Archive for the Adventure Category

Pinocchio

Posted in Adventure, Comedy, Drama with tags on September 9, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Disney’s reliance on making live-action versions of their animated films really kicked into high gear during the 2010s decade. As a movie critic, I approach every remake for what it is — rather than what I think it should be. I’ve been more forgiving than most. I tolerated their critically reviled (but monetarily successful) reworkings of Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, and The Lion King to give them mildly positive reviews. However, the first five animated releases from Walt Disney Studios represent some of the greatest ever made, so the standard is admittedly higher when replicating these classics. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi, are sacred. Incidentally, 2019’s Dumbo was a dreary slog. Pinocchio isn’t nearly as bad, but it’s still a hollow shell of an adventure.

To its credit, Pinnochio — adapted from a screenplay by director Robert Zemeckis and Chris Weitz — at least duplicates the basic plot of the original. The main character (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) does look appealing too. The developments show some loyalty to the source material. Yet there is more to art than accurately recreating the scenes using CGI and human actors. The characters need to engage our emotions. There must be some joy, some spark that unites the production and makes us care. CGI is unnecessarily used to replicate everything from Geppetto’s pets Figaro and Cleo to a titan of the sea, Monstro. I get that a real whale would have been hard to tame, but why couldn’t they get an actual cat or goldfish? Tom Hanks doesn’t embody Geppetto with sincerity either. His goofily exaggerated performance reaches a zenith in one scene. Geppetto’s shock at discovering his wooden puppet can walk and talk on its own is an excessive display that would be an embarrassment coming from a first-year acting student, let alone a talent with two Oscars and over four decades of experience.

Director Robert Zemeckis makes some misguided choices. The filmmaker relies on self-referential humor, which takes you out of this movie as it promotes others. Geppetto is a wood carver that makes cuckoo clocks based on properties that Disney owns. Toy Story and Who Framed Roger Rabbit timepieces honor the studio while referencing Woody, the toy Hanks voiced and a feature that Zemekis directed. A minor quibble, but the decisions get more egregious. I get that Pinnochio is naive and there are ways to illustrate this amusingly. Showing a closeup of horse droppings that Pinnchio approaches and then sniffs is not one of them. When Pinocchio ultimately gets to Pleasure Island, it’s meant to be a decadent isle full of illegal activities like drinking beer, chewing tobacco, and smoking cigars. None of that happens. In this account, boys and girls drink root beer, eat candy, and light fireworks in a theme park. I’m sorry, but how is this sanitized depiction any different from what goes on at Disneyland every day of the year? When the children transform into donkeys, the computer rendering is garish. It’s grotesque but because the image is implausible and ridiculous — not due to its inherent scariness.

What more is there to say? Pinocchio is a redundant, soulless recreation that dutifully mimics the plot points but without the charm, wit, or spirit. I could go on, but doing so would be simply beating a dead horse…or in this case, a donkey.

09-08-22

Beast

Posted in Adventure, Drama, Horror with tags on August 22, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Dr. Nate Samuels (Idris Elba) ) is a single father who takes his two young daughters, Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Sava Jeffries ), to a wildlife preserve in South Africa. While there, they are confronted by a ferocious lion determined to kill everyone and everything in sight. I don’t want to dismiss Beast as Jaws but with a feline, but that is basically the setup.

Man vs. nature can be the the foundation for a very entertaining film. “When animals attack” comprises a whole genre of cinema. Beast is nowhere near as outstanding as The Birds, but it’s decidedly more refined than the 1999 killer crocodile flick Lake Placid. Apparently, the lion is out for revenge because poachers murdered the rest of his pride. That’s a stretch. An untamed animal would never behave this way. Nevertheless, I was captivated by the various confrontations. There is a bit more drama than just a cat run amok. For one thing, Idris plays a father whose wife has recently passed from illness, so there are some unresolved tensions with his daughters. Sharlto Copley (District 9, Maleficent) also appears a wildlife biologist who is an old friend of Nate’s.

