I saw the new Disney/Pixar movie Lightyear this afternoon and the theater was about half full. To be fair, it was 4pm on a beautiful day and the temperature had dropped to a tolerable 91 degrees outside.
A couple observations. First, I missed having the Pixar short before the movie. Second, I saw a trailer for the upcoming Strange World, a Don Hall animated feature for Thanksgiving 2022. I have to admit, this one got passed me. Announced in April 2020 (wonder what was going on then that I was so distracted!), this is an animated film about a family of explorers discovering a fantastical land. Will it follow in the recent success of Encanto and Moana? I can only hope.
In 1995, a boy named Andy received a toy for his birthday. This is the movie on which the toy was based.
That is the introduction and premise of the Disney/Pixar movie, Lightyear. It introduces you to character of Buzz Lightyear (played in the movie by Chris Evans). The movie was Andy’s favorite, which is why he received the Buzz Lightyear toy for his birthday. Like all Pixar movies, it works on multiple levels, but for Andy, it was a formative sci-fi adventure (think Star Wars for the rest of us who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s).
Indeed, there is a bit of a Star Wars undercurrent running throughout the movie, both in music and story. It is certainly plausible this movie was released in mid-90’s to capture the flavor and excitement of a Star Wars inspired generation of new parents eager to share their secret sci-fi passions with their offspring. I can see Andy’s mom and dad taking him to see the movie and how the embryos of creativity nurturing in his mind could be fertilized by Buzz’s adventure.
As the trailers imply, Buzz is a Space Ranger who prides himself on always getting the job done. There is no backstory to Buzz’s backstory, putting Space Rangers in context, or even providing a home planet for Buzz his fellow Space Rangers. There is a lot that you just take for granted because it’s not really important, like who put out the original distress call that put the story in motion. What is important is how you respond when things go wrong, and this is a life story from which any kid or adult can learn.
Full of action, adventure, humor and surprises, it is a story of a man who learns to grow up without aging. And a sidekick that makes cats almost likeable.
Lightyear has a better audience reaction than its critical review, but the critical reviews are not bad. Pixar sets the bar high, and perhaps the most negative thing I’ve read is that the movie is comparable to Soul and Turning Red, released on Disney+. Personally, I think Soul deserved the big screen treatment. It was a wonderful, ethereal film with incredible music. Turning Red was also fun, but I wonder if it wasn’t painted too much as a “girl” movie instead of a movie about family expectations (not to mention hidden secrets).
BTW, the hidden family secrets theme has surface again for anyone who is watching the new Disney+ Marvel series, Ms. Marvel.
The good news is that the FDA has approved vaccinations for children 6mo to 5yrs old, and while that might not increase the turnout for Lightyear, I do hope that it provides some assurance for parents who might remain hesitant about vaccinating their 5-12 age children, who are in the prime Pixar demographic.
One last thought. Pixar movies tend to live on long past their theatrical distribution phase, so that’s something to consider when bemoaning box office expectations and reality. This could lead to a refresh of Buzz Lightyear toys, and hopefully the introduction of Izzy Hawthorne toys as well. And certainly, everyone should have a home companion like Sox, more compact and litter trained than Baymax.
But also, Lightyear will get many plays when it is introduced to Disney+ later this summer or early autumn. To me, movie theaters are pretty safe, especially if vaccinated. For many, however, they are just not yet there. Plus, though movie ticket prices have not gone up (I don’t think - I pay a monthly membership), inflationary pressures may lead parents to wait until the movie comes out on Disney+.
On this front, I think movie theaters do a disservice, making movies prohibitively expensive to many members of the general audience. Theaters have chosen to justify their high prices with improvements to the big screen experience, such as introducing Dolby Vision on top of stadium seating and mobile concession ordering (a convenience also necessitated by the pandemic). But what I really think would draw people back to the big screen is reasonable ticket and concession prices. It should not be part of the moviegoing experience to be ripped off, at least not the kind theaters want to be remembered by.
Back to Lightyear, our friends often see us better than we see ourselves, but sometimes it takes looking in a mirror before we can truly learn the lessons we need to learn. Does living life mean living a life of purpose or a life of meaning? Can you live a life of both? This is the fundamental question of Lightyear. And sometimes, you have to be marooned on a desolate planet with man-eating weeds and insectoids to find the answer.
The movie also puts into context many of the references Buzz makes in his early days as Andy’s toy when his life as a Space Ranger remained real. Undoubtedly, people will go back to the original Toy Story movie to compare the toy with the movie hero on which it was based. And a few will even be disappointed that the toy didn’t come with a hidden pen compartment, or that Toy Story Buzz never pressed the middle green button.
Ironically, the Toy Story character designers did such a great job at creating a believable Buzz Lightyear toy (so much so that creating an actual toy was made easier by the drawings and designs of the animators) that one of the biggest challenges was reverse engineering the movie character to be someone who looked like they were adapted into a toy. From Evans’ authoritative voice, later represented in toy form by Tim Allen, to the shape of Buzz’s head, to revealing of other physical features previously hidden inside the space ranger suit, to personality features hinted at but not explored in the toy Buzz, it is easy to see how Buzz Lightyear went from movie character to a toy character in a movie.
Who notes the movie had traditional bonus clips in the credits, but it was after the Luxo lamp shut off that the teaser for a sequel came along, though it’s not clear if that sequel was released in the late 90’s or not (though if the movie was successful enough for Andy to be so excited to receive his birthday present that he forgot his best bud Woody, you would have to assume the answer to both questions is yes)…
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