In at least one respect, “Lightyear” can claim an accolade: It’s the first Pixar film ever to be named a Pixar character’s favorite movie. There’s more than brand inflation at work here (although there is that, too). In the original Toy Story, as you will recall, a boy named Andy was given an action figure by Buzz Lightyear, an intrepid space explorer with extendable wings, a red laser pointer, and an aura of brilliant self-importance, summed up by an instantly classic catchphrase (“See you.” to infinity… and beyond!”). Now, at the beginning of Lightyear, we learn that this prized toy was a promotional item for Andy’s favorite film, and that film just so happens to be Lightyear itself.
This is a neat bit of chronological reverse engineering, a clever way of disguising a feature-length “Toy Story” connection as its opposite. It also raises some interesting but probably negligible questions. For example, what about Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, the Disney spinoff series that aired in the early 2000s? And why does “Lightyear,” an animated feature film rumored to have been made before 1995, look so shiny and cutting-edge? Shouldn’t it look more like – well, like “Toy Story”, speaking of ’95 releases?
A certain aesthetic modesty befitted this early Pixar classic, which took place in a few suburban children’s rooms and featured an ensemble mostly made of plastic and fabric. And if Toy Story’s visuals now seem dated, especially compared to more recent Pixar films, that may only have deepened its message about how the things we loved as children inevitably change, because we do change yourself of course.
It will be interesting to see how “Lightyear” holds up even a quarter of a century from now – fairly well, I imagine, and indeed “fairly well” sums up the film as a whole. Though visually grander and more cosmic than the “Toy Story” quadrology, their story feels thinner and more general. The screenplay, written by Angus MacLane (who makes his directorial debut here) and Jason Headley, throws in a few gentle, intriguing twists, but otherwise rests comfortably in an accessible, highly allusive branch of family-friendly sci-fi.
The Buzz Lightyear we see is recognizable as Buzz Lightyear, although despite his familiar computer-animated outlines, he’s clearly human and not plastic, with a squarer jaw, more expressive eyes, and a full head of brown hair beneath his purple balaclava. (He also speaks in Chris Evans’ lower-than-usual voice, which channels some of Captain America’s get-it-done spirit while nicely approximating the timbre of a younger Tim Allen.) In other words, this isn’t even a toy story when one of Buzz’s many sidekicks is a talking cat robot named Sox (voiced by Peter Sohn).
But that gets ahead of the plot, which already has so many temporal loop-de-loops that it often overtakes itself. During a long Space Ranger mission, Buzz takes an unplanned detour and ends up crashing his ship and leaving a sizable crowd on an unfriendly planet. Hostile giant insects swarm there, and hungry, stretchy tendrils constantly threaten to pull outsiders beneath the otherwise barren surface. Buzz, blaming himself for this turn of events, is determined to get everyone home; To do this, he must harness a rare crystal-based fuel source that will allow for the necessary jump to hyperspeed.
In order to test this fuel, Buzz must fly a series of missions, each lasting just four minutes for him but, due to some clever time dilation principles, several years for those patiently waiting for him back on solid ground. And so, like the plucky astronauts in Interstellar – or the clueless young time traveler in Flight of the Navigator – Buzz must grapple with the painful conundrum of aging slower than his loved ones. Chief among them is Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba), his fellow Space Ranger and closest confidante. She has provided an accelerated glimpse into a life story — finding a wife, having a son, and becoming a grandmother over six decades — that achieves something of the emotional grandeur of Up’s “Married Life” montage.
In this case, however, the poignancy comes from the fact that Buzz misses almost everything because he’s too busy with his mission to open his eyes and appreciate life and the passage of time. (It also comes from the welcome presence of a major black LGBTQ character in a studio animated film, another reason why “Lightyear” doesn’t feel terribly 1995.) And so, despite the size of this film’s cosmos — simultaneously vast and derivative enough to evoke memories of ‘2001’, ‘Star Trek’, ‘Gravity’ and, yes, ‘Wall-E’ – ‘Lightyear’ ultimately picks up on a thematic rubric that Pixar fans have drawn from the more earthbound worlds of ‘Finding Nemo ‘, ‘The Incredibles’ and ‘Inside Out’. Like those previous classics, it’s both an adventure and an ego check, a reminder that true heroism means learning to relinquish control, embrace unpredictability, and see the worth of others.
Of course, one day in another universe, action figure Buzz Lightyear will teach some of those lessons to a cowboy doll named Woody. In “Lightyear,” they’re mediated by a ragtag team of misfits determined to help Buzz on his mission, including a friendly bungler (Taika Waititi), a grumpy ex-convict (Dale Soules), and Alisha’s granddaughter, Izzy (Keke Palmer). ). untried but eager to prove themselves worthy of the legacy of the Hawthorne Space Rangers. And yes, there’s also Sox, a futuristic emotional support animal designed to ease Buzz’s trauma and also bring a dose of whimsy and cuteness – to achieve a grade of “aww” – amidst all the noise and the action.
There’s quite a lot of that, befitting the nimble, energetic Pixar brand. There are robot armies, laser shields, zero gravity adventures, and more stolen jets than Top Gun: Maverick. There’s also Buzz’s famous purple armored nemesis, the evil Emperor Zurg (voiced by James Brolin), whose underlying motivation turns out to be a pretty good surprise here. In that there’s something about “Lightyear” that really counts as surprising. It’s a film of unassuming charm and second-hand fun, enough to satiate a summer’s afternoon if not to quell the feeling that it was made for less than creative reasons. I hope Andy has seen Ratatouille at some point.
Valuation: PG, for action/danger
Duration: 1 hour 45 minutes
To play: Launches June 17th in general release
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-06-13/buzz-lightyear-review-pixar-chris-evans ‘Lightyear’ review: Buzz spinoff goes to adequacy, not beyond