Moviegoer: Lightyear

A space ranger learns he’s not the only intelligent life in the universe

By Diana Beechener

On a mission to begin a settlement far away from Earth, Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans: Free Guy) is woken from hyper sleep by the computer’s artificial intelligence. There’s an unexplored planet that might be a perfect locale to establish a colony.

Buzz and his commanding officer Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba: National Champions) decide they should explore. When they’re greeted with some angry vines and giant bugs, Hawthorne and Buzz make the quick decision that this might not be the dream planet for humans. They leave in a rush, damaging the ship as they flee. Their fuel processors are ruined and so are their chances of flight. Now, they’re stuck with the bugs and the vines.

Since never surrender is Buzz’s motto, he volunteers to test new fuel until they find something that could work in the main ship. Each time he goes into space to test the hyper fuel, it seems like minutes to Buzz, but it’s years on the planet. After five missions, he’s barely a year older, but Hawthorne has grey hair.

Can Buzz save his mission? Or is time really passing him by?

Let’s get this out of the way now: Lightyear is not the story of how Andy got his beloved action figure in Toy Story, it’s the movie that spawned the toy Andy received for his birthday. As such, Lightyear has very little to do with the Toy Story universe but is more of a summer blockbuster that would have dominated in the mid-‘90s (this was the decade of Armageddon, Independence Day, and Deep Impact).

With Pixar’s usual blend of beautiful visuals and clever storytelling, Lightyear is a fun sci-fi adventure. It’s also the first Pixar film Disney has opened in theaters in over two years. Director Angus MacLane (Finding Dory) balances humor and character growth via action sequences beautifully. There’s plenty of space ranger shenanigans, including a dizzy chase sequence, but in typical Pixar fashion, all that fun comes with a message that both adults and children can benefit from. Buzz must deal with himself and learn how to ask for help before he has any chance of breaking the very literal cycle he’s repeating.

At the heart of the film is a great performance from Evans, who’s certainly had experience playing all-American heroes. While he gets a few of the classic Toy Story lines in, this is not the Buzz from that franchise. Instead of a brash but loveable idiot, Evans’ Buzz is more stubbornly competent. There’s a sense that he believes he’s doing the best thing for everyone, even when he’s refusing the help of those around him. Evans makes that trait both Buzz’s greatest strength and crippling weakness. It’s interesting to compare that to the Tim Allen-voiced Buzz, who is more than willing to draw the other toys into his crazy schemes.

There’s also an adorable creature to keep both kids and adults entertained. SOX the robotic cat (voiced by Pixar director Peter Sohn) is hilarious and charming. Think of him as HAL with furballs. He coughs up many of the laughs in the movie (as well as a few darts and a laser).

While the movie is fun, and there are plenty of Easter eggs to keep Pixar fans guessing, the film itself lacks some of the wry meta-humor that Pixar is known for. Since Pixar is under the same umbrella as Marvel and Disney, this reviewer was shocked that there was no commentary on how big action movies love their product placement or intellectual property references. I was expecting at least a few jibes at the marketing that often overtakes blockbuster movies, but none was to be found.

Lightyear didn’t have the same emotional impact for me that Wall-E, Up, or Toy Story did. I was told by my moviegoing buddy that it did for him, and I was being too picky (which is an unfortunate but inevitable side effect of this job), but I maintain that Lightyear was emotionally a bit of a lightweight.

Still, with a fun fresh take on the Buzz Lightyear origin story and a winning cast of quirky characters, Lightyear is probably the best blockbuster I’ve seen this year. With apologies to all the Top Gun fanatics, this critic would rather look to infinity and beyond than retread the highway to the danger zone.

Lightyear is exclusively screening in theaters.

Good Animation * PG * 100 mins.