‘Lightyear’ Is A Surprisingly Entertaining Addition to Disney, Pixar’s ‘Toy Story’ Universe

Courtesy: Disney/Pixar

More than 25 years ago when Disney and Pixar debuted Toy Story in theaters nationwide, the companies forever changed the face of animation.  In the nearly 30 years since that movie’s debut, the Toy Story franchise has also gone on to become a favorite among audiences of all ages through its movies and shorts alike.  Given, the franchise’s third movie should have been the finale, but that is a discussion for another time.  Fast forward to this year and the debut of the franchise’s new spinoff, Lightyear.  The movie made its digital home debut Wednesday and will make its physical home debut Sept. 13.  The movie was met with mixed reviews when it made its theatrical debut and has since struggled since then, with critics giving the movie a score of 75% on Rotten Tomatoes and audiences giving it an only slightly higher score, at 84%.  With the movie out now on digital platforms and soon on physical platforms, it will be interesting to see what happens with those scores. One thing that is certain about the movie at this point is that it does deserve to be seen at least once.  That is due in part to its very approach, which will be discussed shortly.  The story within the movie also plays into the overall presentation and will be examined a little later.  The cast’s work rounds out its most important elements and will also be discussed later.  Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the movie.  All things considered they make Lightyear a movie that audiences will find worth watching at least once.

Lightyear, the latest addition to Disney and Pixar’s already extensive Toy Story franchise, is another interesting addition to that universe.  It is a presentation that is worth watching at least once.  That is due in part to the movie’s general presentation.  What is interesting about the presentation is that it is a movie within a movie.  Right as the movie opens, audiences are presented with the message that the movie is the same movie that Andy (from the original Toy Story movies) watched and that got him interested in Buzz Lightyear in the first place.  So the fact that audiences are treated to a movie that is composed of a movie is a unique approach.  On a related note, IMDB lists as one of Lightyear’s goofs as being that Andy never had interest in Buzz Lightyear in the first place in the original Toy Story movie until his mom surprised him with the Buzz Lightyear toy.  It adds that in the second movie, Buzz as a toy wasn’t even based on a movie.  How does the person who wrote about Andy having no interest in Buzz Lightyear prior to getting the toy know for a fact that this is the case?  As excited as Andy was to get his Buzz Lightyear toy, one would imagine Andy had to have had some knowledge of the movie.  Even today in the real world, toy companies market toys based on movies to children all the time and children get excited.  Taking that into account, even if Andy hadn’t seen a Buzz Lightyear movie, he still could have been excited about the toy.  To that end, that goof posted to IMDB holds no water.  Getting back to the matter of the alleged goof in Toy Story 2, who is to say that was not just one of the characters saying Buzz wasn’t based on a movie just to make Buzz angry?  Now keeping everything noted in mind there, the very presentation of the Buzz Lightyear movie as a movie for audiences essentially makes this movie its own presentation.  Yes, it is essentially a spinoff from the Toy Story franchise, but it is still its own standalone presentation that is a valid presentation.

Going a little bit deeper, the story that is presented within the movie makes for its own interest.  The story is an all too familiar tale of personal growth.  Buzz’s growth comes as he has to learn about accepting help and the consequences of letting one’s self be consumed by one’s own personal drive and desire. From causing his ship to crash on the planet in the first place because he had to put everything on himself to being so obsessed with reaching hyperspeed in his attempt to find a way off of the planet, Buzz thought he had to do it all.  He did not want anyone’s help, and that caused him to lose his first partner and almost lose others along the way including that first partner’s granddaughter and her friends.

On a secondary note, audiences learn about the battle between Buzz and Emperor Zurg.  Out of respect for those who have yet to watch this movie, this critic will be careful in discussing the pair’s conflict.  However, audiences who are familiar with the story of how Buck Rogers came to be in the 25th century will find a clear influence there (whether intentional or not).  The conflict between the pair plays into the whole matter of the fabric of space and time and certain paradoxes (again not to give away too much).  Now this conflict between Buzz and Zurg also goes into another so-called good that IMDB has posted about the movie.  It is known that in Toy Story 2, Zurg said that he was Buzz’s father, and that negated the situation in Lightyear.  That little statement was meant wholly as a tongue-in-cheek spoof of Star Wars.  It was not meant to be serious, so again, whatever IMDB employee pointed out this continuity “issue” took that moment far too seriously.  To that end, audiences need to go into this movie’s story completely discounting the so-called goofs that IMDB has listed if they intend to have any appreciation for the story.  As long as they keep that in mind, audiences will find themselves surprisingly able to enjoy the story just as much as the movie’s very unique presentation style.