Beast is a competent thriller, a simple story efficiently told. I like that the movie knows exactly what it is – an uncomplicated shocker designed to produce thrills. As such, it was a brilliant decision to edit it down to a mere 90 minutes. Anything longer would be unnecessary. The MVP of this picture are the talenetd team in the sound department. We are frequently subjected to jump scares where the sound is so loud I literally jumped in my seat. Usually, I find those kinds of surprises a cheap way to elicit frights, but they are effective nonetheless. I’d be lyin’ if I said this was innovative, but it’s still a roaring good time.

08-18-22

Thirteen Lives 

Posted in Action, Adventure, Biography with tags on August 13, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

On June 23, 2018, a junior association soccer team went missing after setting out to explore the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in northern Thailand. The twelve boys aged between 11 and 16 and their 25-year-old assistant coach were on a sightseeing trip after a practice session. Shortly after entering, heavy rains overflowed the tunnel system, blocking their way out, and trapping them deep within. The subsequent attempt to rescue them became a massive operation that garnered worldwide public interest. Simply determining whether the children were even alive took days. British divers John Volanthen and Richard Stanton ultimately located the group on an elevated rock about 2.5 miles from the cavity opening. Wonderful news! Nevertheless, the ability to extract them from the flooded twisty cavern would be difficult. Even with scuba gear and guidance, the kids would likely panic during the long treacherous swim out.

There are so many perspectives from which to tell this epic tale. I was fascinated with the fortitude of the trapped victims. Somehow they survived over two weeks in a pitch-black cavern without food. Once discovered, there is mention of meditation. Their perseverance through prayer and hope is undoubtedly a fascinating saga. The details of their struggle are mentioned in passing. However, we don’t see the boys for a large portion of the picture. Theirs is not the endeavor presented here.

This is a tale about the British divers played by Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell and Australian medical specialist Richard Harris portrayed by Joel Edgerton. They saved the day when everyone else — even the Navy SEALs — could not. A casual glance at the famous names in the cast does not suggest an account focused on the vulnerable victims. The fact that Ron Howard (Backdraft, Apollo 13) is directing should have clued me in that the effort to extricate them takes center stage. Ok, that’s an exciting perspective too. Those men were genuine heroes. Their commitment is an awe-inspiring consolidation of human ingenuity that saved lives.

Yet the chronicle is not produced in a way that maximizes the drama. It always felt like we were observing these events from a distance. The individuals here are two-dimensional characters that lack personality. I derive more emotion from footage on the 11’oclock news. The excitement improves in the second half when the claustrophobic, muddy-water environment conveys just how difficult it was to save these lives from the underground chamber. Yet Ron Howard and editor James D. Wilcox frequently cut to less interesting activities on land that kill the momentum. Furthermore, the developments plod for nearly 2 1/2 hours. I’m not saying it isn’t an uplifting experience. It’s currently the most watched title on Amazon Prime, after all. (Box office flop The 355 was the previous #1). Although, I enjoyed it more divided up over two nights.

This life-affirming tale is inherently captivating. It would be near impossible not to make a thrilling picture out of this piece of recent history. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things is universally compelling. These ripped from the headlines stories are even more effective because they’re true. Ron Howard and screenwriter William Nicholson (working from a story by Don MacPherson) offer a movie that inspired me to read up on the actual account and watch the award-winning (and more efficient) National Geographic documentary The Rescue (2021).

08-07-22

Prey

Posted in Action, Adventure, Drama with tags on August 10, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

In 1719 a young Comanche woman named Naru (Amber Midthunder) is underestimated as a hunter by her tribe. She tags along with the band of boys to hunt a lion. They dismiss her with a “Who invited you? We won’t be gone long enough to need a cook.” Yet she persists. They soon discover that perhaps there is an even greater threat than the lion in their midst.

