Pixar’s latest release, while capitalising on the beloved Toy Story franchise, manages to create an instalment that feels wholly unique to what has preceded it
Starring Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules, James Brolin, Uzo Aduba, Mary McDonald-Lewis, and Isiah Whitlock Jr.
“To infinity and beyond” is a phrase as old as Pixar itself and, while Lightyear doesn’t necessary offer audiences infinity, it certainly goes beyond anything that Pixar has attempted to date, delivering a tense, visually stunning science fiction action adventure. As a spinoff from beloved franchise Toy Story, Lightyear certainly seems like the sort of film that a young Andy would become obsessed with enough to purchase his very own Space Ranger Buzz.
The real Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) – the actual Buzz, not the toy Buzz – ends up stranding his entire exploration vessel on a hostile planet after failing to pilot their escape correctly. Desperate to return home, Buzz throws himself into researching and perfecting hyperspace fuel. Each time he tests it, however, the incredible speeds at which he has travelled result in him travelling in time. While the people that he knew grow older around him, Buzz remains steadfast in his mission until he returns to discover an evil menace, Zurg (James Brolin), invading the planet. Along with his robot cat companion, Sox (Peter Sohn) and a bumbling volunteer crew consisting of Izzy (Keke Palmer), Mo (Taika Waititi) and Darby (Dale Soules), Buzz has a lot of work to do before he can reunite his people with the stars.
The entire premise of Lightyear being the self-same film that Andy fell in love with Buzz because of doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when you put too much thought into it. After all, unless this film was better animated than Andy’s entire universe at the time, as well as the casting of an aggressively young Chris Evans in the titular role, not to mention a lesbian space ranger smooch, then this does not hold too much weight – so it’s probably best not to think about it as much as I evidently have.
The plot, while as thin as a paper bag and propelled forwards by a vast array of contrivances, mainly reliant upon the characters being needlessly clumsy, is entertaining enough, though nothing particularly notable. Though 105 minutes long, Lightyear could easily have done with being shorter, though much of its runtime is buoyed along with Pixar’s trademark humour and heart. However, the constant repetition of Buzz bouncing up against obstacle after obstacle in his quest to return home becomes more frustrating than captivating after a while.
Visually, Lightyear is an absolute triumph. Buzz’s entire world sings. The fight sequences are pacy, tense and consistently engaging. The emotions that each of the characters are capable of is incredibly palpable and this is one of Pixar’s more visually sumptuous offerings.
It is tricky to think of Lightyear as not being lacking, however. One of Pixar’s greatest successes has been, and continues to be, the way that it casually obliterates audience’s emotions. Tugging at heartstrings like a villainous marionettist, Pixar soars where it speaks to universal experiences or dynamics. Lightyear isn’t particularly notable, and that in itself is a criticism within the greater context of Pixar. Films like Onward, Soul, Luca or Turning Red (Pixar’s 22nd-25th offerings) make the audience feel something, or provoke something within the audience that they hadn’t previously considered. Lightyear lacks this emotional crux that Pixar has been known for – which is a shame, as it could have been a brilliant exploration of a man who believes that they are wonderfully in control and empowered to then have to rely upon other people in a situation where they feel helpless. When standing shoulder to shoulder with films that have reflected upon bereavement, life after death, prejudice and generational trauma, Lightyear suffers for being a bit more literal and feels a bit more forgettable than its contemporaries.
However, the voice cast and the characters are thoroughly engaging and likeable. Peter Sohn is a standout as Sox – perhaps to such a degree that it’s quite surprising that Andy never bought himself a Sox toy. A perfectly monotone delivery of some deeply hilarious lines, much of the humour in the film comes from Sox himself. Taika Waititi is predictably eccentric as Mo and, while this mostly works, it does somewhat distract from the tone of the film as a whole. Keke Palmer is incredibly easy to root for as the well meaning, impassioned Izzy, who suffers under the weight of her grandmother’s legacy. Chris Evans does a sterling job as Buzz Lightyear, though the writing itself does a disservice to Buzz, painting him as pretty much a stereotypical action hero who makes a critical mistake, when his role could have been considerably more nuanced than he is afforded here.
Ultimately, Lightyear is a pleasant enough film. It will be adored by the audience that the film claims to have been made for, which is children. And that is fine, though it lacks an awful lot of the heart and warmth that the original Toy Story franchise did, which is a shame as it certainly had the potential to be a lot more affecting and notable than it ultimately becomes, which is as a middling attempt to capitalise on a popular IP.
Lightyear was released in cinemas on June 17, 2022.