Pixar isn’t a run-of-the-mill animation studio.
The Disney-owned company’s work is routinely sublime, if not sensational. And it’s more than Pixar’s jaw-dropping animation that sets it apart. The studio delivers fully-realized tales that entrance young and old with equal fervor.
And then there’s “Lightyear.”
The film, an attempt to extend the “Toy Story” franchise, is Pixar in visuals only. The story is shockingly weak, the “wacky” characters won’t be remembered for long. Only a digitized cat makes an impression, and it’s still one of the lesser sidekick figures from Pixar lore.
Tim Allen, overlooked in favor of a younger, more progressive Buzz Lightyear voice, dodged a bullet.
Chris Evans is now the voice of Buzz Lightyear, the toy that co-anchored four wonderful “Toy Story” films. Except he’s not a toy but a Space Ranger exploring strange new worlds.
“Lightyear,” we’re told, is the movie that inspired the Buzz toy in the first place.
Buzz and fellow Space Ranger Hawthorne Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) land on a dangerous planet teeming with snake-like critters. Their escape from said planet damages their turnip-shaped space craft (yes, that’s one of many bland recurring gags) and they’re stuck far away from home.
To escape, Buzz attempts a risky maneuver that, unbeknownst to him, takes four years to complete even though only a few hours pass for him. So when he tries, and fails, everyone back on the planet has aged four long years upon his return.
So he tries the same stunt again, and again, and suddenly his peers have grown old and passed on.
What a tortured way to start a movie.
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Buzz eventually teams with three space rookies, including Hawthorne’s granddaughter (Keke Palmer) and a crusty ex-con (Dale Soules) to find a new way to go back home.
Remember, the film’s entire plot involves our hero attempting to leave a strange planet. That’s it.
It doesn’t help that this Buzz isn’t as funny or charismatic as Allen’s version. Evans’ Buzz is hyper-driven by the task at hand, slightly arrogant but amenable to change.
In short, he’s a bore. The film isn’t much better, with a narrative that’s both bland and too complicated for the young viewers best suited to this material.
More shocking? The comic relief can’t bring the funny as expected. The most disappointing? Taika Waititi as a dimwitted soul always a few thoughts behind his peers.
Waititi can steal a scene in his sleep, but his lukewarm material betrays him.
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Voice acting isn’t as easy as it looks. What Tom Hanks and Allen brought to the “Toy Story” franchise is something special, a partnership that proved the essential glue for that Pixar franchise. Evans can’t compete, but the screenplay is mostly to blame.
The best part of “Lightyear” is Sox, a robotic cat voiced by Peter Sohn. Sox becomes not just Buzz’s steady companion but the screenwriters’ trick for getting our heroes out of tight jams atop.
R2-D2 was never this versatile.
Yes, “Lightyear” trots out generic life lessons, the kind that landed better in previous Pixar stories. Here, the Big Picture moments (lean on your friends!) are underscored and highlighted, plus the screenplay repeats them enough that even a snoozing parent can’t miss them.
The film arrives with plenty of pre-release buzz thanks to its same-sex buss. Suffice to say the moment isn’t necessary and the romance attached to it is the only romantic coupling in the film. The subplot, to be blunt, feels inorganic.
Same-sex couples deserve representation in a more natural fashion.
It’s no spoiler to say “Lightyear” looks stupendous, and director Angus MacLane (“Finding Dory”) squeezes every last pixel from the movie’s lush landscapes. It’s still a generic space romp unworthy of what many consider the most impressive film studio around.
HiT or Miss: “Lightyear” is a paint-by-numbers extension of the “Toy Story” brand, watchable but nothing more.
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