“Humans hunted by an intruder” doesn’t qualify as the foundation for a masterpiece in my book, but admittedly it’s all in how you present the idea. Prey is the fifth entry (not including the two Alien vs. Predator films) of the Predator series. At first, the title and drastic change in setting suggest a complete reinvention of the franchise. The action occurs on the Great Plains within the grounds of the Stoney Nakoda Nation in Alberta, Canada, and Calgary’s Moose Mountain and Elbow River. On-location shooting makes excellent use of these stunning locales.

This prequel combines science fiction with a Native American backdrop involving touches that scream linguistic authenticity. Director Mel Gibson was lauded for having actors speak Latin, Hebrew, and Aramaic for The Passion of the Christ. Likewise, this story has dialogue in the Camanche language. There’s a significant portion in contemporary English too. In addition to the alien menace, Naru and her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers) must contend with hostile French fur trappers in this anti-colonialist tale. When the tribespeople are captured and tied to a tree, Naru recounts a fable where a beaver chewed off its own leg to be free. After suggesting she might do the same, she quips in a modern accent more appropriate to the San Fernando Valley, “I’m smarter than a beaver.” If this was 2022 and Naru was on Twitter. #girlboss Note: Prey is also available in an alternate all-Comanche dub on Hulu.

Gorgeous cinematography (Jeff Cutter is the director of photography) and a gender-swapped role of the lead are the unique elements in this Predator movie. When 20th Century Fox unleashed the first chapter upon the public in 1987, the film was dismissed as an Alien clone. Over the years, its reputation has grown among the cognoscenti. The latest installment is being hailed as the “best sequel since John McTiernan’s original.” That’s a pretty low bar. I’ll admit director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane) shows impressive restraint. Nevertheless, the buildup to actually seeing the creature is so gradual that it’s frustrating. We don’t even witness the predator (former professional basketball player Dane DiLiegro) clearly until fully halfway into the picture. He’s portrayed as a translucent blur accompanied by chittering sounds. The beast finally becomes perceptible when covered in blood after he attacks a bear. Not many surprises in this violent game of “kill or be killed” which ultimately limps to an inevitable conclusion. Apparently, extraterrestrials underestimate women just like their human counterparts.

08-05-22

Bullet Train

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Thriller with tags on August 5, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Brad Pitt is a movie star. I realize this is not some groundbreaking pronouncement. We’ve known this for a long time. Perhaps as far back as 1991 when he memorably played the handsome young drifter J.D. in Thelma and Louise. He turned that bit role into a star-making performance. The rest is history. Bullet Train has a massive cast, so it would be hard to stand out. Yet every time the quinquagenarian pops up, it’s akin to the zen calm in the eye of a chaotic storm. Sporting unkempt hair, glasses, and a bucket hat compels one character from the UK to quip, “You look like every white homeless man I’ve ever seen.” Seriously? The vagabonds in Great Britain must be really good-looking then. Brad Pitt is the glue that holds this dissonant mish-mash of a film together.

A team of various assassins with incongruous codenames from around the globe are traveling on the Shinkansen. The bullet train takes about two hours and 15 minutes to travel from Tokyo to Kyoto — with frequent 1-minute stops along the way. Ladybug (Brad Pitt) is tasked to steal a briefcase. He’s getting directions from his handler Maria Beetle (Sandra Bullock), an unseen voice on the phone. Little does he know that other cutthroats are onboard to stop him. Let’s see; there’s a pair of hitmen brothers, Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his “twin” Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), British bad boy The Son (Logan Lerman), innocent-looking schoolgirl The Prince (Joey King) who is not so virtuous, and The Father (Andrew Koji), a troubled patriarch there to seek vengeance upon the individual who pushed his son off a roof. Let’s not forget The Hornet (Zazie Beetz), whose identity is largely secret, and The Wolf (Benito A. Martínez Ocasio, a.k.a. rapper Bad Bunny). He’s angry at whoever poisoned the wine at his wedding. Wow. Now that’s a gross scene I didn’t need to see over and over. Other killers — not on board but part of the narrative — include The Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada) and White Death (Michael Shannon). Oh, and there are a couple of memorable cameos too, but I won’t spoil the surprises.

