Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Lightyear (2022)

© Disney and Pixar Animation Studios

Lightyear – Film Review

Cast: Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, James Brolin, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules, Uzo Aduba, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Efren Ramirez, Isiah Whitlock Jr.

Director:  Angus MacLane

Synopsis: After being marooned on a hostile alien planet, Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear leads a mission to work out how to get himself and his crew home…

Review: Cast your minds back to 1995 and a little film called Toy Story was released in cinemas. The first fully CG animated film, and the start of an incredibly successful franchise for Pixar Animation Studios where a group of beloved toys. owned by a young boy named Andy. were introduced to the arrival of a flashy new toy that will soon take his place as Andy’s most beloved possession. That toy is, of course, the one and only Buzz Lightyear. However, what was it about this toy that made him so unique, the must-have toy that all the kids wanted? As a title card at the start of the film explains, this is the film that made the Buzz Lightyear action figure that kids would go to infinity and beyond to get their hands on.

Buzz Lightyear (now voiced by Chris Evans) is a confident and cocky young Space Ranger eager to prove himself to his commanding officer, Commander Alisha Hawthorne (Aduba). Investigating a planet to explore its resource potential, the mission is soon forced to be abandoned they are following an encounter with bug-like creatures. However, in the ensuing escape, the crew’s ship crashes, leaving Buzz and the entire crew marooned on the planet with seemingly no way of getting home. Blaming himself for the mission’s failure, Buzz devises a plan to use hyperspeed travel to get him and his crew back home.

Pixar might have dabbled with science fiction (with perhaps a little dose of science fact) with 2008’s WALL-E. However, given the premise of faster than light travel is not yet a reality in our world, this is the first film of theirs that is 100% science fiction. The screenplay by Jason Headley and Angus MacLane, co-director of Finding Dory, is a fascinating constellation of a series of popular space films that have all been into both the more recent variety, as well as some of the classics. Taking such ambitious and potentially tricky sci-fi tropes and weaving them into an exciting space adventure for audiences of all ages could have very easily represented a massive black hole that the film fell into. However, MacLane’s direction, combined with the to-be-expected top-tier animation ensures that the film is a riveting blast of fun. Furthermore, there are plenty of neat callbacks to the original Toy Story that fans who grew up with those films will love.

Given that this is the tale that inspired the Buzz Lightyear action figure, it makes sense to have a different actor to differentiate between the two. In Chris Evans, you have an actor who played one of the most iconic heroes for well over a decade, so he could probably voice a hero character in his sleep. Evans proves to be a perfect fit for the role. While he has a Han Solo-esque cockiness to him, Evans gives Buzz the heroic qualities that you’d come to expect. He is brave, fearless and resourceful, but crucially he is not infallible and can make mistakes. The real star of the show, however, is Buzz’s robotic feline companion Sox, who functions as Buzz’s computer/guide and easily becomes one of the most iconic side characters in any Pixar film ever. You’ll be hard-pressed to not find yourself saying “meow-meow-meow” or “beep-boop beep-boop-beep-boop” next time you’re trying to work something out.

Given that this is a film primarily about Buzz and his mission, aside from Sox, there is very little room for character development for anyone else in the film, most notably when it comes to Buzz’s makeshift crew that he needs to help complete his mission, namely Izzy (Palmer), Mo (Waititi) and Darby (Soules). They provide some moments of comedy but are all outshone by that little robotic feline. Where the film doesn’t quite stick the landing most of all though is the villain, the original Evil Emperor Zurg, what could have been an extremely interesting backstory is ultimately left to be the perhaps the most underdeveloped aspect of the whole adventure.

Pixar’s filmography often has a tendency to reduce their audiences to emotional wrecks, and while there’s nothing quite level on say a Coco, or a Toy Story 3, there is one extremely touching moment that is guaranteed to pull on those ol’ heartstrings. Furthermore, it is extremely significant for a Pixar film that depicts meaningful LGTB representation depicted on screen that is far more than just a fleeting, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference. Fans might have wondered if this prequel would have been an excuse to cash in on the nostalgia that many have for the Toy Story franchise. However, they needn’t have worried, because this is a film befitting of the world’s greatest superhero and the world’s greatest toy.

