'Lightyear' review: Pixar origin story doesn't soar, but it does buzz
Courtesy of Disney/Pixar
In 1995 Andy got a toy. The toy was from his favorite movie. This is that movie.
That’s the opening title card played during the first moments of Pixar’s “Lightyear,” a serviceable, but unnecessary origin tale about astronaut Buzz Lightyear, the individual who inspired the action-figure from “Toy Story.” So for those keeping track at home, Tim Allen wasn’t replaced in “Toy Story” by newcomer Chris Evans. I know it’s a stretch getting your head wrapped around the concept, but once director and co-writer Angus MacLane get the action going and you make sense of the premise, “Lightyear” settles into a steady sci-fi B-movie rhythm despite a few bumps and one questionable, third act reveal.
“Lightyear” also represents Pixar’s first theatrical release since “Onward” in March, 2020 and it’s ironic “Soul,” “Luca” and “Turning Red” were dropped on Disney+ when an argument could be made “Lightyear” has bigger Disney+ vibes then all three of those movies combined. Nevertheless, the visuals in the film, which harbor their fair share of callbacks to “Star Wars,” “Interstellar,” “Starship Troopers” and “2001: A Space Odyssey,” all look flawless on the big screen, and it boasts an easy #1 draft pick for best animated sidekick in Sox, an adorable space kitty voiced to absolute perfection by Pixar’s Peter Sohn. If “Lightyear” was made with the intent of selling merchandise and other frivolous products, which I can’t see the movie getting greenlit without those money-making ideals in the minds of greedy Disney executives, then it succeeded with Sox. Give me him now.
Everything else is kind of meh as it finds our space commander, Buzz (voiced by Chris Evans with little warmth but enough cache to deliver the goods) stuck in a bind, trying to save a colony of human engineers and scientists stranded on a desolate planet and caught in the crosshairs of a convoluted space-time continuum loophole. Thanks to the laws of physics and linear time, Buzz (with the help of Sox!) is trying to coordinate a way of getting everyone back to earth, but it ends up sending him 65+ years into the future where he links up with a crew of trainee cadets: Izzy Hawthrone (Keke Palmer), Darby Steele (Dale Soules) and Mo Morrison (Taika Waititi) to thwart an attempted interplanetary takeover by Emperor Zurg.
The camaraderie among the crew (and previous “Toy Story” knowledge) helps coast “Lightyear” along and give the film its signature Pixar heart. Izzy is the granddaughter to Uzo Abduba’s Alisha Hawthrone, Buzz’s former partner who died during his time altering missions, and it creates a budding relationship for the movie (and I’m sure the sequels or Disney+ spinoffs already in development) to build upon. Did I also mention Sox is greatest thing since sliced bread?
Writers Jason Headley and MacLane might not make a strong case for “Lightyear” to exist and since we’ve come to expect a certain tier of quality from Pixar, “Lightyear” occasionally registers as a disappointment. Questions are answered about why Buzz, in the “Toy Story” films, was so keen on narrating the action, and the classic “To Infinity and Beyond” catchphrase gets its due, but “Lightyear” misses an opportunity to delve into the backstory of who Buzz was as opposed to why Andy loved him so much. It’s a double-edged sword Pixar tries to bend into something more intrinsic than it is. Ardent Buzz Lightyear fans will enjoy the nostalgia, but everyone else might be stuck in purgatory.
Give credit to the animators for making the best out of unusual (and some rather odd) circumstances and juggling the IP with relative care and appreciation. In the end, “Lightyear” is a movie you’ll probably see once and then disregard.
Except for Sox. Sox will forever and always be in our hearts. To infinity and beyond.
LIGHTYEAR opens in theaters Friday, June 17th.