The recipe for this cocktail of a story is to simply add the ingredients of disparate characters to one location and shake vigorously. Lest you think my encapsulation is dismissive, classics like Die Hard and The Raid got by on the same formula. I haven’t even mentioned that there’s a poisonous snake on the loose and a mysterious pink mascot from a popular children’s show named Momomon. Your mileage may vary, but ultimately, I warmed up to the film’s bonkers mentality. The silly glee in this live-action cartoon is just so zealous. The saga marries lighthearted dialogue with heavy-handed violence. Granted Final Destination treated the idea of death with more compassion. It’s a cynical approach. Director David Leitch worships at the altar of patron saints Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs) and Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels). Leitch is working from a screenplay by Zak Olkewicz, who adapts the Japanese novel Maria Beetle (published in English as Bullet Train) by Kōtarō Isaka. It’s a difficult juggling act for the filmmaker. He’s trying to keep a lot of balls in the air. Oh yeah, he drops a few. Particularly in the denouement when the action goes literally and figuratively “off the rails.” (sorry, but you knew that line in a movie about a train was going to appear somewhere). Nevertheless, the spectacle is still quite a show.

08-04-22

DC League of Super-Pets

Posted in Action, Adventure, Animation, Family, Superhero with tags on July 30, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

You’ve enjoyed actors Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart in Central Intelligence and been enchanted by their chemistry in not one but two Jumanji movies. Yet you’re aching for more. Perhaps you’d like to experience their personalities in an animated saga about furry superheroes? Today I bring you good news.

DC League of Super-Pets is little more than an animated yarn seemingly inspired by The Secret Life of Pets, but it’s a lively reinterpretation. The tale concerns beloved critters that obtain superhero powers after being exposed to orange kryptonite. So for the uninformed, green kryptonite is bad, but orange is good. The story stars Krypto (Dwayne Johnson) — Superman’s (John Krasinski) Labrador Retriever — who possesses the same special skills as his master. The villain is a guinea pig named Lulu (Kate McKinnon ), who belongs to Lex Luthor (Marc Maron). She’s patterned her entire life on the Brain, that megalomaniac mouse of the Animaniacs. Well no, not technically, but that’s the level of characterization going on here.

Lulu is currently confined to an animal shelter but is able to acquire a shard of orange kryptonite. The element gives her super abilities. The other creatures at the pound inadvertently get powers too. The coterie of individuals includes a boxer dog (Kevin Hart), a pig (Vanessa Bayer), a turtle (Natasha Lyonne), and a squirrel (Diego Luna). However, unlike Lulu, they embody a good-hearted temperament. Conversely, there is also a kitty named Whiskers (Winona Bradshaw) that is not so well-meaning. After the humans in the Justice League are defeated and imprisoned by Lulu, it’s up to this superpowered team of strays to save the day. The adventure may sound rather incomprehensible, but it makes sense while you’re watching.

The most poignant moment in the DC League of Super-Pets unexpectedly occurs in the middle of the chronicle. Ace (Kevin Hart), a stray Boxer, recounts his backstory. He once had an ideal life in the home of a loving family. Then one day, Ace witnessed their toddler teetering on the edge of a flight of stairs. To rescue her from falling, he grabs the baby with his mouth. The parents hear their infant crying and only observe the little teeth marks on their toddler’s arm. They mistakenly think their dog has bitten her. Ace is removed from the household and taken away. The moment arouses genuine pathos. That random aside holds the seed of a narrative more compelling than the one the writers decided to pursue. The rest of this chronicle is rather frivolous and forgettable. That’s ok. I still enjoyed this lighthearted diversion.

