An opening title positions Pixar’s Lightyear as a movie, not within a movie, but within a movie world: the world of the Toy Story movies. The conceit is that we’re watching young Andy’s “favorite movie” from 1995: the movie behind the Buzz Lightyear merch. First-time feature director Angus MacLane calls Lightyear “Andy’s Star Wars.” He also calls it “Pixar’s first sci-fi action adventure movie,” which takes some nerve coming from a dude whose first credit is the Wall-E spin-off short Burn-E.
It pains me to say this: If Lightyear is Andy’s Star Wars, what an impoverished childhood Andy had. In our world, children in 1995 had two certified childhood masterpieces, Toy Story and Babe, not to mention Pocahontas, The Indian in the Cupboard, and the Jason Scott Lee Jungle Book, among others. And Andy, whose young imagination was fired with melodramatic sci-fi/Western-style standoffs between noble heroes and dastardly villains — what did he get?
I know what he should have gotten. A word-balloon blurb on Buzz’s spaceship box in Toy Story breathlessly declares that, as “a member of the elite Universe Protection Unit of the Space Ranger Corps, I protect the galaxy from the threat of invasion from the Evil Emperor Zurg, sworn enemy of the Galactic Alliance.” Toy Story featured a Buzz Lightyear TV commercial with copy like “Buzz Lightyear, planet Earth needs your help!” and “Buzz Lightyear: the world’s greatest superhero, now the world’s greatest toy!” We also saw a Buzz Lightyear video game in Toy Story 2 depicting Buzz blowing up armies of robots and dodging deathtraps to confront Zurg in his lair.
There are glimpses of the movie Lightyear should have been. Alas, this movie’s Buzz (voiced by Chris “Captain America” Evans, replacing Tim Allen because reasons) is never called upon to help planet Earth or to protect the galaxy, let alone the universe. There may be a Galactic Alliance, but we never see it, or anyone else except one ship of explorers and their descendants. There’s an antagonist named Zurg (Josh Brolin), but he’s neither the sworn enemy nor the emperor of anything — he’s more misguided than malevolent — and neither he nor anyone else threatens to invade anything. There’s no galactic struggle of heroes versus villains. No all-important mission on which the fate of Earth or the Galactic Alliance depends. Lightyear evokes the world of space opera only to debunk it; it’s an anti–space opera for an era in which heroism is viewed with skepticism at best.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.