 While it is nothing you haven’t seen before in terms of a space adventure, excellent voice work, and a compelling story ensure that this is a fun interstellar adventure worth going to infinity and beyond for.

 

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Turning Red (2022)

© Disney and Pixar Animation Studios

Turning Red  – Film Review

Cast: Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Hyein Park, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, James Hong

Director: Domee Shi

Synopsis: The life of 13-year-old girl life is turned upside down when she discovers that whenever she experiences increased levels of emotion, she turns into a giant red panda…

Review: No matter who you are, growing up is tough. Making that transition from childhood to those teenage years, there is an awful lot to contend with. There are changes to your body that you’ve got to contend with, but also changes to your life as you take on increased responsibilities and gradually gain more and more independence from your parents as the years go by. Pixar Animation Studios have often enjoyed phenomenal success in exploring some of the many changes that life throws at us, such as moving house, the loss of a loved one or the massive existential question of what we were put on this Earth to do. The studio’s 25th feature film doesn’t quite go that existential, but it explores a beast that we all have to contend with at some point in our lives.

The year is 2002 and Meilin “Mei” Lee (Chang) is a bright and determined 13-year-old living in Toronto. She excels in school, gets top grades and has a great group of friends. As it is the early 2000s, the boyband craze is thriving as Mei and her friends share a deep and passionate adoration for popular boyband 4*Town. Despite being a very confident and outgoing person, Mei is experiencing a substantial internal conflict, in that she wants to be herself, but her mother Ming’s (Sandra Oh) expectations of her to be the perfect daughter give her considerable anxiety, to the extent that she has to hide certain aspects of her personality. On the cusp of those chaotic teenage years, Meilin realises that whenever she experiences a heightened state of emotion, be it positive or negative, she turns into a giant, fluffy red panda.

Coming-of-age stories have often explored the concept of puberty, but it is so often from the perspective of male characters. Therefore, it is extremely refreshing to see this topic approached entirely from the perspective of a female character, particularly because there’s still a bizarre stigma when it comes to the topics of periods and menstruation, which is completely absurd. However, this isn’t to say that the film is exclusively aimed at women and girls, because as they so often do, Pixar give their films a universal appeal. What makes Domee Shi and Julia Chao’s screenplay so effective to appeal to a universal audience, irrespective of gender, is the thorough examination of the changes that go on in your life when puberty strikes, and we make that transition from childhood into your utterly mental teenage years.

These are years which can be completely chaotic and full of awkward interactions, as you begin to potentially form the friendships you hope to make for life. It’s the time in your life when you find yourself wanting to rebel more and more against your parents. Whether you begin to develop feelings for someone or take up a new hobby, above all, these are the years where your life really begins to take shape as you become your own person. Rosalie Chiang’s brilliant voice performance encapsulates this perfectly. She thinks knows herself and her personality (at least until the transformation into the red panda enters the picture) and that puts her on a direct collision course with her mother. Ming struggles to accept that Mei is not the perfect daughter that Ming wants her to be.

Having won an Oscar for the adorable short film Bao, becoming the first woman to direct a short for Pixar in the process, Domee Shi continues her trailblazing legacy by becoming the first woman to solely direct a feature-length film for the studio. The quality of the animation never disappoints when it comes to Pixar, with the scenes involving the red panda transformations being particular standouts. However, the visuals have an unmistakable anime inspiration to them, which in turn helps give them a certain visual uniqueness that’s unlike anything else in the studio’s catalogue. Pixar films can so often reduce the audience to blubbering messes. Their latest doesn’t have that emotional gut-punching moment, but it took a risk by tackling subject matter that’s still weirdly taboo in the hope of eliminating that stigma, which deserves to be celebrated.

A hilarious and heartfelt tribute to those chaotic pre-teenage years. Breaking new ground in its approach with its approach to its subject matter ensures that Turning Red is a furry triumph for Domee Shi and Pixar.