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The Street
The Street
Michael Tedder

What Is the Twitter Buzz About Disney's 'Lightyear'?

When it comes to assessing the quality of a film, sometimes the question isn’t “is this any good?” Sometimes the real question is “why exactly does this film exist?”

It’s a question that springs to mind more and more these days, as Hollywood has become increasingly reliant on pre-existing franchises and recognizable intellectual property. 

Hollywood began to shift in this direction when former Disney CEO Bob Iger had Disney (DIS) change its strategy from making a variety of different films, some big, some small, to focus on franchise films that could generate multiple sequels, merchandise and, if possible theme park experiences.

Eventually, the rest of the film industry began to follow this approach, especially after the Marvel Cinematic Universe proved that people won’t necessarily get sick of this sort of thing, as long as each individual film is solid. Nowadays, every major studio has a few franchises in play, and they’re always trying to find more.

But there’s only so many franchises out there, so sometimes studios will attempt to create something new out of a piece of IP that can come across as forced or desperate, at least from the outset. 

(And if you are of the opinion that it would be nice if Hollywood would try to create something new rather than endlessly revamping old films…you’re not wrong. But Hollywood loves a safe bet.)

Now, sometimes the attempt to revive a dormant franchise can result in the recent hit “Top Gun: Maverick,” which audiences loved.  

But sometimes this approach leads to belated sequels to “Transformers” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” that no one remembers, or the recent “Jurassic World” debacle. At worst, this relentless IP mining can result in the “Fantastic Beasts” films, which seem to have no storytelling purpose other than to remind people of the “Harry Potter” films that they liked much better.

Which brings us to “Lightyear,” a sort-of prequel to Pixar’s beloved “Toy Story” franchise. It’s hard to say there was much of a need for an origin story for the Buzz Lightyear character. 

But Pixar has a reputation for high quality storytelling. (Except for the “Cars” films, that is.) So it’s reasonable to hope the film might be able to transcend its dubious origins.


So What Is “Lightyear,” Anyway?

It’s not a great sign when a film’s very existence is confusing. 

But basically, Buzz Lightyear is a space pilot action figure that gets into misadventures with the cowboy figure Woody in the “Toy Story” films when their owner, the child Andy, isn’t looking.

The backstory to “Lightyear” is that Buzz Lightyear was in a cartoon film when Andy was a kid. As explained by Entertainment Weekly, “the film begins with a title card that informs us that ‘Toy Story's’ Buzz was merch sold in 1995 to promote ‘Andy's favorite movie. This is that movie.’”

The real answer to why this prequel exists, most likely, is that 2019’s “Toy Story 4” seemed to offer a natural conclusion to the franchise, but Disney didn’t want to let one of its most recognizable properties go unexploited. Plus Chris Evans, who voices Buzz in the film, is now done playing Captain America, and he likely doesn’t mind having a franchise that requires him to work out like a superhero all the time.

So Why Is “Lightyear” Controversial?

For a film that seems a bit frivolous, “Lightyear” has already generated a bit of controversy. Actress Patricia Heaton recently criticized the film for not inviting actor Tim Allen to reprise the Buzz character, saying “Tim IS Buzz! Why would they completely castrate this iconic, beloved character?”

In response, the film’s director Angus MacLane told Vanity Fair "Tim's version of Buzz is a little goofier and is a little dumber, and so he is the comic relief. In this film, Buzz is the action hero. He's serious and ambitious and funny, but not in a goofy way that would undercut the drama." He added, "Chris Evans has the gravitas and that movie-star quality that our character needed to separate him and the movie from Tim's version of the toy in Toy Story."

(The subtext here is that Heaton and Allen are both vocally conservative, which is rare in Hollywood, and she might be miffed that Lightyear is now voiced by Evans, one of the most outspoken progressives in Hollywood, and the rare A-list actor who has expressed a desire to beat up white supremacists.

Additionally, some people are upset that the film features a same sex kiss between a character voiced by Uzo Aduba and her wife. The news broke that Disney had removed its first on-screen same-sex kiss in one of its films right when CEO Bob Chapek was dealing with the fallout of, in some critics opinions, not doing enough to denounce Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

After an outcry from Disney employees and fans that resulted in an open letter, saying the company had censored LGBTQ+ storylines “down to crumbs of what they once were.” 

In response, the kiss was reinstated. In response, the film has been banned in 14 countries, including Saudi Arabia, and conservative commentators have complained about the scene. (Though it’s unclear if they actually watched the movie or just wanted to complain about something.) 

In response, Evans said “The real truth is those people are idiots,” in an interview with Reuters, adding “there’s always going to be people who are afraid and unaware and trying to hold on to what was before. But those people die off like dinosaurs.” 


So What Are People Saying About “Lightyear”?

“Lightyear” probably doesn’t need to exist, and yet it does. So is it any good? Do you need to see it in the theaters or wait until it hits Disney+ later this summer?

Well, Entertainment Weekly wasn't blown away, but they liked it well enough.

Variety enjoyed it, but definitely recommends you go in with measured expectations, calling it "eminently conventional and likable."

The Hollywood Reporter says that Evans performance balances "heroism and human fallibility with infectious warmth."

Time thinks the movie is just a bit too complicated for its own good, straining too hard to justify its existence.

IGN says it looks great but the story is thin.

Screenrant isn't feeling it.

But Rolling Stone thinks it's fun! So the consensus is that the film isn't a disaster, but it's not great either. Some critics are mad the film exists, others can get into it and have a nice enough time.

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