Lightyear – movie review

This prequel to the charming and endearing Toy Story franchise didn’t quite give me the buzz that I was expecting. This is actually the second spinoff from Toy Story to feature Buzz Lightyear following 2000’s Buzz Lightyear of the Star Command. But this all seems like a cynical exercise to capitalise on the goodwill delivered by the Toy Story franchise that began in 1995.

In 1995 Pixar introduced us to the young boy Andy and his beloved toy cowboy Woody. But Woody was soon replaced as Andy’s favourite toy by the new action figure of Buzz Lightyear of the Space Rangers, a bright battery powered doll that spoke and moved. And audiences fell in love with their adventures and their story of family and friendship across four feature films. This animated film is supposedly the movie that young Andy saw back in 1995 that led to him asking his mother for a Buzz Lightyear toy.

The square jawed and arrogant Buzz (now voiced by Chris Evans) and his commanding officer and best friend Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) are sent on a mission into deep space to check out T’kani Prime, a supposedly habitable planet light years away from the Earth. On board the ship are thousands of scientists who will investigate the planet. But on landing they discover there are hostile insectoid lifeforms that threaten the mission.

In attempting to escape the planet Buzz crashes their spaceship, nicknamed “the Turnip” thus stranding them. The only way to repower the ship is to use one of the hyperspeed crystals developed by the scientists. Buzz decides to conduct some tests on the crystals before he and the crew will leave the planet for good. But each test run is a failure.

Each test run also takes four years, but due to some time travel anomalies it only seems like a hour for Buzz. A montage shows that passing of time for Buzz’s friends and crew as they live out their lives while Buzz himself barely ages. In the passage of time T’kani Prime has also changed dramatically. The human population live under the protection of a giant laser shield dome used to protect them from a horde of evil robots that have invaded the planet. The robots are commanded by the evil Emperor Zurg (voiced by James Brolin in his first voice role for an animated feature). Buzz teams up with his new crew of misfits that includes Alisha’s granddaughter Izzy (singer Keke Palmer), space cadet Mo Morrison (New Zealand filmmaker Taikia Waititi) and elderly former convict Darby Steele (Dale Soules) to defeat the robots and return to Earth.

Angus MacLane (who also directs) wrote the script with Matthew Aldrich and Jason Headley. As with the bulk of Pixar’s output, it delivers some positive messages. But the time travel element actually makes little sense and is a poorly thought-out and dull narrative device that will undoubtedly confuse younger audiences. Lightyear has also attracted some controversy as it features a same sex kiss that has led to the film being censored or banned in some territories, which is a first for a Pixar animated film.

Visually the film is a little bland, and its action very much one note for much of the running time, but the computer-generated animation is quite spectacular and slick, and light years ahead of what was possible in 1995. The film liberally borrows elements from a number of classic sci-fi films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, Star Trek and even Star Wars. But the cliché-ridden film itself lacks any real sense of nostalgia for the original Toy Story and what made it so appealing. It also lacks that same sense of wonder and excitement that drove another animated sci-fi film from Pixar in Wall.E.

As the star of his own origins story however Buzz seems a sort of dull and uninspiring hero, although Evans does a good job of conveying his sense of arrogance, bravado and self-importance. And he narrates his every action into his own star log journal. The comic relief here is provided by Waititi’s inexperienced space cadet and an intelligent artificially intelligent robot cat named Sox (voiced by Peter Sohn), who would make for a perfect piece of merchandising. The vocal cast also includes Isiah Whitlock jr as Commander Burnside of the Star Command, Mary McDonald-Lewis as the voice of IVAN, the ship’s navigation system, and Bill Hader.

Lightyear is an enjoyable film without being a great one, and it didn’t transport me “to infinity and beyond.”

Greg King

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