As much as the movie’s presentation style and story do to make the movie engaging and entertaining, they are just part of what makes the movie worth watching.  The cast’s work is also of note.  Chris Evans (Captain America: The First Avenger, Fantastic Four, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, etc.) leads the way, bringing Buzz to life on screen this time out.  He is clearly well-versed in the role of the hero, considering his time working with Marvel Studios.  His performance is entertaining but does not necessarily break a lot of ground for a character such as Buzz.  If anyone really stands out in terms of the cast, it is Peter Sohn (Ratatouille, Monsters University, The Good Dinosaur) as he voices Sox, the robot cat.  The subtle way in which he brings Sox to life is a prime example of less is more.  That deadpan delivery that he gives is just so entertaining throughout and really makes him the unsuspecting star of the cast.  Taika Waititi (Boy, What We Do in the Shadows, Jojo Rabbit) and Dale Soules (Orange is the New Black, The Messenger, Prism) bring their own comic touch to the movie as they bring life to Mo and Darcy.  Marcy’s initial declaration about not wanting to hold a gun because it would be a violation of her parole makes for such a great comedic moment putting Soules’ talents on display.  At the same time, that the writers would keep bringing up her criminal past makes the joke get old quick.  Thankfully Soules makes the best of it doing the best she can to try to keep the joke funny.  Waititi’s delivery as Mo makes Mo such an endearing character because he is so innocent.  He can’t help that he is such a clutz, and that constant uncertainty that Mo displays is another great part of how Waititi brings him to life.  They really do so much, as does Sohn and even Evans all things considered.  To that end, the work put in by the cast does its own share to make Lightyear engaging and entertaining, too.  When their work is considered along with the story and even the movie’s general presentation, the whole makes Lightyear a surprisingly engaging and entertaining new offering from Disney and Pixar.  It is not the companies’ best work ever.  That honor still belongs (at least to this critic) to Up.  That aside, it is still a movie that even being a spinoff from the initial Toy Story universe, is still worth watching.

Lightyear, Disney and Pixar’s new Toy Story spinoff, is an interesting addition to that universe.  The movie proves itself so intriguing in part because of its general presentation.  The general presentation is a double presentation of sorts.  It is a movie within a movie that is its own presentation within the bigger Toy Story universe.  That is a unique approach.  The movie’s story is relatively accessible, as it presents Buzz as a central character on a journey of personal growth.  That familiarity is certain to engage and entertain audiences throughout the movie.  The work of the movie’s cast rounds out its most important elements.  From familiar style acting from Evans to more comedic and heartfelt performances from his cast mates, the cast’s work does its own share to engage and entertain audiences.  Each item examined is important in its own way to the presentation that is Lightyear.  All things considered, they make Lightyear a surprisingly welcome addition to Disney and Pixar’s Toy Story universe that is actually worth watching at least once.

Lightyear is available on all digital platforms now.  It is scheduled for release on DVD and Blu-ray 13 through Disney and Pixar.  More information on this and other titles from Disney and Pixar is available at:




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Captain America Sequel Another Largely Forgettable Flick From Marvel

