Lightyear’s disastrous box-office showing might seem like a miscalculation, based on the pointed finger of the going broke for woke lesbian relationship and kiss disincentivising a section of parents from taking kids to a family movie. That, and a frankly confused status for the hero; this is the movie the toy was based on (so a 1990s animated kids movie featuring a mixed-race lesbian couple; almost as unlikely as “sex” in the clouds in The Lion King and the Centaur with a penis head in Hercules). But the truth is surely that the Buzz’s failure was intentional. How else to explain the decision to reveal Buzz as the seething embodiment of the despicable toxic white male? Lightyear represents express and wilful destruction of a kids’ hero (be it toy or his animated movie “antecedent”), and there isn’t even a nominally successful attempt to replace him with a stamped-and-approved, gender-swapped version. Unlike the similarly baleful Star Wars and the MCU.
Title: In 1995… a boy got a toy, from his favourite movie. This is that movie.
That might be because Lightyear knew it would be left high and dry going that far, of course, and Pixar simply hoped undiscerning, imbecilic programmed kids and parents would accept emasculated Buzz showing due deference to a peer group among whom he can assume a standing appropriate to his limitations as an insufferable white guy. Hence, a quartet where the new inspiration is Izzy (Keke Palmer), daughter of noble mixed-race lesbian parents, elderly trans man Darby Steel (at least, I’m guessing this is the case, as he’s played by Orange is the New Black”s Dale Soles, so there’s evidently non-committal implication in the Pixar mix) and quite appallingly, Taika Waititi. Because, as if it needs saying, Taika Waititi is quite appalling. And ubiquitous in a manner that puts one-time crown prince of ubiquity James Franco to shame.
Alisha: I got engaged.
Buzz: What’s her name?
The early part of Lightyear makes a point of identifying Buzz as solely responsible for the problems he’s trying to remedy by testing hyperspace fuel; straight off the bat, he has been dislodged from his hero pedestal. Which would be fine, were he dense Tim Allen toy Buzz, but this is presumably supposedly an actual kids’ movie hero…. At least, as far as I can tell. Buzz’s ongoing mission is, then, hampered by the Interstellar device of time dilation, punctuated by lesbian best friend Alisha (Uzo Aduba) getting married, having a son, then a granddaughter (Izzy). What a triumphant victory this is for Pixar, foregrounding the LGBTQ cause in a kids’ movie. This is exactly what we need more of, in the spirit of Turning Red and its in depth interrogation of puberty.
The message of this early part is also comforting: that square-jawed Aryan males like Buzz will continue onward and upward, going from strength to strength, infinitely, and perhaps even beyond, while black lesbians, regardless of the inspiration they allegedly are to the square-jawed Aryan males, will grow old, waste away and die.
Given this backfiring subtext – hey, it’s Disney, right? They always shoot themselves in the woke foot, or the one that’s gone to sleep – it’s little surprise they had to double down on the problem that is Buzz and reveal him as the movie’s villain. Zurg is not Buzz’s father, but rather, Buzz himself, from an alternate timeline. This Buzz (voiced by James Brolin, father of Thanos) isn’t at all the woke, progressive, self-sublimating Buzz that is the movie’s (nominal) hero – the one voiced by Chris Evans rather than Time Allen. No, he’s a reactionary bastard who wants to turn the clock back to a time when there were no lesbian marriages and children and equal rights, and certainly not equal screen time. A time when there was only proud white male Buzz as the best and most honoured space ranger in Star Command. Why, he’s the very definition of toxic scum!
Buzz: But she won’t get to have her family. She won’t have Izzy .
Luckily, Chris Wokeyear’s having none of it. He duly and rightly sacrifices all his dreams of honour and glory to the altar of the LBGTQ agenda, as all selfish, privileged white males should. Why, he even salutes a statue (idol) of his long dead lesbian friend at the end. Those definitely are not the kinds of statues that will be pulled down! To further emphasise Buzz’s relegated, supportive role, the grand climax finds him admitting “I can’t do it” and Izzy assuring him “It’s okay. We can”. There’s absolutely no need for his kind anymore.
Aside from its flourishing puerile progressiveness, much of Lightyear plays like a straight SF cartoon, and we know how popular they tend to be at the cinema (remember Titan AE? Atlantis? No, neither does anyone else). Further sweetening the pill is the visual palette. Pixar have animated an authentic SF quarry, and ensured it’s perpetually and apocalyptically overcast. This is the drab grey, colourless monotone future that beckons us (forget the rainbow flags and insignias, this is the hive mind, transhumanist world to come).
Mo: She’s afraid of space.
Sox: She should be. It’s horrible.
Similarly, Buzz’s best pal is robot cat Sox (Peter Sohn). Prior to the introduction of Izzy, Mo and Darby putting a tiresome dampener on things, the Buzz/Sox camaraderie proved surprising winning. Surely calculated, as Sox represents the gradual encroachment of artificial pets over real ones (because real ones carry dangerous GERMS). Put it in the same bracket as eating insects and lab-grown meat. Of which, the meat sandwich isn’t something new. Just ask KFC and their Double Down.
So yeah, I liked Sox, I’ll give Lightyear that much. Our AI future is secure. Perhaps Keke Palmer should have objected to this production in some way shape or form – John Lasseter creating the lead character might have been a place to start – and got it kiboshed.* That at least might have saved her from being one a lead in one of two of the summer’s prize box-office turkeys. They should have made a Zapp Brannigan movie instead.
First published by Now in Full Color on 07/08/22.
*Addendum 11/10/22: This snark is, obviously, grossly unfair to Keke, as it wasn’t her who took issue with Bill Murray’s “idiosyncratic” sense of humour.