The first trailer for Lightyear, the origin story of Buzz Lightyear from the Toy Story series, was just released. If you’re wondering what this is, to clarify: Lightyear is about the actual human space ranger that inspired the action figure of Buzz Lightyear. Seriously. Did anyone, even my generation who treasure the Toy Story series so much, genuinely want such a thing?
When you watch the trailer, it’s definitely not what you expect. No comedy is evident, the trailer instead promising an expensive and far-too-serious sci-fi adventure film. David Bowie’s ‘Starman’ unsubtly plays over footage that wants us to believe it was made by Christopher Nolan or Ridley Scott. Again, because it can’t be stressed enough: this is an origin story about the human space ranger that inspired an action figure from a film series about toys that come to life.
Chris Evans – Captain America – takes over voicing Buzz from Tim Allen. Angus MacLane, co-director of Finding Dory, helms the film. I’m sure these people truly believe in what they’re making, but it just feels so unnecessary.
In the era of streaming, we’re getting further and further away from innovative and individual filmmaking. In order to make the quickest buck, already-existing Intellectual Property reigns. The age of the leading movie star is dead: the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are the last of a dying breed. Viewers have been bombarded by IP and brands and franchises too much to the extent that Hollywood believes that’s all we want.
Aside from the diehard Marvel fan, for instance, I think this is a case of desensitisation rather than genuine loyalty. With China recently overtaking the U.S. to become the single largest cinema market in the world, easily transferable blockbusters are probably going to remain the norm for a while.
It means that Lightyear is far from the only culprit. The recent Cruella presented an origin story for 101 Dalmations’ villain. Cruella De Vil because what everyone wants to witness is the early years of a woman who loves to skin puppies. It somehow made enough at the box office to secure another film in the series. The film played out like a Harley Quinn-rip off, overwhelming the viewer with serious things like trauma, trying to elicit sympathy for this devilish character.
Sympathy has tried to be earned for every character from the Joker – an overwrought attempt at exploring mental illness – to Maleficent, a woman scorned by Sleeping Beauty’s father. Oz The Great And Powerful was an expensive flop; Timothée Chalamet looks like he’s going to be a weird Willy Wonka in the upcoming origin story for the Roald Dahl character.
TV hasn’t been immune too, with the ridiculous Ratched offering an origin story for the nasty nurse from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s all just out of control. Not every villain from yesteryear has to be transformed into a tragic figure; we don’t need to understand how every character became the way they are.
It can all, probably, be traced back to Star Wars. The original series changed commercial cinema to such a degree that further films in the series were an inevitability. When THOSE prequels – the first true blockbuster prequel of the time – arrived at the turn of the millennium and proved to be a huge disappointment, they were always going to try to right those wrongs in the future.
When the JJ Abrams/Rian Johnson trilogy again proved frustrating, Disney looked for any possible avenues to continue the still-profitable blockbuster series. Aside from the odd success like The Mandalorian, it’s difficult to imagine any of these becoming acclaimed, such is the level of weariness within the fandom by now. The money trail, though, will always be followed.
Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s 1997 indie breakout, was in the news this week. Harvey Weinstein, it turns out, tried to quash its runaway success by removing it from theatres early. In a similar way, Marvel and Disney’s devotion to origin stories and prequels is suffocating the life out of cinema; the intelligent mid-budget indie feels like a relic from a lost time, even though a film like Good Will Hunting came out only 24 years ago.
It would be lovely if, once and for all, we could send origin stories “to infinity and beyond.” Cinema would benefit endlessly from doing this.