Review: Lightyear

Score:  B+

Director:  Angus MacLane

Cast:  Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Uzo Aduba, Taika Waititi, Peter Sohn, Dale Soules

Running Time:  100 Minutes

Rated:  PG

"To infinity and beyond."

Ever since Pixar debuted Toy Story in November of 1995, the studio has been on a tear. The franchise, centered around cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks) and space ranger Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), won over audiences, churning out three sequels, a mountain of merchandise, and a plethora of emotions. So it seems only fitting that the studio would expand the universe to show how the iconic Buzz came into existence. Though in familiar Pixar fashion, the approach and execution are anything but conventional.

A meta look at the world within a world, Lightyear is the original film that introduced Andy, the child whose room houses the toys we have come to know and love, to Buzz Lightyear. It sparked the transition (and competition) between Woody and Buzz in the original film. It is the reason we have Toy Story.

But it is also presented with little context. Outside of knowing it's Andy's favorite film, Lightyear receives no backstory, no explanation of its success. The technique gives you the inner illusion that you are, in some odd way, Andy, sitting excitedly in the middle of a crowded theater, surrounded by good friends and high expectations. For many, it will be a joyous experience. For others, it won't make sense.

Oddly Tim Allen has been replaced by Chris Evans in the titular role. I assume it is an age thing, wanting Buzz to sound younger; however, in animation, it shouldn't matter. He is joined by Uzo Aduba and Keke Palmer as Alisha Hawthorne and her granddaughter Izzy. The three do a fine job with their voice work, bringing emotion and excitement to the story, though none are able to replicate the magic of the original cast.

The film begins as a young Buzz and Alisha embark on an assignment examining potential life on a far away planet. Unfortunately, the mission turns south when an underground creature wrecks havoc on their ship, marooning them until they can create a new hyper fuel crystal. But every time Buzz tests a new formula, years pass (think Interstellar, but animated). As the world around him changes drastically, Buzz finds himself left behind, unable to experience a new life on a new planet. When a crystal finally proves successful, he circles back to see a world overtaken by alien beings, setting up an inner fight for survival.

At its core, Lightyear is a classic Pixar film that offers few surprises. Expected humor, mixed with unparallel emotions, keeps it firmly positioned within the brand. That said, it's hard not to acknowledge the missing magic that gave Toy Story its universal appeal. I can't quite place it, but the spark is dimmer than expected as we struggle to relate.

But in that same vein, this isn't a Toy Story film. Though situated within the same universe and bearing similar overarching themes, Lightyear is a breath until itself. It's unique in its own way and must be treated as such. Evans satisfies, Peter Sohn's turn as Sox, the computerized emotional support cat, is memorable, and both Take Waititi and Dale Soules provide just enough Pixar-humor that the story labors its way to a satisfying conclusion.

Pixar has created a high benchmark regarding its universal successes. While Lightyear isn't their best output, it's a solid, fun, and entertaining escape. And though the time travel and inner dilemma are a bit overdone, you can't harp on the creativity–this film technically debuted over 25 years ago. And the studio still knows how to entertain patrons of all ages, which others would benefit from taking note.


About Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis
I owe this hobby/career to the one and only Stephanie Peterman who, while interning at Fox, told me that I had too many opinions and irrelevant information to keep it all bottled up inside. I survived my first rated R film, Alive, at the ripe age of 8, it took me months to grasp the fact that Julia Roberts actually died at the end of Steel Magnolias, and I might be the only person alive who actually enjoyed Sorority Row…for its comedic value of course. While my friends can drink you under the table, I can outwatch you when it comes iconic, yet horrid 80s films like Adventures in Babysitting and Troop Beverly Hills. I have no shame when it comes to what I like, and if you have a problem with that, then we’ll settle it on the racquetball court. I see too many movies to actually win any film trivia contest, so don’t waste your first pick on me. My friends rent movies from my bookcase shelves, and one day I do plan to start charging. I long to live in LA, where my movie obsession will actually help me fit in, but for now I am content with my home in Austin. I prefer indies to blockbusters, Longhorns to Sooners and Halloween to Friday the 13th. I miss the classics, as well as John Ritter, and I hope to one day sit down and interview the amazing Kate Winslet.