07-28-22

The Gray Man

Posted in Action, Adventure with tags on July 26, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Action + adventure = a thriller, right? The Gray Man gives us a movie, but the formula is lacking.

Ryan Gosling is a CIA operative with the code name “Sierra Six.” He is a decent fellow with a moral compass that is forced to go on the run after discovering incriminating secrets about his agency. Unhinged bad guy Lloyd Hansen played by Chris Evans, is hired to pursue him. The chase is on in a game of cat and mouse for the entire duration. The story doesn’t seem particularly literary, but the production is based on a 2009 bestseller by Mark Greaney.

Netflix has high hopes for this installment to become a series. They astonishingly paid a whopping $200 million for this episode. I get it. This spy thriller presents a hero in the style of James Bond or Jason Bourne. Those guys are captivating individuals with stories that have emotionally compelling stakes. In this production, we’ve got a great cast that includes Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, and Ana de Armas. Regé-Jean Page from Bridgerton emerges as another antagonist. That’s not a spoiler. He’s in an irritable mood right from the beginning. These are charismatic stars, but you’ve got to give them something interesting to do other than shoot at each other.

The Gray Man truly tests the idea of how essential a famous star is to the enjoyment of a picture. This screenplay reduces everyone to a cipher. Dull personalities populate the film. Ok fine. What usually makes these tales of espionage thrilling is the action, anyway. There is a lot of combat – some involve weapons, and other conflicts are hand-to-hand. However, it helps to have an emotional component, so you actually care what happens. The narrative is an array of various maneuvers that play out one after the other, spiced up with explosions and fights. Unfortunately, even those aren’t imaginatively staged.

I was expecting more from directors Anthony and Joe Russo. They established an impressive reputation by directing four Marvel flicks. Both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame are in the Top 5 highest grossing movies ever made…(coughing) unadjusted for inflation. However, their output is far less enjoyable when not being handed a lucky assignment. This rote production — like Cherry and Extraction (which they wrote and produced only) is yet another unremarkable, colorless offering. Points for truth in advertising, though. The Gray Man has been aptly named.

07-19-22

Thor: Love and Thunder

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy, Superhero with tags on July 11, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Comic book movies shouldn’t take themselves too seriously. That’s the spirit behind Thor: Love and Thunder. Director Taika Waititi returns five years after Thor: Ragnarok to helm this sequel, the 4th entry in the Thor series. Though it might not reach the heights of his previous effort, it’s still a smashing good time.

It takes an absolute eternity to get to the principal story. It felt like an hour in, but I could be wrong. The proper narrative begins when Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is reunited with his brainy ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). This duo forms the emotional core of their ongoing romance. She has taken on super powers aided by Mjölnir, the hammer Thor once owned that she now commands. Meanwhile, Thor now wields an enchanted axe called Stormbreaker. An ongoing joke is that his — apparently cognizant — weapon is comically jealous that Thor continues to pine for his hammer. The duo takes on Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) who is wreaking havoc across the multiverse and killing every deity he can while capturing the Asgardian children and imprisoning them.

Their adventures take them to Omnipotence City, where they appeal to Zeus for help. Russell Crowe is affecting a Greek accent while advancing the cause of body positivity. Zeus proves you don’t have to lift weights 24/7 to play a significant character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Truth be told, it looks as if he’s never even seen a gym. He’s a role model to Thor, but Zeus turns out to be a real jerk and exposes the muscular hero (quite literally, in fact) to the entire assemblage.

Thor is a meandering tale. Like everything in this blessedly interconnected universe, the latest Marvel chapter pays homage to earlier incarnations. Voiceover narration from the rock-like creature Korg (Taika Waititi) recounts the legend of the god of thunder. A screenplay co-written by the director and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson fills in the extensive background minutiae, dramatizing his experiences with the Guardians of the Galaxy. We are treated to an extended sequence in the first 20 minutes, highlighting a planet overrun by bird-like invaders. After Thor and his team defeat the attackers, the king of the land gifts Thor and the Guardians with two giant screaming goats. Their human shrieks are a running joke for the duration of the picture.

