Review: ‘Lightyear’ solid, but strikes a different tone than its ‘Toy Story’ roots


In “Lightyear,” Buzz meets the enemy, and it is one of the biggest twists in a fantasy/sci-fi film since Luke Skywalker found out Darth Vader was his daddy in “The Empire Strikes Back” way back in 1980.

Maybe I exaggerate. “Lightyear’s” surprise didn’t floor me like the revelation of Luke’s parentage did, but then again, I’m not a grade-schooler anymore, either.

I am a bit ashamed I didn’t see the big reveal — which I won’t spoil in this review, though other outlets are doing — coming, but as I look back there were some bread crumbs scattered along the way in the latest Disney-Pixar CGI-animated film that features the space-age hero we all grew to love in “Toy Story” (1995) and its sequels.

As explained via text as the film begins, “Lightyear” is the movie that “Toy Story’s” young Andy Davis saw with his mom, which prompted her to give him a Buzz Lightyear toy for Christmas.

So this isn’t the same Buzz who co-stars with Woody in the “Toy Story” series. He is the character the toy was based on.

This time around Buzz is voiced by Chris Evans (Marvel’s Captain America) instead of Tim Allen. Evans’ performance isn’t quite as buffoonish or funny as Allen’s was in the “Toy Story” series, but Evans’ Buzz is just as determined and at times hard-headed as Allen’s version.

The crux of the film, directed by Angus MacLane and scripted by Jason Headley with MacLane, centers around a mistake Buzz makes that strands him, the rest of the Galactic Ranger crew, and a spacecraft full of personnel and their families on the unsettled planet, Tikana Prime.

After a year, a colony has been built, and Buzz volunteers to test a hyperspace fuel that is the key to getting those stranded back home. The experiment fails, and while Buzz’ test flight only lasted four minutes because of time dilation created by how fast his ship was traveling, four years have past for the colonists.

New in Local Theaters

Lightyear (PG) 1 hr. 45 min. (trailer)
AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne, Skylight Cinema

Virata Parvam (NR) 2 hr. 26 min. (trailer)
AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Towne

Buzz continues to test the craft and the fuel over and over again until 62 years have passed and all his friends have passed away. His only continuous companion is the ultra-cute robotic cat Sox, who is sure to sell a ton of stuffed animals and other merchandise for Disney.

However, this time when Buzz crawls out of his spacecraft the colony is in disarray after being terrorized by a giant, seemingly robotic enemy named Zurg and his thuggish robotic minions, who might remind Transformer fans of Decepticons a little bit.

Buzz then teams with Izzy Hawthorn (voiced by Keke Palmer ), who is the granddaughter of Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) his now deceased commanding officer and best friend when the film opens, and a few others to battle Zurg.

I enjoyed the movie, but the film has a totally different sensibility than the “Toy Story” series. “Lightyear” contains humor, but it is a sci-fi/fantasy adventure for kids and kids at heart, and not a comedy. It could disappoint anyone expecting a heartfelt, laugh fest.

The movie is a solid and sturdy adventure, but for whatever reasons, it just did not connect with me. That might be on me for having faulty expectations going into the theater.

That said the movie was enjoyable enough, and the animation was gorgeous. However, it was a little tepid for my taste. Admittedly filmgoers in their 50s aren’t the audience this movie is seeking to please, either.

The movie was originally conceived as a direct-to-video or -streaming movie. While it is quality-made, maybe the story never truly rose above that level?
This is a film pre-teen kids are probably going to love, but it might grow a bit weary for their parents.

(PG) 1 hr. 45 min.
Grade: B-

Classic Corner – The Thing

Kurt Russell in The Thing (Universal Pictures)

It doesn’t seem 40 summers have past since I was first shocked and awed by director John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” but time has a way of getting by.

At 14, I had seen scores of horror movies on TV. I had even seen “Jaws” in the theater at the tender age of 7 thanks to my brother, who took me along to see it with him and his college girlfriend who has been my sister-in-law now for almost 45 years now.

I didn’t take a bath for a week, but I survived and eventually got over the irrational idea of a shark attack in my tub. My imagination was fairly grand at that age.

Despite the fact I was a good bit older when I saw “The Thing” with a couple of junior-high buddies whom I sneaked into the R-rated feature with in the summer of 1982 after paying to see a PG-rated movie, the suspense and gore of the movie’s dynamic special effects stuck with me longer.

Thankfully for all those around me at the time, the horror of the film didn’t have the same chilling effect on my personal hygiene that “Jaws” did, but those gross-out transmutation effects churned my stomach back then, and I think my belly might be gurgling a little bit as I think back on the movie now.

By today’s standards, the effects aren’t exactly tame, but you can find just as gruesome or extreme effects work if not more so on many sci-fi and horror TV or streaming programs. But in its day “The Thing” set a new standard for disturbing, at least for me.

The film, which is a remake of 1951 sci-fi/horror “The Thing from Another World,” packs all the suspense Carpenter became famous for with his seminal 1978 slasher film “Halloween,” but this time he had a budget to work with that befitted his talent.

The movie originally was lambasted by critics and deemed a failure, garnerred just $19.6 million at the box office in its theatrical release. But I thought the movie was awesome from the first second a dog-like creature began turn inside-out and the nature of the movie’s aliens were revealed for the first time.

However, like the shape-shifting alien antagonist in the film, the movie’s reputation has fantastically morphed over time, and “The Thing’s” quality has been re-assessed by critics and horror fans alike.

Today the movie is considered a classic of the genre, and Kurt Russell, who cut his teeth in Hollywood starring in a bevy of Disney movies as adolescent and teen, began to craft a career as a reliable action star with charisma and acting chops to boot in this very film.

The Thing is an alien creature that crash-landed on Earth 100,000 years ago and only awoke from its frozen slumber by being disturbed by a group of Norwegian scientists when they discovered the wreckage during in an arctic dig. We learn this after a showdown with Norwegians, which the Americans seem to win.

In the wreckage, charred ruins and frozen corpses are found along with a malformed humanoid and a sled dog that is creepily more than anyone suspects.

The creature has the ability to morph into what appears to be human or animal lifeforms like the aforementioned dog, and this sets the stage for mistrust and mayhem as Russell’s helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady battles with and against the arctic team in a fight for their lives against the alien that wishes to assimilate them into its hive being.

The film is raw and exhilarating at the same time as we do not know exactly who to trust or not. The movie certainly offers commentary on the late years of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, as well as man and nature’s built-in imperative to not only survive but also dominate its habitat if at all possible, even if it is to it’s own detriment.

“The Thing” is playing at 3 and 8:20 p.m. on Sunday and at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the Malco Razorback Cinema, in conjunction with Fathom Events.