REVIEW: TOY STORY 3 BLAST OFF BUZZ LIGHTYEAR
After something on the order of ten years, Disney and Pixar have finally presented fans of the highly popular TOY STORY movies with a third installment, essentially making the Toy Story saga into a trilogy. Trilogies seem popular, don't they? Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, that sort of thing.
Is there any doubt that there are going to be TOYS for Toy Story 3? Of course not. Heck, practically everybody is getting in on the act to some degree. Mattel is the major toy producer, with action figures, Barbie dolls, and even Toy Story inspired Hot Wheels-type cars. But they're hardly the only ones. Hasbro owns at least one of the core characters in the world of Toy Story -- Mr. Potato Head -- and they've of course turned out a Toy Story 3 version of this long-beloved toy. Lego is producing a number of Toy Story 3 related items, as well.
This review will take a look at a figure called BLAST OFF BUZZ LIGHTYEAR. And technically, although an action figure, he wasn't made by Mattel. He was made by ThinkWay Toys.
ThinkWay was actually the original licensee for Toy Story toys, back when the first movie came out in 1995. The company has come to be known as, while perhaps not one of the most major players in the toy world, as a company known for producing very good toys that generally have loads of electronic capabilities within them.
In a case of life imitating art, when they first produced a Buzz Lightyear figure that was roughly the same size as the one portrayed in the movie, the stores could barely keep them in stock. Over the years, the Toy Story license has gone from ThinkWay, to Mattel, to Hasbro, and back to Mattel. And yet ThinkWay has always managed to keep a hand in it to one degree or another.
Let's consider the character of Buzz Lightyear, first of all. In the world in which the Toy Story movies take place, toys are not inanimate objects. They are alive. This is never explained, and the mind reels at trying to bring any sort of logic or practical explanation into it, so we'll just let that slide. Suffice to say it is simply how things are. Moreover, the people with whom the toys reside are totally unaware of this fact. It's one of the rules of being a toy. You don't let your owner know you're alive.
The the house of a young boy named Andy there is quite a gathering of toys, led by an old-time talking pull-string doll named Sheriff Woody. He's been Andy's favorite for years. But it's Andy's birthday. Toys despise birthdays. There's always new toys, and that could mean that some older toys may be thrown out.
And among Andy's birthday presents is -- BUZZ LIGHTYEAR! This amazing Space Ranger action figure has all sorts of action capabilities. He also has a slight glitch in his system. He doesn't see himself as a toy. He believes himself to be an actual Space Ranger, who was crashed on a mysterious planet with strange life forms -- the other toys.
Woody, on the other hand, sees Buzz as a threat to his place as #1 toy. Not only do the other toys seem fascinated with Buzz, but so does Andy. Very quickly the decor of Andy's room undergoes a shift from Western to outer space. Sheriff Woody decides Buzz has to go.
One evening, as Andy is planning to go to a pizza parlor with his mom, he asks if he can bring a toy along. He is told he can bring one. He looks at both Buzz and Woody, and leaves the room for a few minutes. Woody has had enough. He decides to deal with Buzz, at least for a while, but ends up accidentally knocking him out of Andy's bedroom window. The other toys are aghast, but before anything further can be done, Andy returns, and, unable to find Buzz, takes Woody with him.
Buzz, largely undamaged, but furious, hitches a ride on the family car, and when it stops at a gas station and both Andy and his mom get out, enters the car and attacks Woody. Both toys are knocked from the car in the fight, and the car pulls away without them. Now lost, Woody and Buzz manage to find their way to the pizza parlor in a deliver vehicle affiliated with the place. However, before they can reunite with Andy, they are caught by Sid, Andy's neighbor, a notoriously mean kid who mistreats his toys.
Adding an element to all of this is the fact that Andy and his mom are soon moving to a new home. If Woody and Buzz cannot return in time, they'll be left behind, with no way of knowing where to find Andy.