Oh, but there are many more trivialities to learn. Thor has appointed Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) the leader of New Asgard. The place has become a tourist attraction, with plays featuring actors in amusing cameos that re-enact Thor’s exploits. The lengthy introduction is fitfully diverting, but you could eliminate the whole shebang. This critic favors clarity. A simple, straightforward narrative is preferred, but whatever. I realize some people demand this stuff, so it’s here for those who feast on the details.

Thor: Love and Thunder is a lighthearted account that promotes slapstick and humorous banter. A series of seemingly random developments and numerous characters wear on the viewer. Despite being a mere two hours, it feels longer because of the convoluted events and distended cast list. The sloppy chronicle fumbles in the 2nd half with several generic action setpieces that fail to deliver. And yet the atmosphere is so jovial it entertains. The production relies on a soundtrack that presents four — yes, count ’em four — songs by Guns N Roses: “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” “Welcome To The Jungle,” “Paradise City,” and “November Rain.” The account is a hodgepodge of lively ideas that ultimately fuse into something resembling a cohesive whole. Thor Love and Thunder doesn’t stay with you long after seeing it, but it manages to captivate in the moment. That’s something, I guess.

07-07-22

Minions: The Rise of Gru

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family on July 5, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Let’s be honest. It was never about the human characters in the Despicable Me films series. It’s the little yellow twinkie-shaped creatures that are the real stars.

The Minions movies take place before the proper franchise. The second prequel is subtitled The Rise of Gru and is set in 1976. Criminal mastermind Gru is an 11-year-old who desperately wants to join the Vicious 6, a criminal organization of six supervillains. They recently expelled one of their members, and now they’re auditioning for a new replacement. Gru applies, but when the group sees he’s just a kid, they reject him. To prove himself, he successfully steals a powerful amulet called the Zodiac Stone that the crew has newly acquired. He intends to give it back in hopes he will earn their respect. However, one of the Minions — I believe his name is Otto — trades the precious talisman for a pet rock. Now everyone is on the chase to reacquire the charm. Helping the Minions on their quest is Master Chow (Michelle Yeoh), an acupuncturist and Kung Fu fighter. There’s also a biker (RZA) that Otto befriends on his way to San Francisco.

Of course, the story is beside the point. The whole purpose of these movies is to highlight the silly, crazy antics of those lovable rapscallions. There is something so quixotically engaging about their behavior. At one point, three of them — Kevin, Stuart, and Bob — pose as two pilots and a flight attendant to sneak on board a plane so they can fly to San Francisco. It’s a hilarious display. The Minions have this certain indefinable “je ne sais quoi.” The Minions are the humor found in slipping on the peel of a banana — an English word often heard in their cryptic polyglot language. This is comedy at its most elemental. It is impossible to explain the joy of slapstick to the unconverted. Like trying to analyze why the goofy hijinks of The Three Stooges or Benny Hill are funny. You either get it, or you don’t. However, if you have young kids, they will definitely want to see this.

Quite honestly, there are enough gags for both children and adults to appreciate. Check out the starry ensemble that’s doing the voices of the Vicious 6. Taraji P. Henson, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lucy Lawless, Dolph Lundgren, Danny Trejo, and Alan Arkin all do an amusing riff on their personas for knowledgeable viewers that are in on the joke. Another gag highlights the time it takes to dial a number on a rotary phone. A child won’t even recognize what that object is. The soundtrack includes a hip cadre of indie stars doing covers of popular songs of the era. Delight to new versions of “Funkytown,” “Dance to the Music,” and “Fly Like an Eagle” that pop up at perfectly timed moments. At a funeral, the Minions sing the choir opening from “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones. Oh, I laughed…a lot. An affirmation of fun is precisely why Minions: The Rise of Gru entertains and ultimately satisfies as a piece of entertainment. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot famously mused, “Do I dare to eat a peach?” In the Minions case, it’s a banana, and the answer is most assuredly YES.

