‘Lightyear’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

“To infinity… and beyond!” 

For those born in 1995 (like myself), Toy Story was something special. Our generation grew up with Andy and his toys. So to see this franchise get bigger and better as the years go on is great. Lightyear has been a long time coming and it makes sense for the Buzz Lightyear toy to have his origin story displayed on the big screen. Yes, this film is made for everyone, but it also felt oddly personal for 90s babies. Maybe, I’m just an emotional person when it comes to Pixar, but this just felt different. It was a weird mix of nostalgia and a brand new story for the Buzz we know and love. What worked so well is that the Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story and the Buzz Lightyear in his origin story both had the same character development. Those callbacks to the toy version made Lightyear special. 

In his original adventure, Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) embarks on an intergalactic adventure with a group of ambitious recruits and his robot companion. The story is straightforward and has many obstacles for Buzz along the way. Lightyear is dedicated to the Space Ranger program and thinks that is what defines him at the beginning of this film. He has his best friend, Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) who is with him every step of the way. And in true Pixar fashion, within seconds, we understand how strong their friendship is. Some beautiful, heartfelt moments between the characters show the importance of having the right support system around you. Once, Alisha’s granddaughter Izzy Hawthorne (Keke Palmer) comes into the mix, the pressure of fulfilling a legacy is also shown. In a way, Izzy and Buzz both help each other understand their place in the world. 

Naturally, when we think of Buzz Lightyear, we think of Tim Allen. But now, hearing Chris Evans voice the original character that the toy is based on, it’s impossible to hear anyone else. Evans has always wanted to be in a Pixar movie and having him play one of the most iconic Pixar characters is perfect casting. Voice acting can be difficult because of the line delivery, but Evans made it seem effortless. It’s almost like you could see him saying the lines as we saw Buzz on screen. He was so expressive and just so wonderful as Lightyear. This works because Evans is such a likable actor and Buzz is an iconic character, so it feels like a comforting combination. Similar to Evans, Keke Palmer was a joy to watch as Izzy and she matched Evans’s energy. Having both of them on two different journeys with one common connection made for an interesting dynamic.

Lightyear has stunning animation that will take you into space with Buzz Lightyear. Pixar has perfected its animation and it has gotten to the point where it seems so lifelike. The scenes in space, especially on an IMAX screen feel so epic in scale. Animation can always push the boundary a bit more than live-action and that’s why it added a different feeling when watching this on the big screen. Even though the story may feel a bit generic, the emotional connection with Buzz and the Hawthornes moves the story along. The one character that will be everyone’s favourite after watching this movie is Sox. He is a little robotic cat, that Alisha got for him as his emotional space companion. Buzz learns to love Sox and the two of them make a great pairing throughout the film. This movie is fun for the whole family and is something old Toy Story fans will appreciate because it will make them feel like a kid again. 

Lightyear will be released in theatres Friday, June 17th. 

‘Turning Red’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

When we think of Pixar, we think of beautiful animation and a heartfelt story. In one-way or another, we are introduced to different characters that may be struggling with something. More importantly, Pixar is one of the few studios that address mental health through a child’s perspective. Not only are these stories marketed for children, but it also allows adults to understand their child a bit better. In Turning Red, we meet Mei Lee (Rosalie Chiang), who is a 13-year-old girl torn between being her mother’s obedient daughter and the chaos of her youth. As if that were not enough, when she gets too excited, she turns into a big red panda.

This movie is so very personal to me and it’s not only because it is set in Toronto. Growing up as an only child, there’s only so much room to make mistakes, let alone actually making them. The idea of the perfect daughter and the pressure that is placed on a girl at such a young age does take a toll. The idea that this perfection even exists in the eyes of a mother does more harm than good. Mei’s mother, Ming (Sandra Oh) controls her daughter’s every move and is overprotective of her. Mei wants to be able to do things her own way, as she develops into her own woman, but she can’t at 13. It’s that difficult stage of wanting to be independent but being way too young to do so. This coming-of-age story really hit hard because of how much Mei Lee was struggling to stand on her own as an individual and break through the idea of perfection.

Apart from the emotional side of this story, the cultural representation through the lore of the red panda was also important. Depending on the emotions building up inside Mei Lee, she can turn into the red panda at any time. The parallel between the panda lore and puberty is what makes this movie really funny and relatable. This is one movie that I wish I had growing up because it explains it so well, especially through the beautiful animation, and sailing through my hometown of Toronto. The story is quite simple: Mei Lee wants to go to the ‘4Town’ concert with her friends, but her mother won’t let her, so she takes matters into her own hands. After Ming embarrasses her, controls her, and turns her against her friends, Mei comes to the realization that sometimes parents don’t know their child at all and her friends are the ones that truly see her for who she is.

