A few moments in light year, the new Pixar movie now in theaters, looks positively filmed. Only the strange spherical shape of Pixar’s idea of the human head indicates that we are actually looking at animation. It’s almost photo-realistic. For the rest of the movie, we’re just looking at beautiful computer renderings: a distant, foreboding planet, the great and endless maw of stars around it. There is also a cute mechanical cat.
What they have visually succeeded in light year is wonderful stuff. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t stand up for that work. This is a movie that – it’s been explained many times now – was meant to be what Andy the little boy looks like Toy Story who is now about 75 years old in that series’ timeline, watched and loved before buying his own Buzz Lightyear action figure, turning his toy ecosystem into chaos. That’s a meager, or at least tense, premise for an expensive film from a studio whose reputation for thoughtful, unique storytelling remains pretty solid, if a little tarnished. light year is almost the low point of Pixar that is Cars 2only with a spiffier paint job.
Chris Evansplaying spaceman Buzz trying to right a mistake that left his people stranded on a deserted rock never sells the character’s joke Tim Allen did for four films. But that’s not really his fault. This Buzz is no vain toy who grimly realizes the horrific limits of his reality. This is the real man, so he’s a little more serious and certainly more directly connected to the greatness of his legacy. That’s not very fun to play, so we don’t get to hear much of the wise Boston tone that Evans has deftly used in the past and could have worked well here.
The rest of the voice cast is strong. My favorite part of casting is Dale Souleswho plays a raspy ex-con just like her, memorably, on Orange is the new black† She is accompanied by a spicy Keke Palmer (about to have a big summer between this and Jordan Peele‘s no), a charming one peter son as the cute (if reverse engineered by the merchandising department) robot cat, and Taika Waititiwhose pleasant shtick still has a little gas in it.
Soules’s OItNB co-star Uzo Aduba is also in the company, as commander of Buzz. She’s only at the beginning of the film, though, as a time-bending narrative conceit has Buzz trapped in the 30-something hood, while everyone else tumbles over the years as usual. This is where Pixar finds room to add an almost necessary bittersweet montage, this one about the wonderfully-sad passage of time, just like we saw in U.S† What once felt so new—children’s films that sharpen the melancholy of the parents in the audience, wry and wistful summaries of life’s simple pleasures and sorrows—now begins to seem dull, a branding duty lifted off the list soon after. was ticked off. some sort of meme-worthy creature has been approved by the committee.
Thematic, half of light year is for the kids. The gist of the lesson taught in the film is that it’s okay to make mistakes. Even if those mistakes are irreparable (like none in the movie, really), it’s very human and ultimately forgivable to have an error of judgment, an awkward clumsiness, etc. That’s a worthy message to the perhaps pre-tweens this film is most directly aimed at, as they move closer and closer to a world of consequence and peer judgement.
The other half is purely for adults. It really is a midlife movie, in which a man (Buzz) has to come to terms with the fact that the world he once controlled left him behind, that friends and compatriots have left and lived their fulfilling lives stuck in regret and a tunnel vision career. He must deal with the loss of all the years he has missed, and decenter himself from his worldview. That’s heady stuff for a 50-year-old, let alone a kid.
That brings us to light year‘s most annoying problem: why would Andy have liked this as much as he did? Of course there are lots of fun robot fights and sputtering spaceships, but Buzz is mostly a crazy jerk in the movie. The hero you’re advocating is Keke Palmer’s Izzy, who is closer in age to Andy and the one with the approaching hero bow. It really doesn’t make sense that Andy would worship Buzz like he does in the beginning Toy Storynow this pale, gloomy film is connected with that lore.