A Look on the Lighter Side: Escaping with another ‘Story,’ another ‘Quest’

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Between the weather and the news, lately, reality is losing its appeal.

That’s why I decided to check out “Galaxy Quest,” a little gem of a movie that was recommended to me by a friend, and pair it with a suggestion of my own.

Voila!  A double-feature of “Galaxy Quest” and “Toy Story.”

Why these two?

In “Toy Story,” we return to a childhood world of toys, where the biggest problem was, what would you get for your birthday present, and where had you left your favorite toy?

As for “Galaxy Quest” — well, it starts recognizably enough, at a smaller, and shabbier, version of a “Star Trek” convention for the fans of a supposedly 10-years-past show, “Galaxy Quest.”

References to “Star Trek” are unmissable, even for those who never watched: the blowhard, self-involved star  who, much like William Shatner (allegedly), is oblivious to the needs of his colleagues — including his pensive second-banana, who, like Trek’s Leonard Nimoy, considers himself a serious actor but is only famous for his role on this “ridiculous” show, and for a catch-phrase he resists saying (in this case, “By Grabthar’s hammer…”).

Things get weird quickly, when four awkward fans in alien costumes turn out to be actual aliens — Thermians from the Klatu Nebula, to be specific — who have constructed an actual space ship based, in every detail, on what they have seen in the broadcasts of “Galaxy Quest” — which they call “the historical documents.”

The Thermians eventually convince the entire troupe to come run their “ship.”

The actors assume it’s just a very convincing mock-up for yet another underpaid gig.  But little by little, they are flabbergasted to learn:  “It’s real!”

All too real, in fact — because the Thermians are under attack by their arch-enemy, “Sarris,” who is all too happy to kill Earthlings while he’s at it.  And the crew’s only way out is to save the day!

Why pair this with “Toy Story”?

For one thing, they’re both very funny.  My favorite gags in “Toy Story” are the put-downs uttered by Mr. Potato Head (voiced by the late, incomparable, Don Rickles), as when Little Bo Peep tries to reassure Woody that “Andy will always have a special place for you.”  “Yeah,” says Potato Head walking by, “like the attic.”

My favorite scene in “Galaxy Quest” comes when the “extra crewman,” played by Sam Rockwell, begs the others to let him off the shuttle craft which is heading for an alien planet’s surface.  “I’m not even supposed to be here!” he says.  “I’m just ‘Crewman Number 6’ — I’m the guy in the episode who dies to prove the situation is serious!  I’ve got to get out of here!”

Both films, in their way, deal with levels of reality.

In “Toy Story,” there are already two levels of reality at the story’s start: ours, and that of the toys, who have a life all their own when their people are not around.

They can come to life and move around — as long as they go lifeless again when people walk back in. (This explains how we so often find toys where “nobody” put them!)

A new layer, altogether, is introduced when Andy, the boy in the story, gets a new favorite toy: Buzz Lightyear.

“I am not a toy,” Buzz insists to the old favorite, Woody. “I’m a member of the Elite Universe Protection Unit of the Space Ranger Corps, protecting the universe from the threat of invasion by the Evil Emperor Zurg!”

It becomes Woody’s mission to win back his place in Andy’s heart…but also to convince Buzz that he is, indeed, just a toy.

Of course, that only brings more problems.

I had already seen each film at least once before realizing another, far more obvious connection: Gifted comic Tim Allen plays the space captain in both movies!  His “Buzz Lightyear” is a bit clueless, but always means well.  “Galaxy Quest’s “Captain Taggart” takes a bit longer to care about the problems of folks besides himself…but he eventually gets there, too.

Ultimately, each of these films is about the over-riding importance of simple belief, which turns out to be far more powerful than any amount of cynicism.

And maybe that’s the biggest reason I need these movies right now.

Whatever the state of reality, right now, I need to believe it will get better.  And at least when I’m the world of film, it does.

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