Courtesy:  Marvel Studios/Disney

Courtesy: Marvel Studios/Disney

Captain America: The Winter Soldier was touted as one of the biggest hits of 2014 when it hit theaters earlier this summer. While it is enjoyable enough, the sad truth of this movie is that it really is not as great as some would like to believe. It all starts with the script. The issues with the script can be summed up in one word: predictability. In its defense, the writing trio of Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, and Ed Brubaker make one unpredictable move. That will be discussed at a later point. Getting back to the movie, another major issue from which the movie suffers is what this critic has coined as “whisper scenes.” They are exactly what they sound like. And together with the movie’s scripting issues, it serves to bring this movie down and leave it even less enjoyable. The final product is a movie that proves in the end to be more forgettable than fun. Sorry, fanboys and fangirls. It’s true.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier got a lot of hype leading up to its debut this past April. And while for many, it was considered a hit, a closer examination of Marvel’s latest in its endless river of prequels, sequels, and remakes proves it to be hardly as good as many would want it to be. The primary reason for this is the movie’s scripting. The issues with the movie’s scripting can be summed up in one word. That word is predictability. As soon as Nick Fury shows up in Rogers’ apartment, and secretly tells him that S.H.I.E.L.D. had been compromised, it was pretty obvious the direction in which the script was headed. The bad guys infiltrate the good guys’ headquarters and pretend to be good guys until a certain point at which a major conflict arises. Yeah, it’s pretty obvious. Even without the spoilers that had been “leaked” before the movie’s debut, it was pretty obvious who the real good guys were and who the real bad guys were. And even without those spoilers, it was pretty obvious that The Winter Soldier in question was a former good guy. That formula has been used far too many times before in far too many other action flicks that far exceed this one. Not to ruin the movie for those that haven’t seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier yet, but it’s also pretty obvious that the movie’s (and studio’s) heads were not going to kill off the biggest names in their franchises. Again, audiences are presented with so much predictability, greatly decreasing from the movie’s enjoyment.

For all of the issues of predictability that run throughout Captain America: The Winter Soldier, there is one unpredictable aspect to the script overall that deserves being noted. That aspect is that Markus, McFeely, and Brubaker actually opted not to let a romance develop between Natasha and Steve. There is a point at which Natasha tells Cap to kiss her so as to avoid detection by some Hydra agents. A conversation between the pair later leads some to believe that perhaps there is a potential for romance there. Luckily though, that doesn’t happen. And for that, the movie’s writers deserve at least some credit if no more. It is one of only two shining rays of light in a movie that lacks greatly in terms positives. The only other positive worth noting is the fact that it keeps the brooding to an extreme minimum unlike the movies that have been churned out over the years from DC. Even with Bucky’s own personal demons, his brooding is kept in check. It really helps the overall product. For that reason too, Captain America: The Winter Soldier manages to stay at least somewhat afloat.

Those behind the cameras on Captain America: The Winter Soldier did plenty of damage to the movie with just the massive amount of predictability throughout the script. They try to make up for all of that by filling the movie’s nearly two and a half-hour run time with all of the standard fight scenes, explosions, and chase scenes that are all too common with big screen action blockbusters. Thanks to the number of these elements crammed into the movie and the movie’s relatively long run time, it ends up having the same feel as its fellow Marvel sequel Thor: The Dark World. That feel is that it’s a movie that is just one explosion, chase scene and fight scene after another. Simply put, the imbalance of substance versus action flick filler hurts the movie even more. And coupled with the script’s predictability from start to finish, it becomes even less memorable.

It should be crystal clear at this point that Captain America: The Winter Soldier doesn’t exactly live up to its hype. For those not yet convinced, there is still one more aspect of the movie that while subtle still hurts it in its own way. That last aspect is what this critic has come to call “whisper scenes.” These scenes are exactly what they sound like (no pun intended). Actors talk in hushed tones so as to heighten the tension of a given scene. Those scenes are typically bookended by really loud action scenes or scenes that are otherwise the polar opposite of said scene. Whisper scenes aren’t bad. Don’t misinterpret that. The problem is that this movie is one more that uses them far too often throughout the course of its run time. It seems like an increasing number of directors have been relying on “whisper scenes” in recent years. Simply put, it is annoying. It’s as annoying as the number of lens flares thrown into director J.J. Abrams’ movies. Anyone that is familiar with Abrams’ works will understand this frustration. Anyone that has experienced such over use of “whisper scenes” will be just as able to relate. It is the last straw of a movie that ends up proving to be all but the enjoyable summer blockbuster that it was touted to be.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not a terrible movie. Anyone looking to just turn off their brains and enjoy a standard, mindless orgy of explosions, chase scenes, and fight scenes will enjoy this movie just as much as its predecessor. But those that give the movie a closer examination will see just how many problems it has. Its script is predictable. It relies largely on those aforementioned chase scenes, fight scenes and explosions to try and make up for its predictability and overall lack of substance. And the overload of “whisper scenes” that fill the movie’s run time only serve to hurt it more. The movie’s only shining rays of light are the fact that its team of writers didn’t allow for Steve and Natasha’s partnership to become a romance and it kept Bucky’s brooding to a bare minimum. Other than that, there is very little good that can be said of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s a movie that is fun for one watch, but little more.

