This Disney/Pixar movie will be hard for a lot of critics to rate. Do you compare it to the other Pixar and Toy Story films? It’s not nearly as good. Or, do you just look at it as a piece of entertainment you bring the family to – which makes it an enjoyable time at the movies. It was an interesting origin story for the Buzz Lightyear toy from Toy Story. We’re told in the beginning that this was Andy’s favorite toy based on the character in his favorite film – and this is the film. Although, if that’s the premise for this story, I wonder two things – why didn’t he have a toy of Sox the cat (Peter Sohn), who was the best part of this and stole all his scenes; and, why wasn’t this movie more of Buzz being the arrogant Space Ranger full of swagger, and shooting a variety of attacking aliens? Surely a young boy would be more into that type of character then the more melancholy Buzz featured here. Yet it’s hard to attack co-writers Jason Headley and Angus MacLane because they gave us a very serviceable story that everyone should enjoy. Certainly my wife and I did, and we didn’t even have any tykes to bring along with us.
And having that story about the movie makes it a little less awkward that they’re not using Tim Allen to voice Lightyear (it’s Chris Evans), although I still think it was a weak move to not use Allen, when it surely has to do with his politics. At least Evans sounds enough like him that it’s not a distraction.
The introduction of the Space Rangers is perfectly done. Alicia Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) is giving Lightyear a hard time for how “by the book” he does everything, always reporting on every little thing. There’s a rookie Ranger named Featheringhamsten (Bill Hader), and a few bugs and creatures they have to contend with. As they’re leaving, Lightyear makes an error that causes their ship to crash into a mountain, stranding everyone on the planet. It damaged the crystal used for hyperspeed. Wanting to get his large crew back home, he keeps doing test flights with new crystals. He’s gone for a matter of minutes, but when he lands, he finds out four years have passed for the people on the planet (which reminds you a bit of Interstellar). That means everyone on the planet is just living their lives, trying to make the best of it. Hawthorne fills Lightyear in on what’s been happening. She tells him she has a fiance, who is female. Of course, this is what leads to the scene you’re hearing a lot about where two women kiss, and is the reason the movie was banned in a number of countries. The kiss is fine, and so lowkey, children won’t even notice. The weird thing is that the relationship feels forced. Kind of the same way it felt out of left field in Avengers: End Game when they had two men at a dating support group. It didn’t fit the rest of the narrative. Now, a perfect, subtle way a gay character was introduced was in a Star Trek movie a few years back (Sulu has a man and his son waiting for him at an airport or space station). It worked perfectly. I also think it was a missed opportunity, because had Hawthorne said she was engaged, and it was to a man, Lightyear could have hung his head in disappointment; as if he possibly hoped they had a future together as a couple, or just realizing she now has another man that replaced him as the guy that will get all her attention. Instead, he just takes the news like it’s no big deal. And it shouldn’t be a big deal that she’s engaged to another woman, but it was a moment that could have added a touch of sadness for EVERYTHING he’s missed while being gone for four years at a time, each time he goes up for another attempted test flight. The disappointment of realizing these people he was going to bring back to their home planet, had to move on with their lives here on this new one.
Now, the scene that does evoke emotions, is a montage that shows Lightyear coming back from continued failed missions, and we watch as Hawthorne gets older, has kids, gets gray in her hair, and humorously has a bit of trouble driving Lightyear somewhere. I started tearing up, and thinking of that montage in Up. Then, the story jumps ahead to meeting her granddaughter Izzy (Keke Palmer), who idolizes Lightyear. She explains how their planet has come under fire from the evil Emperor Zorg (voiced by James Brolin, who sounded like Jerry Reed). Izzy is merely a trainee, and she’s got a rag-tag group she runs with. They include the inept Mo Morrison (Taika Waititi), and an elderly but tough former prison inmate – Darby Steel (that should have been the DJ name I used back when I worked in radio).
The moments of vulnerability we see from Lightyear are well done. It was also smart to make him respectful of the female Rangers he’s working with. Remember, his character isn’t one that plays well with others. Yet we still see a bit of his swagger when he’s dealing with rookies or the auto-pilot voice on his ship that always seems to spout out the negative.
After seeing the movie, I read an interview with director Angus MacLane where he mentioned sci-fi stories like Star Trek being more representative of the population as a whole and that he wanted this to fit with that tradition. It wasn’t until that moment that I remembered one of the astronauts was Latino, and a few were Black. The only time during the picture I thought about any of the characters being Black was Commander Burnside, voiced by Isiah Whitlock Jr., an actor I love. I thought his character was voiced by Keith David. Yet since I heard someone say when leaving the screening, “There were a lot of Black characters in this” – well, perhaps we as a society have a long way to go, when things like this aren’t even noticed. And it makes it a bit more understandable why they wanted to throw in a gay character and an affectionate moment between them.
There’s a great score from Michael Giacchino, and of course, the animation is out of this world (pun intended). The script is really the one weak spot. It needed a bit more humor and felt a bit repetitive. There were also times it was a bit slow.
I heard one critic say this was another cash-grab from Hollywood. Well, so what? If you make a movie that entertains us for an hour and a half, as this did, I don’t care. Give us Woody’s backstory next (which I’m sure would have Tom Hanks voice, since everyone is fine with his political leanings).
3 stars out of 5.
Side note: with Sox the cat being the funniest part of this movie, my wife reminded me how much we loved the cat comedy from Key & Peele called Keanu. So message to Jordan Peele: give the horror films a rest for a few years and give us another comedy gem like that.