Always put your trust in the beautiful world of Pixar for being a reliable source of family entertainment. But it was about time for a new release to appear in theaters again after two years. It’s a shame the studio’s last three original hits (Soul, Luca, Turning Red) went straight to Disney+ instead of the theaters. Because even when everything from them isn’t a masterpiece, it’s still great seeing the hard work displayed on-screen. Thankfully, Lightyear was one it excited me to learn will get the theatrical treatment, as everyone will get the chance to see their favorite action figure from Toy Story take center stage on a cosmic adventure for all.
Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Chris Evans) is heading home with his command officer Alisha Hathorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba) and their crew 4.2 million light-years away from Earth. Their latest mission lands them on the hostile planet T’Kani Prime, where it locates swarms of moving vines and giant bugs. Unfortunately, things go wary as the crash of their vessel shatters their fuel cell, leaving the crew marooned on the planet until a new hyper-speed crystal is created. For a chance to fix his mistake so everyone can go home, Buzz undertakes a test flight through space and time that goes in an unexpected direction. With every jump he makes with his ship, he remains the same while everyone else gets older with each passing attempt.
Buzz’s latest run is successful but sends him further into the future, where he’s joined by a group of ambitious yet inexperienced recruits known as the Junior Zap Patrol to complete an operation to defeat the evil Emperor Zerg and his army of robots.
Pixar’s 26th feature film is a bold move to focus on one character from the most popular animated franchise in the world. I’m someone who grew up watching the Toy Story movies, and ever since it began 27 years ago, they’re quality films with each passing installment (that includes the underappreciated fourth entry). When Lightyear was first announced on Disney Investor Day, I didn’t see that coming, but worth giving a shot despite some mild hesitation. But the millennial person in me was wondering if this was a fresh take on the 2000’s animated series, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command.
In actuality, director/ co-writer Angus MacLane, who worked on many projects as an animator for 25 years and counting, had this idea of making the movie six-year-old Andy and his friends watched when they were kids, prompting his mother to buy him the must-have action figure for his birthday we know today. This is that movie. And walking out of the theater, did this need to exist? Maybe not, but I had a good time.
Lightyear works better than anyone expected because you can see why Andy became a massive fan of the character and has MacLane put him around an in-universe origin story different from his other appearances. And you can sense MacLane has always been a fan of the genre and saw a vision to put Buzz into action in how he became the space ranger we know and love.
As I was watching, I couldn’t help to think of the studio’s way of making their OG Star Wars with a hint of Aliens and Interstellar for good fun. Of course, the animation is utterly impressive, keeping that tight track record on making everything from its character designs, action, and setting fit perfectly into the world-building with their attention to detail. Would a movie this good-looking come out in the mid-1990s? I don’t think so, but maybe it might’ve been a masterpiece back then. The space sequences, especially where Buzz is on his missions, are visually stunning in their cinematography, whether you see it in IMAX or Dolby.
If they wanted an actor to voice a hero, chances are you can never go wrong with Captain America himself, Chris Evans. He brings that charisma and humanity into his vocal performance of Buzz, making it easy to connect with him on his journey. We’re looking at someone holding the qualities of a typical hero but full of determination in correcting his wrongs. At first, I was confused about why they didn’t get Tim Allen to return, but then I realized this is the same character but vastly different, as one is a toy and the other is a human. So it never bothered me. Any nervousness he might’ve had was brushed over when he does a great job of making it his interpretation while staying true to what came before.
But while you’ll love Buzz, there’s a guaranteed chance of walking out of the theater in love with Sox (voiced by Peter Sohn), the robotic cat who accompanies Buzz. Of course, you always expect secondary Pixar characters to be scene-stealers, similar to Dory, Dug, or Bing Bong. Annoying? Fret not. I thought he would be another dumb cat, but Sox will be everyone’s favorite cinematic pet who’s adorable and had the film’s funniest laughs that continue to the next scene. I never see myself owning a cat in the future, but I’ll 100% want a Sox in my life.
Although we may not remember the supporting characters as much as Buzz, they did enough to keep the audience interested throughout. Keke Palmer is excellent as Izzy, Hawthorne’s granddaughter, who wants to live up to her legacy but fears space. And I love the energy she brought to her. We also hear Taika Waititi as Mo Morrison, who struggles with what he wants in life; Dale Soules as ex-convict Darby Steel, and Uzo Aduba as Buzz’s friend Alisha.
Narratively, this wasn’t the most groundbreaking storytelling to come across; it’s one of the more straightforward and a bit predictable premises to come by with them. There are valuable messages young kids could take away from this. For example, we will always make mistakes in life, and we should learn from them hoping to become the hero we’re meant to be. That’ll catch their attention enough. And not just that, you always work best with a team surrounding you to accomplish the impossible. But it can easily be a forgettable plot for some right around the second act, as it doesn’t pack on the heavy emotions later on and leaves you wondering why the main villain wasn’t as big of a deal as I expected. I didn’t care about Zerg and that’s because he didn’t have a lot of screen time. Maybe it’s not a necessary spin-off and probably won’t be the Oscar frontrunner for Best Animated Feature, but it’s enjoyable.
Overall, Lightyear is an ode to fun sci-fi space adventures with an exciting origin story for Buzz, voiced perfectly by Evans. While I wouldn’t put this up as top-tier Pixar from my perspective, the stellar animation, humor, and fast-paced action are a must for families to check out during the summer that seems to lack entertainment. If you’re a fan of the Toy Story franchise, there are some clever callbacks associated with the character, but it might be right up your alley.
Lightyear will be released in theaters on June 17, 2022. Runtime: 105 Minutes. Rated PG for action/peril. Studios: Disney and Pixar Animation Studios.