Lightyear is an action-packed and visually stunning experience that puts less of a premium on Pixar’s legendary heartfelt comedy. Still, this is a future franchise that’s light-years in the making.
This review of the Disney Pixar film Lightyear does not contain spoilers.
The new Disney Pixar film, Lightyear, is a very clever premise. The Lightyear movie was Andy’s favorite film growing up, which is why he was given the toy we all fell in love with. So, this is not a prequel of sorts. It explores the origin of one of the most beloved animated characters in Hollywood history. The film was even more innovative because Pixar created a virtual IMAX camera for this film. And the result is visually impressive that is worth every penny, never more evident than during the stunning finale. However, the storytelling is more generic than one would expect. It doesn’t exactly go to infinity and beyond, but more like to the same galaxy we have seen countless times before.
This version of Buzz Lightyear is voiced by Chris Evans, the main character in yes, Lightyear. The smash-hit film that Tim Allen’s toy Buzz Lightyear was based on. Confused? It doesn’t matter because Pixar threw Tim Allen untethered into space as Alfonso Cuarón did to George Clooney in Gravity. They grabbed a big name, and who better to embody Pixar’s most heroic, noble, and ambitious character than Captain America? Yes, Allen is not the star he once was, but his voice work in these Pixar films is iconic.
It’s jarring at first. Evans’s voice doesn’t have the timber that Allen brought to Buzz. To be fair, the concept has designs to be different. Here, Buzz and Alisha (Uzo Aduba) are on an intergalactic adventure transporting a colony to a new location. The space rangers take their intergalactic adventure 4.2 million light-years away from Earth. Unfortunately, they land on a hostile planet with the angry vines, probably from Stranger Things. When they try to leave without being swallowed into the ground, Buzz experiences his first professional setback by crashing it.
They are marooned and set up in a colony. A year later, Buzz is ready to test flight a ship through hyperspace so he can find help and be able to rescue the crew to complete the mission. Except, he needs to reach that level at 100%. He fails every time, and when he returns, every time he fails, he returns multiple years pass him by. He is also given an adorable robot cat named Sox (Peter Sohn), his new “Alexa.”
Eventually, he returns to the planet, and an alien named Zurg (James Brolin) attacks the colony holding on for dear life by a protective shield. Buzz is locked out but is saved by three training space cadets, including the eager Izzy (Keke Palmer), ultra-anxious Mo (Taika Waititi), and a senior citizen with a talent for committing felonies, Darby (Dale Soules). Together, they team up to save the colony and develop technology to get home.
Directed by Agnus MacLane (Finding Dory), who co-wrote the script with Jason Headley (Onward), the film abandons much of the heartfelt storytelling the studio is known for with action-packed fare. This is a shame since the device of when Buzz keeps losing years was supposed to evoke themes of how time is fleeting. While Buzz’s friends and colleagues are living their lives, he is missing out. The other story concept of a lovable group of underachievers helping Buzz save the planet while teaching an excellent message to younger fans has been done so often in animated films that it has become cliche. While handled expertly, nothing new is brought to the writing table here.
Lightyear is undoubtedly a setup for future installments and has a lot in common with the first Toy Story. I’m in the minority. While liking that film, the studio put a premium on establishing characters to sell toys, and it was not until the last fifteen or twenty minutes that the creative team found that film franchise’s voice. Here, the same concept is applied, putting a premium on character development, including the scene-stealing Sox, which I am positive will be a huge hit for kids this coming holiday season.
There is so much promise developed here that will surely be a setup for a future franchise and subsequent installments. Lightyear is a fun diversion for the family, and the film takes off with a thrilling, visually stunning finale. Now, if they can only solve the gaping-sized plothole of why Andy never was given a Sox toy to play with in the first Toy Story, we can all sleep better. Maybe they will wrap up that little mystery in Toy Story 5 or Lightyear 2.
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