Long story short, within Sid's house, Buzz realizes that he is not a Space Ranger, but merely a toy, after seeing a commercial for himself. He attempts to fly, which proves disastrous. He feels that if he is only a toy, then he is worthless. Woody manages to encourage Buzz, telling him that it's really a great thing to be a toy, because you get to make a child happy.
The two now-friends plan an escape, but before they can manage it, two things go awry -- Sid straps a gigantic firecracker to Buzz's back, intending to launch him and blow him into plastic shrapnel, and the moving van for Andy's house arrives -- and departs.
Woody rescues Buzz by breaking a few rules of toydom and scaring the daylights out of Sid. The rocket actually comes in handy in reuniting Buzz and Woody with their rightful owner, and the two basically become Andy's two favorite toys, and learn to get along.
Of course, Buzz Lightyear has a major role in the two sequels. The first, Toy Story 2, came along in 1999. Technically, the focus was more on Woody in this movie, as he discovered that he is actually based on a puppet show that aired on television decades ago, that was hugely popular for its day. He is captured by a collector (we all know people like that, right), who has built a massive collection, including several other dolls such as Jessie the Cowgirl, Bullseye the horse, and Stinky Pete the Prospector. He has plans to sell the entire collection to a toy museum in Japan. Woody, captivated by his own previously unknown history, thinks that maybe this isn't such a bad deal.
Buzz Lightyear and the others come to Woody's rescue, after detouring to a toy store owned by the collector, where they encounter a second Buzz Lightyear that is just as confused as the original one initially was as to his true nature, as well as Emperor Zurg, Buzz Lightyear's arch enemy.
This time around, it's Buzz who has to convince Woody that his best life is that of a toy, loved by a child. Eventually, with some daring rescue work, the group returns to Andy's home, with Jessie and Bullseye joining the group.
In between the long stretch between Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 was a standard animated series, that focused entirely on Buzz Lightyear. Called "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command", it presented the universe of Buzz Lightyear not as a toy, but as an actual Space Ranger. New allies and enemies were introduced, although some characters from the movies were carried over, including Emperor Zurg, as well as the little three-eyed green aliens that were more or less vending machine prizes. The series ran from 2000-2001, for about sixty episodes, and I'd love to see it get a DVD release someday.
And now we have Toy Story 3, over a decade later. And indeed, it seems about that much time has passed. Andy is heading off to college. He plans to take Woody with him, but the rest of the toys will be put into storage. Technically, none of them have been played with for years. Instead, they're accidentally put out with the trash, manage to escape, end up in a daycare center where they meet a wide range of new toys -- not all of whom are especially friendly. Woody escapes this fate, ending up briefly with a young girl named Bonnie, who reminds him what it was like to be loved by a child.
Ultimately, Woody rescues the others, including Buzz, and arranges for all of them to be given to the young girl by Andy himself.
The movie has been received abundantly well, pulling in a tidy sum at the box office. I will confess that certain aspects of the movie trouble me, not the least of which is Andy growing up. This just isn't necessary in cartoons. And, okay, as a toy collector, I never really did outgrow my toys. I don't imagine you did either, or you probably wouldn't be reading this review. Granted we are the exceptions, but given how the collector was portrayed in the last movie, and now Andy doesn't have time for his toys anymore, it just seems a bit harsh. Add to that the sad reality that not all of Andy's toys from his childhood in the first two movies have survived. Some have been given away or even thrown away. Especially notable by her absence is Bo Peep, the spunky shepherd girl doll. The other toys have memories of their lost friends. This is the sad side of the toy world. And while it may reflect reality in a sense -- a lot of my toys didn't survive my childhood, either -- it adds a certain emotional element to this third film that, while some reviewers have hailed it as adding a certain heart to the movie, I find myself questioning its necessity or appropriateness.
