Review – To Infinity And Beyond (“Lightyear”)

Just like all those Funko Pop figures being made of your favorite TV/movie personas, here’s the backstory of an action figure we already know and love from the past Toy Story movies! Could we see a Woody’s Round-Up film in the future?

In a sentence, we’re told that is the movie that young Andy (from Toy Story) watched that inspired the Buzz Lightyear action figure toy he got. Like Star Wars, Buck Rogers, and other cheesy 80’s sci-fi films, it’s the future and Galactic Ranger, Buzz Lightyear (voiced by the MCU’s Chris Evans, not Tim Allen) of Star Command is awakened during hyper-sleep as his ship receives a distress call (like in Alien). Unfortunately while investigating, Buzz (who has a Top Gun ego) crashes the ship on a hostile planet called Tikana Prime, millions of light-years from Earth, along with his commanding officer and best friend Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba), plus 1200 other souls. Talk about survivor’s guilt!

His main objective is to find a way back home, but it’s not easy. After a year Buzz is close, thanks to a special hyper-speed crystal fuel supply that might work. Problem is, every test flight into space adds four years to the planet upon his return, but none to Buzz. He never ages, but his friends and colleagues do. Thanks to his emotional-support pet robot cat named Sox (Peter Sohn), Buzz achieves the perfect crystal formula and tests it, but returns to Tikana Prime 22 years later! There he finds out he’s still wanted by Commander Burnside (Isaiah Whitlock, jr) for stealing a ship, and a nasty alien ship under the rule of Emperor Zurg (James Brolin) is threatening the planet.

The only ones left to help Buzz defeat Zurg and destroy his ship are a rag-tag bunch of misfit cadets: excitable Izzy Hawthorne–Alisha’s granddaughter (Keke Palmer), accident-prone dimwit Mo Morrison (Taika Waititi), and Darby Steel (Dale Soules), a cantankerous elderly convict. Naturally, Buzz wants to do this mission alone, as these screw-ups are more of a hindrance than any help, but as they band together in their misadventures, they get the job done in a lightning-fast-paced story that has action, humor, and has all the logic & physics of a Road Runner cartoon. Don’t even think about how someone escaped or fixed something, you’ll go nuts!

Written by Jason Headley (Onward) and newbie director Angus MacLane (he co-directed Finding Dory), this movie is squarely aimed at kids and adult fan service, as the callbacks to the original movies are plentiful, from Buzz’s signature lines from Toy Story to his cardboard spaceship. In the spirit of all those cheap, rushed, 80’s sci-fi films (StarCrash, Flash Gordon, Battle Beyond the Stars, Runaway, Galaxina, etc.) this movie certainly has that feel with the plot of those films. . . since this IS the Saturday afternoon movie that Andy from Toy Story would have watched, right? So, in that vein, it totally works with all the silliness, wild action, and incredulous plot devices.

But as a movie that we’re watching, it has story and major plot hole problems, so best to look at it as it was meant to be viewed, as a movie shown from another movie’s universe. Buzz is the same; stubborn, unflappable, and prone to narrating his plans, but the real scene-stealer is Sox, the R2-D2 of the film. He’s lovable, intelligent, witty, and more important, a merchandising bonanza! Izzy is a strong character, wanting so hard to follow in her grandmother’s legendary footsteps, but trying too hard. Mo and Darby are the Laurel & Hardy comic reliefs and are occasionally funny, but it was inspired casting to give James Brolin a voice-over here. Thanos vs Captain America again? Yes, please!   

And ya gotta hand to Pixar for many things: their animation is always top-notch in CGI effects and style, and this movie is no exception. When Buzz is zooming around in his spacecraft, you see & feel the G-forces he’s experiencing. That’s no small feat in animation. And MacLane only occasionally stops the non-action for some moments of pathos, which might account for the speedy running time of only 105 minutes. Which isn’t always a good thing, especially when the story you’re telling is being rushed through the gate like someone pushing and saying, “Move along! Move along! Nothing to see here!” Watch the last ten minutes and you’ll know what I’m talking about. 

**Now showing only in theaters

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979)

Originally a theatrical release, this movie was actually a pilot for the 80’s TV series and proved to be a winner, although certain cuts were made to make it more ‘family friendly’ when it came to network television.  

Yes, it’s all very silly, but this nonetheless engaging Star Trek wanna-be series/movie starred Gil Gerard as U.S. astronaut William “Buck” Rogers. This likable, sarcastic, and witty ladies man gets accidentally frozen in space during a routine mission in 1979 for a whopping 504 years, until he’s thawed out by the evil Draconians. Boo! Hiss! Their leader, the sultry and beautiful Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley), has the hots for Buck (naturally) and wants him to join their side, since they’re secretly plotting to take over the Earth.

Buck refuses her over-the-top sexual advances and is sent packing to Earth, thanks to Ardala’s nasty, but silent henchman, Tigerman (Duke Butler). However, Buck doesn’t know he’s got a hidden homing beacon placed inside his ship to gather intel on Earth’s defenses. On Earth, Buck is met in New Chicago (there was a catastrophic world nuclear war, of course) by icy-cold no-nonsense Col. Wilma Deering (Erin Gray). She shows Buck the future of his new world, all-new buildings, technology, and two new friends: Twiki the robot (Felix Silla inside a metal suit with Mel Blanc voicing) and Dr. Theopolis, an A.I. computer (Howard F. Flynn voiced).

When that homing device is found, Buck is suspected of being a Draconian spy. Wanting to clear his name, Buck convinces Wilma to set up a meeting with Ardala and her lieutenant, Kane (Henry Silva) to prove his innocence and get vital information about what they’re up to. The trap is set, Buck finds the critical info he needs, there’s a big space battle, and the Earth is saved from peril, all thanks to our hero, Buck Rogers! Yaay! Ardala and her minions fly away, cursing Buck Rogers and vowing revenge in the future. . . which they try repeatedly on the 1979-1981 TV series!

Naturally, in the series, the hard-core Col. Deering eventually falls for Buck and becomes his love interest (like you didn’t see that coming), and the annoying Twiki, whose penchant for saying, “Beedy beedy beedy beedy, way to go, Buck”, became the show’s catch-phrase. In 1981 the show got re-tooled with Buck going “on the road” with his friends, as they went on a star trek to find the lost colonies of Earth (shades of 1978’s Battlestar: Galactica). They also added Thom Christopher as Hawk, a half-man/ half-bird alien who joins Buck as his new sidekick, and legendary Wilford Hyde-White as the doddering old scientist, Dr. Goodfellow.

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