Toy Story takes a different route in this spin-off. Rather than being a comedy of sentient toys, this here is a sci-fi adventure focusing on Buzz Lightyear. So rather than mistaking himself for a space ranger, now he is a space ranger in Disney Pixar’s Lightyear film.
It’d be so easy for the film to do little more than retread familiar Toy Story tropes. It very well could have given the slow and referential first scene. Thankfully, the film becomes far more than a simple continuation of the Toy Story brand.
Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) is established as a brash space ranger of Star Command. So when he’s tasked with leading a starship of hundreds home, he doesn’t pass up an opportunity to explore a planet in their path. He also doesn’t accept help either.
Through a combination of alien vines and Buzz’s irritation for rookies, he strands his people on the planet. Defeated but determined, he aims to get their interstellar travel working again. Of course, doing it alone simply won’t save the day.
The Scourge of Zurg
Buzz has no choice but to work with rookies when he finds himself stranded even more. He’s left on his own when the evil Emperor Zurg (James Brolin) attacks with his army of robots. This is a mission that can’t be done solo.
The rookies he’s teamed up with are incredibly inexperienced and in need of guidance. Izzy (Keke Palmer) aims to prove herself as she’s eager to become a space ranger. She may not take too much time to train but the misfits of Mo (Thor: Ragnarok / Thor: Love and Thunder director Taika Waititi) and Darby (Dale Soules) may take some extra effort.
There’s also the robotic cat Sox (Peter Sohn) who may be the most intelligent but also lacking in charisma. Couple this aspect with Buzz’s frustrations with autopilot AI and he learns that he needs more than machines to accomplish a mission. Although Sox does make for the perfect bundle of cuteness and dry-witted comic relief.
Satisfying Space Adventure
Disney Pixar’s Lightyear comes with a solid assortment of neat sci-fi ideas. The concept of interstellar travel and its effects on time are clever and work well for focusing on Buzz losing sight of the bigger picture. The robots of Zurg are also unique in how they rely on matter transporters for fast travel.
While the animation style seems pretty simple for Pixar, the staging is thrilling. Scenes of interstellar travel and battles amid an exploding spaceship are visually dazzling. While these scenes are not exactly the most original when comparing similar sci-fi pictures, they still look eye-popping in IMAX.
Pixar also doesn’t skimp on the action for Lightyear. Thrilling chases and exploding robots are abounding and sure to please the older kids who want some animation with a bit of tooth. The fact that it all comes bundled with a bigger tale besides simple heroism will make it all the easier for adults to get into.
What Matters Most in ‘Lightyear’
Where Lightyear succeeds most is observing what matters most in life. The relationship that he holds with his fellow space ranger Alisha (Uzo Aduba). The two show such compassion and understanding that leads toward the tear-jerker moment most audiences have come to expect from Pixar.
It may not seem as groundbreaking as Pixar’s previous pictures considering the passage of time and embracing the little things in life doesn’t seem as grand of an aspiration. The simplicity is sure to draw comparisons to the lower goals of Luca. That being said, it still makes for a solid lesson about how humans suffer in the here and now.
It helps that Lightyear gets a bit introspective with Buzz. Without giving too much away, the ultimate enemy he learns to face is himself. If that common theme doesn’t obvious enough for the shorter crowd, it’s pretty much spelled out in the not-so-shocking reveal of the final act.
Lightyear most likely won’t blaze any trails as much as Pixar’s Turning Red. It most definitely won’t soar high up on anyone’s list of the best Pixar productions. As a space adventure, however, it mostly gets the job done.
Considering the film comes blatantly branded as a Toy Story spin-off, it’s surprising how much of Lightyear’s story works on its own. The voice performances are strong and nuanced, the action sequences are exciting, and the writing is worthy of a sci-fi novella. It doesn’t quite go as far as it could go but still soars to higher heights than most animated films, especially those that dabble in science fiction.
Did you see Lightyear in theaters? How does it compare to other Pixar films? Is it better than Toy Story 4? Let us know in the comments below.
Lightyear is playing in theaters everywhere on June 17th, 2022.