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Top 10 Major Motion Pictures Of 2012

Top 10 Movies of 2012


Courtesy:  Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

1.  The Artist:  While it originally made its debut overseas in 2011, it wasn’t until January 20th of this year that The Artist actually made its nationwide debut in theaters across the U.S.  Before then, only the lucky few at the big festivals got to see it.  That being the case, it should be considered a 2012 release.  So what makes it 2012’s best?  So much could be said.  At a time when so much of what Hollywood churns out is prequels, sequels, and remakes, this story—distributed by Sony Pictures—went the total opposite.  How simple and ingenious is it to make a silent film in a movie of major flash-bang-boom films?  Because the movie’s only sound is its music, viewers are forced to watch.  And the cast was force to really put on its best possible performance, rather than rely on everything else that most movies use to distract audiences from poor performances.  The music is quite enjoyable, too.  And of course, the general cinematography is just as impressive.  It all combines to make for a movie that any movie lover should see at least once.

Mirror Mirror BD2.  Mirror, Mirror:  Some of you might shake your heads at this pick.  But the reality is that this is really a fun and family friendly movie.  Both boys and girls will enjoy it as will parents.  While young Lily Collins (the daughter of superstar Phil Collins) is billed as the lead star here, it’s the dwarves who are really the story’s stars.  Their antics make for more than their share of laughs.  Though watching Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer—The Lone Ranger) put under the evil queen’s puppy love spell is pretty funny, too.  It’s obvious that this spoof of the classic fairy tale was aimed both at boys and girls.  With its mix of wit and charm, it will always be one of the best takes on the old Snow White story.

Courtesy:  Disney Studios

Courtesy: Disney Studios

3.  The Odd Life of Timothy Green:  This is another truly enjoyable family movie.  The general story is one to which any parent can relate and will enjoy because of that.  Though the concept of what happens with Timothy might be a little bit tough to discuss with younger viewers.  The beautiful backdrop adds even more warmth to the story.  And the cast’s acting makes suspension of disbelief so easy.  Sure it’s sappy, emotional, and all that jazz.  But that can be forgiven as it’s such an original and heartwarming story.       

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox

4.  Skyfall:  This is where things begin to get a little bit touchy.  Skyfall is by far the best Bond flick to come along in a very long time.  That’s not to say that the previous two were bad.  But this one brought back memories of the old school James Bond that everybody knows.  It’s got the gadgets and the humor and none of the melodrama that weighed down the previous two Bond flicks.  The only downside to the movie is that it tends to drag in the final act.  Other than that, it is a nice return to form for the Bond franchise and gives hope for any future Bond films….that is at least if Christopher Nolan doesn’t get his hands on the franchise.

Courtesy:  Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Video

Courtesy: Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Video

5.  The Avengers:  The Avengers was a very nice way to cap off the build-up created by Marvel Studios with the recent bevy of comic book based movies.  It had great special effects.  Its story was simple and solid.  And the shooting was equally impressive.  Considering all the action going on, audiences weren’t left feeling dizzy to the point of wanting to walk out (or in the case of home release, just turn it off).  But like so many ensemble cast movies, it suffered from a common problem.  That problem was the movie’s run time.  Most of the characters in The Avengers had already been introduced through their own separate movies.  So there was no reason to re-introduce them all over again this time.  A lot of that extra time could have been spared.  Hopefully those involved have learned from that and will present viewers with a shorter movie in the second of the Avengers movies.