Turning Red is a strong coming-of-age film for Pixar, as writers Domee Shi and Julia Cho explore female agency during puberty. Shi also directed the animated feature and really presented Toronto in such a beautiful way on-screen. The ability to show different cultures coming together in my city was wonderful and I truly saw my best friends on-screen through Miriam (Ava Morse), Abby (Hyein Park), and Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan). This is a movie that will resonate with three generations of women and it will present a different lens to view motherhood and adolescence. This animated feature has such a high-level energy that it will have you smiling from ear to ear.

‘Luca’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Pixar films never fail to make anyone emotional. The filmmakers find a way to pull at your heartstrings every single time. Luca takes place along the Italian Riviera, in Portorosso. Under the sea, there is a whole world of fish, or rather, sea monsters. There are old legends surrounding the sea monsters, and if they were to ever be seen by the townspeople, they would be killed on the spot. Director Enrico Casarosa dives into Luca’s (Jacob Tremblay) family dynamic. His mother Daniela Paguro (Maya Rudolph) warns him of the dangers of the surface world. She hovers over him and is overprotective, prompting him to take matters into his own hands.

Luca is Pixar’s most beautiful film to date. Each new addition to the Pixar library just improves upon the last release. The animation style is a bit different than others but it just perfectly captures Italy. Being Italian myself, this film felt like home for me. From the piazza in Portorosso, to the names of Mrs. Branzino, and yes, Giuseppe being used on-screen, to using new phrases like “Silenzio, Bruno!”, to even showing the espresso bars, when it’s break-time at 2:00 p.m. It is truly an Italian film, but apart from that, it is a movie about acceptance, adventure and finding your identity.

Courtesy of Disney Pixar

Luca’s dynamic with Alberto Scorfano (Jack Dylan Grazer) is interesting because of how they help each other. Alberto is a sea monster, who lives alone on the surface. Luca is just testing the waters, being on land, learning from Alberto. The budding friendship is beautiful to watch because they pulled each other out of their shells. In their loneliness, they built a wall surrounding their true selves, out of fear of not being accepted by others. Alberto is closed off because of his past and Luca is afraid of everything because of his mother. Which, in reality, is how Italian mothers take care of their children, especially their sons.

Director For Disney/Pixar's Luca On The Film's Beautiful Italian Setting -  LRM
Courtesy of Disney Pixar

As they make their way to Portorosso, in search of a Vespa, they meet a young girl named Giulia (Emma Berman), who is energetic and very optimistic. In order to get this Vespa, Giulia suggests entering a triathlon, to win the prize money for the Vespa. The trio join forces against the arrogant Ercole Visconti (Saverio Raimondo), who has won many triathlons before. The film is pretty straightforward but the power of friendship, and love for adventure, will bring you into the world of these characters. What Casarosa does so well is gear this film towards a younger audience with dreamlike sequences and vibrant colours in his imagery, all while carrying a powerful narrative about individual growth among friends.

Luca is one of the funniest Pixar films to date. It is light, energetic, heartfelt, and has a wonderful soundtrack to go with it. Not only is the score great but the Italian pop songs that were chosen worked so well. The film will have you laughing, dancing, and of course, tearing up during certain scenes. On the surface it may seem like a fun summer film but it does pack an emotional punch. Everyone has had issues with their friends and the struggles shown in this film are universal. It is truly one of Pixar’s best and it will always have a special place in my heart.

Soul Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Soul is the perfect film to end the year with. It is an animated film that reinstates the meaning of life and the purpose we serve in the world. It is beautifully animated because Pixar has perfected their rendering technology to make everything lifelike. The story is well-written and is incredibly heartfelt. Everyone has dreams or goals they want to accomplish at a certain time in their life. While trying to achieve those goals, they forget to live their lives.

This movie is one of the most important pieces to come out this year. I think everyone has lost themselves a bit during this pandemic. For the majority of this year people have reevaluated their lives and how they live. While watching Soul you will gain a new appreciation for life because director, Pete Docter shows us how wonderful the small things in life are through a character named, 22 (Tina Fey). We often question what our purpose in life is and as we try to navigate our way through this journey, we lose sight of the small things that can make us happy.