But that's just my opinion on those aspects of the film, not the toys. And I won't bore you with my thoughts about it being shown primarily in a 3-D format...! And, for those who wonder what might have happened between Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3, there's a cool series of comic books presently being published by Boom! Kids Studios, that I definitely recommend.
So. how's the toy? Really spectacular. Technically, Buzz's design hasn't changed over the years. And back in 1995, ThinkWay did a really great job reproducing it. They've also come up with a number of very cool Buzz Lightyear figures in the ensuing years, and I'm pretty sure they were responsible for a number of special edition Buzz Lightyear's that were exclusive to the Disney Store, which included a chrome-uniformed Buzz Lightyear, a transparent Buzz Lightyear with enough working lights to rival a Christmas tree, and a very patriotic Buzz Lightyear in red-white-and-blue. I suppose I sort of expected this new Buzz Lightyear to at least largely be a recoloration, back to the original colors.
Well, it's not. It's a lot more impressive. He's about the same height, which means he stands 11-1/2" from his feet to the top of his head. Throw in the transparent helmet and he's a full 12 inches. But ThinkWay has upped just about every other aspect of the figure.
For starters, he stands better. One thing about Buzz's design -- he's a bit top-heavy. Looking appropriately heroic in a cartoonish sense, and wearing what amounts to a futuristic superhero astronaut uniform, Buzz has a very wide torso, and while not exactly spindly legs, they're thinner than the torso. Then you've got the helmet and the flight back to consider as part of his upper weight.
Some of the previous Buzz Lightyear figures have a little trouble standing up on their own, at least for any length of time. This Buzz doesn't. Although very nicely articulated at the hips, knees, and ankles, the hips are articulated quite tightly, and the knees and ankles have a very sturdy ratcheting articulation design which keeps them in place very well. The biggest problem in maintaining a standing position for previous Buzz figures was -- weak ankles. That problem has been resolved.
I put this to the test, somewhat unintentionally, by standing Buzz on the floor of my apartment -- on low-pile carpeting -- and then needing to run a few errands that day which I didn't initially plan on. I was gone for several hours. When I returned, Buzz was still on his feet. I was impressed. One thing, though. The feet appear to be securely attached and well designed, but Buzz is a very heavy figure for his size. It might not be the best idea to have him standing on his own power for an extended period of time of display.
The big difference is the wings. One thing that always annoyed me just a little bit on previous Buzz Lightyear figures was that the wings would shoot straight out from the sides of the jet pack. In the movies, Buzz's wings swept upwards in a curve from underneath. The wings of the toys were also distinctly shorter than as shown in the movie.
Well, ThinkWay has fixed both of those problems, with an entirely new jet pack design, that not only allows the wings to sweep upwards just as they do in the movie, but they also have a much more appropriate wingspan, extended from the earlier toys' 8-1/2" to slightly over 11". This is a vast improvement, and really makes this Buzz Lightyear figure look like Buzz.
My one concern with with the sturdiness of the wings, but that's something only time will tell. A number of the spring-activated wings on my earlier Buzz Lightyear figures no longer function -- which I consider odd given that they have not seen extensive use. I have to assume that the mechanism, however, it worked, was rather fragile. The new mechanism is a completely different design. Hopefully it will also hold up well. I have noticed slight difficulty in getting both wings to fold down and under and stay put, but this is, I hope, a relatively minor issue, and really, the figure looks better with wings up and out anyway. It's also possible to have the wings up and out, but partially retracted, in case display space is an issue.
Buzz is very well articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, finger groups, waist, legs, knees, and ankles. About the only two features absent from the figure that were present on earlier versions, is that the wrist communicator does not open, and the green portions of the trim do not glow in the dark. I can live with this.
