Leighton Trent’s review published on Letterboxd:
“In 1995, a boy named Andy got a toy from his favorite movie. This is that movie.”
The last year and half or so since this film was announced both Pixar and the films titular voice actor's tweets have bungled the marketing of explaining what exactly this movie is, but the black and white opening text card explains all we need to know about the world we're in for here and how exactly this film is going to play for kids and the kids at heart that grew up with Toy Story. We're not in Andy's room anymore, Buzz.
Come on, it's obvious what this is about: It’s a toy from a film franchise that's been turned into a fake human astronaut in a pseudo movie-within-a-movie that the main human kid from the first movie in said film franchise watched and fell in love with. This is his story. *cue Law & Order sound effect*
Okay, so it's a bit complicated after all. Yet, the lukewarm reception of this by both critics and audiences has been a bit mindboggling for me. Is this Pixar on autopilot in space? Sure, a little. Is it a vanity project for a character from the studio that's given us so many iconic characters? A tiny bit. Is it an old fashioned nostalgia piece? I'd venture a "yes" here. But, isn't this all the point? 90's mainstream family programming, or possibly VOD family entertainment at that, is being channeled here. That is what this film is and this is exactly what this film is supposed to be within the framing they've set out for us. The film is straightforward and transparent in its narrative, characters and its intentions. There's nothing revolutionary here like we've come to expect with the studio that raised us thirtysomethings who have our own kids going to Pixar films with us.
And maybe that's why so many have been disappointed. We've come to expect the revolutionary and instead we were given (the appearance of) the mundane. Yet, one look at any individual frame here and you can tell it is not anything in the realm of the mundanity. With each subsequent film, Pixar has made strides in the way we see animation not just as a genre but as the medium of storytelling it deserves to be recognized as. So, when we're confronted with a face value "lesser than" product based on a quality we've come to expect from the studio's storytelling, it's easy to dismiss this as an empty adventure piece with shallow characters. By having that text at the start of the film telling me that is exactly what it this story is and what this story will be told me all I needed to know about how Pixar saw this film in their mind's eye. And that is exactly how I watched it.
I was a nine year old boy in 1995 and I'm fairly sure this movie right here, top to bottom, would made me fall in love with Buzz Lightyear just the way Andy did. What more could we ask for here? This may not quite be top tier Pixar, but the faint-hearted praise and the quiet pans can be damned.