyear, along with his best friend, space guard Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba), is part of a crew tasked with exploring an uncharted planet. They quickly discover that this uncharted world is hostile, full of giant insects and strangling vines, which is further complicated when a decisive action by Buzz leaves the entire crew of their turnip-shaped spaceship stranded there indefinitely.
Buzz sets out to right his wrong, trying again and again to get home in hyperspeed – the speed needed for the entire crew to jump into space. He gets closer with every attempt, but still faces the nagging problem of the unbreakable relationship between time and space. Each of Buzz’s journeys only last a few minutes for him, but they last four years for his abandoned friends, all of whom age normally. Buzz sees no problem with this as he views sacrifice as virtuous (one of the qualities that makes him similar to Chris Evans’ other major Disney character, Captain America). He is, in fact, the Buzz Lightyear we know and love – the one who is brave and loyal, and who doesn’t always have the best ideas.
There’s an implicit question in the higher-budget, better-streamed, flashier IP adaptations. You can feel it in The Lego Movie, in many Disney+ TV series, in stills from Greta Gerwig’s upcoming Barbie movie. Sure, it seems to say, this is a familiar IP-based project, designed to almost surgically extract dollars from the wallets of longtime fans… but can’t it still be creative? Isn’t it still fun?
Light year ratchets up yet another notch. The whole premise of Light year is that the Buzz Lightyear action figures in toy story were actually just promotions for this film; that this film is not just the intellectual property we know and love, but something more authentic. Light year is, according to Disney-Pixar’s modernized script, the real real story. And in a creative landscape dedicated to delving into the past, isn’t that a pretty nifty idea?
This is slightly complicated by sensitivity in Light year that, as the public, we are smart enough to understand how cash grabs work. It’s hard to take Disney’s smirking critique of consumerism too seriously, because Disney is the force it pretends to mock.
The many films of toy story franchise are about how these cookie-cutter toys are actually individuals with human feelings that aren’t disposable. This clever caveat allows new Light year goods and toy story toys, stuffed animals, tents and costumes coexist in Disney stores.
Light year leverages a lot of existing nostalgia and brand name to supplement its box office. Depending on its financial success, there may be several other Light year movies in the future. The ability to continue producing Buzz Lightyear content has come in particularly handy for Disney since 2019 toy story 4 must have been the end of toy story movies.
But the funny thing is that there are plenty in Light year it’s good enough to stand on its own. It didn’t have to be about Buzz Lightyear. “Brave and loyal without the best ideas” could apply to many characters. It’s Buzz’s friendships that make this movie.
First with Alisha. As Buzz reacts to the tragedy by trying to force correction, Alisha adapts. She leads the rest of the crew in creating a home for themselves on this new planet: constructing buildings and living spaces, constructing labs to farm resources and sustenance, and learning to defend themselves. against the very large insects of the planet. Scientists, architects and engineers prosper.
Alisha also starts her own life.
She begins dating another crew member, which blossoms in romance. Over the years, Alisha and her partner have children and their children have children. Buzz, who returns as often as a leap year, misses a large part of his life.
Alisha doesn’t blame him. She knows her best friend must try to save her crew – even though they may not need saving, given their adaptation. She figures out that Buzz will continue to charge into space for four years at a time, so she gives him a robot cat named Sox (Peter Sohn) to keep him company.
Finally, Buzz’s last space race is successful and he has the solution to bring everyone home! But unfortunately, Buzz returns 22 years in the future and his adopted planet is now besieged by a robotic menace. Buzz and Sox are the colony’s best hope, but also find themselves responsible for Alisha’s sunny but extremely green granddaughter, Izzy (Keke Palmer), and her companions, cowardly Mo Morrison (Taika Waititi) and l octogenarian ex-con Darby Steel (Dale Soules). It’s time for friendship lessons, round two.
Izzy, her ragtag crew, and Buzz inevitably teach each other about heroism and life — the kind of lessons Pixar is so adept at telling. These emotional beats are hit so precisely that Pixar should think about charging competitors for the clinic. Buzz will grow a heart. Izzy will learn more about her grandmother. Sox will learn to love despite his android circuits.
Light yearThe conclusion telegraphs another movie: Buzz, Izzy, Sox and all the friends they’ve made are strapped in and ready to fly hyperspeed. And while I’m sure it’ll be a good time, I’m a little more hesitant to join.
The appeal of Buzz Lightyear – the toy and now the astronaut – has been that the character dares to dream despite the whole world telling him it’s impractical. Its existence is meant to testify to infinite possibility, and its adherence to it is so obstinate that it borders on frustration. Light year gives us a fleeting glimpse of that, but this pretty good movie isn’t the least bit concerned with the unknown. There’s no thought to chart a future for whichever character seems the least surprising or inventive, especially compared to where the original toy story took it.
The box office can go on forever, but we’ll never get anything beyond the limits of IP.