Buzz Lightyear's 'Toy Story' spinoff deserves credit — but Pixar chickens out
'Lightyear' deserves credit for swapping Tim Allen for Chris Evans and adding Taika Waititi. Pixar loves millennial fans, but it's time to ditch 'Toy Story.'
Pixar’s latest movie, “Lightyear,” marks the studio’s first theatrical wide release after two years of having its feature films used as a loss leader to encourage Disney+ sign ups. It is the perfect movie to draw audiences back to theaters, with all of the joy and heart (and tear-jerking) one expects from a studio known for making millennials (and now their children) cry. However, considering “Lightyear’s” themes of facing your fears and opening one’s mind to the future, it’s ironic that Pixar’s own fears are one of the film’s greatest weakness.
It is the perfect movie to draw audiences back to theaters, with all of the joy and heart (and tear-jerking) one expects from a studio known for making millennials (and now their children) cry.
Pixar’s out-of-the-box success with its first feature film, “Toy Story,” in 1995, was made all the more remarkable by its refusal to automatically follow up with a sequel, instead focusing on telling new stories. It wasn’t until a deal with Disney in 1997 that “Toy Story 2” (originally meant as a straight-to-video project) was forced into theatrical release. That stood as the studio’s only sequel for a full decade; meanwhile, Pixar knocked out hit after (mostly) original hit, from “Finding Nemo” to “Up.” Then, 2010’s “Toy Story 3” gave the studio’s flagship franchise a rather final-feeling ending — that is, until “Toy Story 4” (ironically Pixar’s last major release to be unaffected by pandemic shutdowns), a gamble that luckily paid off for fans. (Pixar did make a few other sequels during that time, but those were few and far between.)
From that perspective, “Lightyear” might seem akin to “Rocky V,” yet another entry in a franchise that’s long overstayed its welcome. By rights, “Lightyear” should be the first “Toy Story” spinoff to be utterly unnecessary. The premise is so tangentially connected to the original film that the movie literally has to use explainer cards to make sure audiences aren’t confused. The key premise is derived from “Toy Story” star Andy’s original toys, many of which are merch from various fictional entertainment franchises. “Lightyear” is the movie from which the toy Buzz Lightyear was created. It’s the feature film equivalent of Pixar producing episodes of “Woody’s Roundup” for Disney+.
But the truth is, “Lightyear” has no need of these ridiculous byzantine connections to the long-running, already finished franchise. It stands on its own as a complete story, with plenty of heart, laughs and a nice third-act twist that feels both earned and satisfying.