06-30-22

Lightyear

Posted in Action, Adventure, Animation, Family, Fantasy with tags on June 18, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Three sentences flash across the screen to set the stage. “In 1995 Andy got a toy. The toy was from his favorite movie. This is that movie.” After it was over, I didn’t buy that assertion. Yeah, I know. It’s probably best not to question such things. This feature doesn’t hold up to that kind of scrutiny, but given that the most captivating character didn’t become a toy back then is a huge leap of faith. Sox the cat (Peter Sohn) is the breakout star and it’s not even close. Buzz Lightyear’s robotic feline companion is an absolute delight. Buzz Lightyear himself? Oh sure, he’s in the film too. Just not a particularly interesting personality. He’s kind of an oaf, a bit of a dullard too.

Lightyear concerns a human astronaut (Chris Evans) — er uh space ranger — who is responsible for marooning his crew of travelers on a hostile alien planet. You see he’s branded a failure at the outset. He even tries to quit the mission but his commanding officer and best friend Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) refuses to accept his resignation. So Buzz attempts to devise the perfect formula for a working hyperspeed crystal to get his crew off this foreign planet, thereby fixing his mistake and fulfilling his duty. Buzz undergoes a series of test flights to reach hyperspeed to bring everyone back home. Whenever Buzz zips away in his spacecraft for a few minutes, four years elapse for everyone else. He doesn’t age but everyone else does — rather quickly. Unfortunately, he isn’t successful for a very long time. Decades pass and the progression of time suggest the first 10 minutes of Up. Guess who finally comes up with the correct formula? Psst…See the first paragraph.

My encapsulation above may read like the complete saga, but it’s just a prelude. The setup seeks to establish the emotional basis for the formulaic drama that comprises the bulk of the picture. Lightyear and Sox have their moments interacting as a duo. That computerized feline saves his owner’s neck on more than one occasion. There is a refreshing simplicity to their relationship. Yet this chronicle doesn’t allow them to shine alone. The plot introduces a goofy collection of additional helpers. Three space-colony outcasts show up to assist Lightyear in his objective. Chief among this ragtag trio is Izzy Hawthorne (Keke Palmer), Alisha’s granddaughter. She’s flanked by Mo Morrison (Taika Waititi) a naive and inexperienced recruit, and Darby Steel (Dale Soules) an elderly convict on parole.

This is where the moral comes through: “Collaborate as a team. Be less of a maverick.” The idea that cooperation is glorified as the ultimate goal is so ubiquitous in children’s entertainment these days that you accept it as standard-issue. I’d suggest that a great many intellectuals or innovators in the adult world are free-thinking radicals, and far from conformists, but perhaps that concept is a bit too revolutionary for Pixar. Anyway, the woebegone characters are uninteresting and detract from the narrative rather than add to it. The sad-sack troupe faces off against an invading force of robots led by the mysterious Emperor Zurg (James Brolin) — another callback to the original Toy Story.

Lightyear isn’t terrible. It’s nicely animated and features an adventure with some lively sequences. But bestowing your creation with that title incites the exalted history of the Toy Story franchise. The first two are widely considered Pixar’s best. This production is not even in the same cosmos. It’s a straightforward tale, painfully ordinary and utterly lacking in imagination or depth. The only remarkable individual is a mechanical cat. Meanwhile, the milieu is oppressive and dreary. The plot throws in generic developments. A time travel subplot yields a reveal that is a ho-hum of a surprise. This is not the awe-inspiring entertainment that you’d expect to become any child’s most treasured movie. Lightyear may take place on a different planet, but creatively it remains — earthbound.

06-16-22