Another point worth mentioning -- the helmet. As with previous Buzz Lightyear figures, the front half of the helmet slides forward and back. Not even Thinkway has developed the technology to allow Buzz's helmet to completely recess somewhere within his suit. However, I have to say that the sliding front piece is much more stable than previous Buzz Lightyear figures, where it just sort of raised and lowered almost too easily, and didn't want to stay put in a "down" position. It will stay put on this Buzz. Also, there were no scuffs or dings on the helmet. Now, over the course of play, this may be inevitable, but about all I really do is display my figures, and some of them do have a few scuffs here and there on the helmet, and they're pretty noticeable. None on the new Buzz. This shows that great care was taken in this regard, as it was with the entire figure, and it's appreciated.
The paint trim on Buzz Lightyear is exceptionally well done. The eyes are painted in such a way as to give them a little additional depth, or the illusion of it, anyway, and the black, green, and purple trim is all very neatly done, as are the red and white stripes on the wings. The tip of Buzz's left wing is painted red, but the right is not. This is not a mistake. It's intended to represent red and green aviation lights. In fact, there's another large Buzz Lightyear figure out there whose wing tips do blink lights in these colors. I think it may be the one that also comes with the fancy utility belt. Yeah, there's no shortage of various types of large-scale Buzz Lightyear figures out there, depending on how much money you want to spend. They're all cool. I'm pleased with the one I have, though.
There are several stickers on Buzz Lightyear, all neatly placed. These include a little detail sticker on his jet pack, a "Space Ranger" sticker on his chest, along with a nameplate reading "Lightyear"; a Space Rangers emblem on his upper legs arm, and a "Laser" sticker on his upper right arm, over his laser activation button.
Of course, it wouldn't be a ThinkWay toy if Buzz Lightyear didn't have some electronic lights and sounds, and boy, does he ever. For one thing, it seems to me that Buzz is a bit LOUDER than he used to be. Not sure why this is, but I don't think I'm imagining it, either.
Pressing the red "LASER" button on his right arm causes his arm laser to go off. The red light on his lower arm flashes, and it makes a firing noise. Occasionally, it makes a noise like it's building up a charge to fire.
The large red button on Buzz's chest is strictly for the purpose of activating his wings. No electronics involved there.
The blue, green, and red buttons on the other side of the chest control the rest of his electronics, which includes his voice, musical soundtrack, and the lights in his jet pack and (occasionally) his laser. The blue and green buttons cause him to speak a series of phrases. These include such statements as "Star Command, do you copy? Send reinforcements!", "The universe needs our protection! Let's go!" followed by jet pack lights and sounds, "I'm Buzz Lightyear, Space Ranger. I come in peace!" "Take cover! I'll protect you with my laser!" followed by a laser blast, and, of course, "To Infinity and Beyond!", followed by some heroic music. If nothing else, this alone is a more extensive vocabulary than the earliest Buzz Lightyear figures from the first movie.
The red button next to the green and blue buttons activates certain "Missions" for Buzz to carry out. These tend to come under the heading of "Intergalactic Emergencies" and can be anything from a rogue meteor headed to a populated planet, the sudden presence of Emperor Zurg, recon duty, a fire on Starbase 7, etc. Overall, all of this verbiage, which according to the package represents Buzz's original voice replicated from Disney/Pixar's digital files. And, honestly, it certainly does sound like actor Tim Allen, who has voiced Buzz for all three movies, and apart from the apparently increased volume, is certainly clear and easily understandable recordings.
So, what's my final word here? Well, most significantly, I would say, do NOT mistake this Buzz Lightyear figure for any of his earlier predecessors. They're all fine figures, don't get me wrong, and I'm glad to have them in all their assorted variety. At the same time, it's clear that ThinkWay has stepped up their game several notches and used the new movie as a good reason to make a wide range of changes and improvements to present us with the most movie-accurate, best-designed, and best constructed Buzz Lightyear figure they have yet turned out. The overall sturdiness of the figure, the completely overhauled wings, the more extensive vocabulary, definitely make this a Buzz worth having for any Toy Story fan.
The TOY STORY 3 figure of BLAST OFF BUZZ LIGHTYEAR definitely has my highest recommendation -- to infinity and beyond!