Courtesy:  Warner Brothers Home Video

Courtesy: Warner Brothers Home Video

6.  The Dark Knight Rises:  I am just as much a comic book fan as anyone else out there.  So it goes without saying that I was excited to see this movie.  It did a good job of wrapping up the trilogy.  The problem is that it did too much of a good job, as David Goyer and the Nolans tried too hard to cram everything into one movie.  Word is that this latest installment of the Batman franchise left many people checking their watches when it was in theaters.  It might have been better served to have been split up into at least one more movie because of everything added into the mix.  And having what seems to be a lack of commentary on the new home release, fans can only guess what the logic was in cramming so much into one story.  Much like The Avengers, the shooting and the special effects were great.  So it has that going for it.  But the writing was the story’s big problem.  Here’s to hoping that whoever takes over the Batman franchise next (whenever it’s re-launched) won’t make the same mistake as Christopher Nolan and company.

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox

7.  Prometheus:  This semi-prequel to Ridley Scott’s hit Alien franchise was met with mixed reviews.  There seemed to be no gray area here.  Audiences either loved it or hated it.  Truth be told, it worked quite well as both a prequel and as its very own stand-alone movie.  Sure the special effects are different from those used in the original movies.  But times are different.  So viewers should take that into account.  And the shooting was just as impressive.  While it may not be as memorable as Scott’s previous works, at least audiences can agree that it’s better than the movies in the AvP franchise.

Courtesy:  Universal Pictures

Courtesy: Universal Pictures

8.  Les Miserables:  This latest reboot of Victor Hugo’s classic story of love and redemption in one of history’s darkest eras is not bad.  But it’s not great, either.  Audiences who know the stage play will thrill at how director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) and his staff of writers paid tribute to the stage play both in its writing and its shooting.  At the same time, Hooper tried so hard to pay tribute with his shooting style and the transitions that the whole movie felt dizzying to say the least.  The shooting and transitions felt like nothing more than a bunch of cuts from one shot to the next.  There was never a total sense of fluidity anywhere in the story.  It was almost as if despite staying true to the stage play, the script for this latest big screen adaptation was written by someone with ADHD.  Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway did a superior job with their performances.  But despite that, odds are that the movie will sadly be remembered more for its flawed shooting and transitions than for its award-worthy performances.  Nonetheless, it’s still a good movie for any fan of Les Miserables or for fans of musicals in general to see at least once.

Courtesy:  CBS Films/CBS Home Entertainment/UK Film Council/BBC Films/Lionsgate/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Courtesy: CBS Films/CBS Home Entertainment/UK Film Council/BBC Films/Lionsgate/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

9.  Salmon Fishing in the YemenSalmon Fishing in the Yemen is without a doubt an original story.  It’s next to impossible to find anything like it out there or present.  But it suffers greatly from an identity crisis.  It doesn’t know whether it wants to be a drama, a romance, or a little bit of both.  It’s nice to see the simple message of something as simple as fishing being able to bring the world’s people together peacefully.  But it really seemed to let the romance factor get too much involved.  As a result, it got bogged down in itself.  Had it not had the romance subplot, it might have been better.

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

10. Arbitrage:  It was once noted that three factors more than any other are the causes of crime.  Those factors are:  money, power, and sex.  Arbitrage has all three of these.  It’s an interesting movie.  And it definitely wastes no time noting the latter of the trio of factors, as it lets audiences know that Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is having an affair with another woman.  And also, Miller’s boss has a very firm talk with him early on letting him know that he knows about the financial inaccuracies that he’s causing.  It doesn’t take long to know where this story goes.  It’s something of a tried and true story.  Add in this critic’s pet peeve of movies, the “whisper scenes” and it makes for a movie that as good as it is it could have been better.  For those wondering, the “whisper scene” is exactly as it sounds (bad pun there).  The “whisper scene” is one in which actors essentially whisper throughout the scene against overpowering music to make the scene more emotional and powerful.  But put against the sudden transition to normal volume scenes (and above normal volume scenes), it becomes rather annoying as one has to constantly change the volume on one’s TV as a result of that.  It’ll be interesting to see if it gets the Golden Globe for which it was nominated.

There you have it folks.  That is my personalist of the year’s ten best major motion pictures.  You are more than welcome to share whether you agree or disagree and what your top 10 list would look like.  2013’s already shaping up to be an interesting year.  As the movies start to come out, I’ll have reviews of them, too.  To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.