The first Toy Story movie left such a mark when it was released 27 years ago. Woody and Buzz were rivals-turned-friends who lead fellow Andy’s toys to some crazy adventures. Woody’s story is often explored in the Toy Story franchise, but Buzz’s story is only mentioned for the fact that it’s spawned from Andy’s favorite movie. So Lightyear is that movie.
Buzz is an enthusiastic Space Ranger on a mission on a hostile planet million years away from the earth along with his bestie and commander Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba). Somehow they get ambushed by some alien flora, and their failed attempt to launch the ship back home ends up with all the crew being stranded. Buzz feels directly responsible for the crew being marooned there and he tries his darnest to escape the planet using hyper-speed technology. What he doesn’t realize is that as he constantly does his hyper-speed test flight, he keeps catapulting himself ahead in time. While he ages only minutes, those who remain on the planet have aged four years each time he flies.
Buzz has always been depicted as a loner and pretty much exists in his own bubble, so to speak. As he’s preoccupied with trying to get home, he grows more detached from others, especially from Alisha who at this point has formed a family of her own. This is the first time Pixar overtly shows a same-sex kiss in a movie between Alisha and her partner, which was apparently removed initially but restored following the furor of Disney’s handling of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. In any case, Alisha is aware of how isolated Buzz has become and she gifts him a robot cat companion, Sox (Peter Sohn).
Now, the majority of Buzz’s adventure actually involves Alisha’s granddaughter Izzy Hawthorne (Keke Palmer), given how far Buzz flies into the future. Izzy looks up to her grandma and naturally wants to be a Space Ranger herself. Joined by a ragtag group of recruits (Taika Waititi and Dale Soules), Buzz must fight against his enemy Zurg and his evil robots in order to find his way back home again.
As one would expect from a Pixar movie, the visuals and animation are a spectacle to behold. The photo-real imagery is so realistic and simply gorgeous to look at. That said, one goes to see a Pixar movie for its innovative and evocative story. The animation studio has set the bar high in terms of story but based on the trailer I kept my expectations in check. Alas, even with tempered expectations, this one still comes off underwhelming.
The Toy Story movies have always moved me to tears, heck at times I would be sobbing uncontrollably… Lightyear’s emotional beats feel manufactured, instead of something organic that stems from the characters’ journey. My eyes were dry the entire time, and what’s worse is it felt so disconnected from Buzz’s story as Andy’s toy. At one point I turned to my hubby… THIS is Andy’s favorite movie?? The kid should watch more movies!!
As a sci-fi adventure, all the action set pieces are well-staged but they aren’t exactly thrilling nor riveting. The toys-crossing-the-street in Toy Story 2 has more suspense than this entire movie. There is a breathtaking spacewalk scene but overall it was pretty meh. I have so many issues with the Zurg narrative and the ‘twist’ that feels so clichéd and stale.
I’ve gotten so used to Tim Allen’s voice as Buzz but Chris Evans’ deeper voice suits this version and definitely fits his courageous and by-the-book persona (which isn’t unlike Capt America). That said, I do miss the humor of Buzz the toy, as this version is far more no-nonsense and businesslike. All work and no play make Buzz a dull toy-to-be. It’s Peter Sohn’s Sox that’s more memorable as its comic relief. Sox will definitely be the new favorite Disney/Pixar toy and I can even see it getting its own spinoff series on Disney+
If Lightyear isn’t at all associated with Toy Story, I don’t think it has any reason to exist at all. By the same token, because it is so connected to that highly acclaimed franchise, it should’ve at least matched its quality. Alas, it doesn’t quite reach its greatness, for sure it lacks that strong emotional resonance of the franchise it’s spun out of. All Toy Story movies receive rave reviews and the 3rd and 4th movies won Oscars for Best Animated Feature Film. Apart from the visuals and technical achievements, Lightyear‘s narrative falls way short.
Director Angus MacLane also co-wrote the script with Jason Headley. This is actually the first time MacLane wrote and directed a Pixar film after working as an animator since A Bug’s Life, I wish Pete Docter or Andrew Stanton had been involved in the writing… to be honest I was surprised by how thin and unemotional the story is that they greenlit.
I called LUCA Pixar-lite but at least it still feels like a Pixar movie. Lightyear feels more Disney than Pixar, and it reeks ‘lucrative IP milking’ rather than making something from the heart. I wouldn’t go so far as calling Lightyear a misfire, but definitely doesn’t soar to infinity, let alone beyond.
Have you seen LIGHTYEAR? What did YOU think?