Disney & Pixar’s LIGHTYEAR review by Mark Walters – Chris Evans headlines Buzz’s origin story

Disney & Pixar’s LIGHTYEAR review by Mark Walters – Chris Evans headlines Buzz’s origin story

When TOY STORY hit theaters in 1995, the character of Buzz Lightyear became an instant fan favorite, selling quite well as a real life toy to boot – call that a sort of “art imitates life” situation, or perhaps the reverse. And as the years went by, spawning three theatrical sequels and a Buzz Lightyear animated series, it’s safe to say that character hasn’t lost its appeal. Now Disney and Pixar are releasing a prequel of sorts, though not necessarily a TOY STORY movie. The new film LIGHTYEAR is intended to be “the movie” young Andy from TOY STORY saw that made him want to buy the Buzz Lightyear toy… which is pretty clever, as when you think about it, they could use this concept to make prequel movies for ALL of Andy’s toys if they wanted.

For now, we follow the adventures of Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans), a hotshot space pilot who is exploring a strange seemingly living planet with his team of Space Rangers, including his best friend Alisha (Uzo Aduba)… but things start to get out of hand with the hostile vegetation on the surface. So the crew board their ship and try to leave, only Buzz botches the escape, and his actions result in the crew now being stranded on this strange planet with no way to get home. Buzz comes up with an ambitious plan, using a slingshot flight around the planet’s sun as a way to travel back in time and set things right. His first attempt doesn’t work, and when he returns to the surface, Buzz realizes his few minutes in orbit equaled four full years for the crew on the surface, meaning every time he attempts this stunt, four more years will pass for his friends. And sadly, that anomaly shows how cruel it can be as the intrepid pilot fails again and again. Eventually he finds himself teaming up with a next generation of Space Rangers, and facing a new threat when an alien ship shows up dropping hunter robots on the planet. Buzz must figure out what this mysterious force wants, and whether or not it’s too late to save his own kind.

LIGHTYEAR definitely has connective tissue to the TOY STORY movies, but it’s very much its own thing, feeling more intentionally like a 1980s or 90s Science Fiction flick. The personification of Buzz here, and the performance by Chris Evans, feels similar to a hotshot movie star from decades past, while still invoking modern day sensibilities. This Buzz is tough and confident, but far from perfect, which feels like a variation of the Buzz we know from the TOY STORY movies just enough for this to work as a companion piece even if not existing in the same perceived universe. The supporting characters are all pretty likable, though some feel like we’ve seen them before and perhaps played a little more interesting. One of the best is Alisha voiced by Uzo Aduba, playing Buzz’s best friend and what ultimately becomes his biggest motivation to complete his mission. Keke Palmer plays a similar role later in the film named Izzy, and is a plucky new cohort for Buzz, a sort of next generation of what he already is. Taika Waititi and Dale Soules round out the supporting characters playing two questionable rangers that become partners for Buzz in his later mission, even if they seem more like screw ups than anything else. The best supporting character in the film is SOX, a robotic therapy cat voiced by Peter Sohn, who becomes an awkward pal for our hero, but one who is quite amusing and endearing and should definitely become an audience favorite.

Some of the plot elements here might be a bit complex for kids to follow, particularly the time travel elements and a plot point involving Buzz meeting his older self. In some ways the Science Fiction elements in this film are pretty ambitious, but it keeps things interesting and I admire the filmmakers for doing something more daring that folks might expect. What surprised me most about the film is how emotional it was at times, implementing that Pixar magic that finds ways to get you choked up when you least expect it. The basic message is the importance of working together, and never giving up, but that sometimes gets bogged down in the very frequent action sequences and Sci-Fi challenges the characters face. LIGHTYEAR is a satisfying movie, but does feel at times like it’s trying really hard to keep us entertained. Thankfully the end result is so fun and imaginative that the shortcomings are fairly forgivable. It also doesn’t hurt that Michael Giacchino’s dramatic score puts a nice polish on the finished product. Director Angus MacLane has crafted an experience that feels like a movie imaginative kids would come up with, in the best possible way. There’s a childlike sense of wonderment in LIGHTYEAR that is executed with a noble maturity I hope we see in more films like it.

LIGHTYEAR opens June 17, 2022

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.