Courtesy of Pixar and Walt Disney Pictures

Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a music teacher at his local school and he has one student in his class that has soul when she plays the trombone. She loves playing and Joe can tell that it comes from such a special place. He knows that she was meant to play that instrument, much like his connection to playing piano. Joe is a wonderful music teacher because he believes in the connectivity and the artistic nature of music. There’s a feeling one has when connecting to art, it’s a special feeling and Docter presents it so well. The score from Reznor and Ross elevated the animation and will bring you into the atmosphere Docter created. It is a film that you will lose yourself in because of how stunning it is.

Courtesy of Pixar and Walt Disney Pictures

Soul is emotional and incredibly moving because it has conversations about the choices people make in their lives. What makes us fully formed people? Why do we have the need to find a purpose in life and if we don’t we consider ourselves failures? These are internal struggles that we have all faced, time and time again. There is one scene in a barbershop that I absolutely loved because of the conversation about career paths and life struggles. Life doesn’t always deal the best cards and everyone has to find a path that suits their situation, even if you stray away from your dreams.

The meaning of life isn’t something that can be explained, or even found, there is no answer to the age old question. Humans are placed on Earth to live, to simply exist, while experiencing the wonders life has to offer. Soul will make you appreciate all the memories you have, whether you remember your first bite of pizza ever, the first time waves crashed over your feet at the beach, or the first time you experienced a sunset, those small moments made an impact. That is why life is worth living. It’s not slaving away at your job, it’s not struggling to find your purpose, it’s simply living and that’s a beautiful sentiment.

Onward Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Onward the magical tale of two teenage elf brothers, Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) Lightfoot, who embark on a journey to see if there is any magic left in their city, all while spending one last day with their late father. Ian finds out he has magical powers (like his father) and uses his father’s staff and a magical stone, to bring half of him back for one day. Writer and director Dan Scanlon wanted to create a film based off of his own experiences with his brother and the loss of his father. It had the right heart but not the right execution. Even though the film centered around finding magic, it was severely lacking the Pixar magic we all know and love.

This was the first Pixar movie that I’ve been seriously disappointed in because of how dull they made Ian and Barley. Chris Pratt’s whimsical voice and Tom Holland’s nerdy babbling couldn’t save this empty journey. The sentiment was there, two brothers wanting to spend one magical day with their deceased father but the simple journey they went on had no payoff at the end of this film. The entire film Ian and Barley spent time with only HALF of their father, the bottom half. They couldn’t talk to their own father for the entire day, they only communicated through touch and morse code. Again, the sentimental value was there because Barley had spent a couple of years with their father but Ian never got to know him.

The animation was also unimaginative and lacked the Pixar touch. I keep saying Pixar because their rendering technology was far superior, before Disney even picked them up. It just didn’t feel like a Pixar film and I can’t explain why, it just didn’t, I can’t put my finger on it. You just know that you’re watching a Pixar film, instead of a Disney film, you can’t explain it, you just know. Pixar’s animation was so incredibly special when it began all those years ago, but now with Disney’s influence, I’m afraid the type of calibre films that we are used to from Pixar, will begin to fade away. I know that Disney bought Pixar in 2006 and they gave us such incredible films, but the more powerful Disney gets, I’m afraid that the creative licensing with the acquired subsidiaries will suffer greatly.

Onward tries to make a heartfelt film between two brothers. The little brother Ian, realizes that even though he grew up without a father, he still shared his life with a father figure and he finds that in his older brother Barley. The simple quest they were on, was way too simple and nothing really exciting happened. The magic was basic and lacked flare. Also, there was no connection to the father, who also had these powers. Ian and his father had a connection through magic, yet he never had an emotional moment with his father. There was a disconnect because there was no conversation being had between father and son.

As you watch this film and sit through the dry humour, you wonder if Ian and Barley will eventually get to see the top half of their father. The ending left a bitter taste in my mouth and I’m not one for spoilers, but it was infuriating to watch what happens to these brothers and their father. It could have been such a beautiful moment but it was ruined by a very strange moral choice based off of a new realization.

I wanted this to be better but the story lacked direction and meaning. Yes, it’s sentimental but when you throw it together and try to interfere those key emotional moments with humour that is so dense, it just ends up being a forgettable film. Other than a half magical man walking around, Onward was just another film on the slate with two actors that should have had more chemistry than they did.