Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Film review - Pixar go meta with Lightyear

I had goosebumps when I saw the first trailer for Lightyear, last year. It's the bit where David Bowie singing Starman kicks in that just gets me. Now, having seen the film, I have had some thoughts. 

This post contains a few spoilers below the video for the trailer, so maybe watch the trailer and then go off and do something else if you don't want to read any spoilers before seeing the film yourself. 

So, the headline meta stuff about this film is that it is meant to be the movie that inspired the Buzz Lightyear action figure who is one of the main stars of the original Toy Story film. In Toy Story, a little boy called Andy is given a Buzz Lightyear figure as a birthday present. In the Pixar universe, this is the film Andy saw in the cinema that made him so excited to get his own Buzz Lightyear.

As a way of extending a successful franchise without continuing an established storyline, this struck me as genius. It's as creative as anything in the movie and starts things off on a clever footing. It's also not really a kids' film - but it is the film for the people who were kids when Toy Story came out 25 years ago! 

The opening few scenes include Buzz exploring an alien planet and saying lines of dialogue that will be immediately recognisable to anyone who has watched the Toy Story several times. That cracked me up. The dialogue worked in the film even if you weren't aware that it was lifted practically verbatim from the first movie. But knowing how those phrases will be repeated in Andy's bedroom by action figure Buzz after Andy's birthday party just filled me with joy.

So, on to the story. Buzz causes an exploration spaceship to crash, marooning 1,200 people on a planet, without any hyperfuel to get home. He wants to make amends and starts repeatedly testing potential hyperfuel compounds, trying to find the one that would enable the ship to leave the planet. Unfortunately, when he tests the fuel by slingshotting around the nearest sun, he experiences time dilation, skipping forwards years compared to the people he leaves behind. Each time he returns a few hours older from a mission, everyone else has aged a few years. 

There's a thoughtful core to that idea, of someone so depserate to make amends for their mistake, they actually end up missing out on life. While his friends and colleagues find love and start families, and live happy, fulfilled lives, Buzz singlemindedly perseveres on his quest to redeem himself - a quest that nobody asks him to undertake. 

Driven by failure and guilt, Buzz doesn't share in his friends' big moments, as they celebrate births and graduations and anniversaries. And in a heartbreaking scene he misses saying goodbye to his best friend and supporter as he returns from a mission after she passes away from old age. I found the scene where he played her recorded goodbye message in her room that now lay empty very emotionally moving. 

That idea gave core meaning to the film, with the question of what really makes a person a hero. There is a grace in accepting the situation and making the best of it - in this case raising a family to be proud of while founding a functioning society on a new planet. 

Then, of course, Buzz lands after one final trip to find the colony city under siege from robots that all say the word "Zurg" and the adventure part of the story kicks in. Buzz and some new friends have to save the day in a way he never expected. 

So, in summary, this felt like Pixar have rediscovered a bit of their soul after a real mix of duds and delights lately. I realise I am one of the few people who really did not like Toy Story 4 and am on record as saying I never needed another Toy Story film. But this isn't a Toy Story film. It had something different to say and said it well, which leaves me feeling like I would be interested in seeing another Lightyear movie.

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