After having a chance to see the new Pixar LIGHTYEAR movie, I find myself questioning who the audience is for this movie. So let me cut to the chase.
I’m a middle-aged mom of a teen boy. I’m not in the habit of viewing a lot of “kid” movies these days but I would argue that Disney and Pixar aren’t really cartoons for kids like they once were. They are movie events. And throw in the possibility of a little Toy Story nostalgia, I was curious and so was my 15 year old son.
The Toy Story History
The original Toy Story was released in 1995 with its equally as heartwarming sequels, Toy Story 2 (1999) and Toy Story 3 (2010), to follow. (Please don’t ask me to include Toy Story 4 in this trilogy for reasons I have explained in detail here). It was a practically perfect story arc. We watched it all together as a family. Mom and Dad cried while little Evan wondered why we were so sad. They were beautiful happy tears.
But to a three year old, it was all about Buzz Lightyear. He had Buzz Lightyear wings, Buzz Lightyear Halloween costume, Buzz Lightyear laser gun, and the Fisher Price Imaginext Toy Story 3 Landfill playset. Most of all, he cherished a lesser known animated story called Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins.
He watched that DVD so many times that he literally wore it out. At the start of the story, we see the fellow toys in Andy’s room put in a VHS tape of Buzz’s latest cartoon adventure. In this video, Buzz is the space cowboy we know and love: overconfident but with a heart of gold. In a nutshell, he’s a hero. This is definitely the Buzz Lightyear that appealed to little Andy and why he marveled when he received the toy on his birthday.
This is NOT the Buzz we see in the LIGHTYEAR movie
The story starts by explaining how a young boy named Andy received a cherished toy in 1995 based on one of his favorite characters. And this movie we were about to see is where Andy first sees him. This is the movie that makes Buzz his hero.
That’s the first major mistake of this movie. Lightyear is not a space cowboy, planetary adventurer, action hero movie. It’s not the movie that inspires toys and dreams of little boys. It’s a darker tale about one man’s self-doubt. Sounds really uplifting, huh? More on that in a second.
I get that Disney Pixar was looking for a way to tie this standalone series into the Toy Story universe. But this explanation honestly seemed like it was a last minute attempt by a Pixar intern to tie the movies together. With all the creative minds over at Pixar, they should have seen that this is not the 1995 movie that would have fit into the original Toy Story.
Perhaps a better explanation could have included Andy growing up and wanting to make a new story about his boyhood hero. Because the style and story makes more sense in today’s culture, not in the more innocent era of 1995 Toy Story.
With that said, this is an adult issue. Kids are obviously not going to pick up on this. They aren’t even going to care how it ties into the Toy Story universe. They’re just going to want to see Buzz Lightyear!
Unfortunately, some of your kids may be disappointed. It’s a darker story, as I mentioned. Buzz and his senior fellow space ranger, Alisha Hawthorne, are exploring a planet alone when they realize it’s too dangerous and they need to abort the mission. Buzz refuses any help to fly their spaceship off the planet and his ego becomes the downfall of their escape.
He spends the rest of the movie lamenting his decision and determined to make it right. One man fighting against himself.
Enter the theory of relativity.
After each mission to right his wrong, he finds that he’s aged minutes while everyone else has aged years. He eventually aligns with Alisha’s granddaughter, Izzy, and her band of misfits to make things right. And we all learn valuable lessons along the way.
If that wasn’t enough for you, let’s throw in some string theory and time travel for the climax of the movie where Buzz finally meets his arch enemy, Evil Emperor Zurg. Thank God they still kept Zurg in the movie! But wait until you see who’s behind Zurg. It’s a little confusing and disappointing.
The one bright spot in the movie is Buzz’s robotic cat, Sox. He starts out simple enough as a mechanical companion for Buzz but Sox ends up stealing the show by being something akin to a James Bond gadget. In what could have been a Porg moment, Disney Pixar created a fun and memorable character.
Final Thoughts on LIGHTYEAR
Looking back at all of my thoughts above, you would think I hated this movie. I didn’t, actually. As a standalone movie, I found the animation to be spot on (as expected) and it kept me well intrugued and entertained for a run time of 1 hour 45 minutes.
But it wasn’t the Buzz Lightyear I knew and loved. It wasn’t Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans voiced the character – you can read a very weak explanation as to why here). It wasn’t the Buzz Lightyear battling Zurg, saving little green men, and fighting alongside his fellow ranger Warp Darkmatter.
Instead, we get a Buzz Lightyear that seems to need therapy. It’s not a fun-filled, easy-to-watch story. In fact, I would recommend this more for the tween years. Perhaps ages 10 and up.
And finally, let’s talk about that kiss. You know the one. The kiss between two women who meet while stranded on the planet, get married, have children (yes, there’s pregnancy too!), and live their lives together. It was a small and not entirely relevant scene.
We all know that Disney has admitted to a “gay agenda” and “injecting queerness” where they can. In light of an actual agenda, this feels really misplaced. I get that Disney wants to normalize things but I’m not sure that children’s animated movies are the place for it.
Overall, this movie missed the mark on providing the escapism that I think children need. While it’s obvious that the message is about inclusion and needing others and believing in yourself, sometimes kids just need to be kids. And that includes while watching movies.
Be sure to stay through the credits for THREE stingers (post-credit scenes) where there are hints that there could be more Buzz Lightyear in the future.