Lightyear ★★★

After having such a long streak of great, original Pixar films starting off the 2020’s, it probably makes sense that the studio has to make an exploitable cash grab to keep the lights on and their overlords appeased. So instead of churning out a Toy Story 5, I am glad Pixar decided to use this opportunity to try and make a fun sci-fi adventure. But considering that they have the chance to work with science fiction, a genre in which the entire universe and beyond is at your disposal, the world we are presented with feels quite limited and shockingly underdeveloped. Pixar is the king of introducing us to these new, offbeat worlds for us to get acquainted with, so it's disappointing just how shallow this setting is. Nothing much in the world inspires much intrigue, and it doesn’t spend enough time setting up the basic tenets of how this new reality works. The same goes for a lot of the characters. They feel a bit too one note and archetypal to leave the proper emotional impact, at least when it comes to the side characters. This is a film that definitely could have used some rewrites or perhaps a little more time in the oven, because if this wasn’t made by Pixar, then it would be an utterly generic space opera with nothing to offer.

However, specifically because it’s made by Pixar, I think they were able to turn what could have been a standard cash grab into something that’s actually worth watching. Right off the bat, given that it’s a modern Pixar film, it’s a given that it looks absolutely stunning, which is made all the better by it being the first film of theirs in a while to come to theaters. The characters, while nothing special, do make the film an enjoyable ride, as their expressive personalities work well off of each other. And honestly, I think this film is surprisingly rich thematically, in the way that only Pixar can manage. The film reinforces this message of letting go and watching everyone else around you grow up whilst you stay in the past. The idea that the friends you make may not be around with you forever, and that no matter how hard you try, you’re not always meant to be with those friends. The more you try to recreate those lost memories, the more you’ll miss out on what’s happening in the now. And as painful as letting go can be, it’s something we all have to do, and we just have to find new people to call friends. And, speaking as someone who hasn’t had the greatest first year in college after leaving behind all of my friends from high school, that’s a message that hits close to home for me.

As much as I sing the praises of 2020’s Pixar, I don’t know if I’d say this film completely carries the torch. Like I said earlier, it does fumble a lot when it comes to its storytelling, which is very disappointing. But I think there’s enough good elements here to make it a solid enough film. This is a movie where I could see it getting either worse or better with age, and seeing as how more recent Pixar films tend to improve upon rewatch, I really think it could be the latter.

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