With Lightyear, Pixar returns to one of its most endearing characters, the Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear, but with an interesting twist.
Anyone expecting a continuation of the adventures of the Buzz Lightyear, as voiced by Tim Allen in Toy Story, will be in for a surprise. As Disney and Pixar’s Lightyear movie begins, a placard reminds us that in 1995 a boy called Andy received a Buzz Lightyear toy for his birthday. It goes on to tell us that the toy was based on the boy’s favourite movie. And it’s this movie that we are about to watch. It’s a rather genius move that allows the audience to be introduced to the “real” Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, in this his retconned origin.
Whereas Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear is a toy that thinks he is an astronaut, Lightyear’s Buzz (voiced by Captain America’s Chris Evans) is the real deal. This Buzz is more fleshed out and self-aware.
The story has a mishap due to Buzz’s hubris leaving him and the huge crew of a Star Command exploration ship stranded on an alien planet. Desperate to find a way home, Buzz enlists to test a drive system that after each failure sees time advance by four years. Unable to accept and deal with his failure Buzz is so consumed he misses out on time with his friends and loved ones.
The Buzz Lightyear of this movie is perhaps a little more relatable than the action figure version in Toy Story. We watch as a very human Buzz confronts his flaws with a lesson that perhaps we all need to take on board: that life is about the journey, and not the destination.
Of course, being a Pixar movie, it works on all levels. Kids will find Buzz’s adventures thrilling and with more than a few nods back to the Toy Story movies. Buzz fondly recites his familiar catchphrase, “to infinity and beyond” throughout the movie, but with a little more gravitas than just a talking toy’s soundtrack.
Buzz is joined by an endearing supporting cast of characters. Most notable is the robotic cat, Sox (voiced by Peter Sohn), whose toy version will, no doubt, be on many kids’ Christmas list this year. Sox is a gift from Buzz’s best friend and fellow Space Ranger, Alisha Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba, “Crazy Eyes” from Orange is the New Black) and functions as a handy feline Swiss Army Knife. Sox’s unintentionally goofy behaviour and his cat-like tendencies make for some great visual gags.
As well as the origin of the “real” Buzz Lightyear, we also get to find out who exactly the Space Ranger’s arch-enemy, Emperor Zurg, is. It’s inspired to say the least. Buzz and friends must work together to defeat Zurg’s robots and save everyone from being wiped from existence.
As well as being one of the busiest guys around, Kiwi director Taika Waititi, now firmly on the Disney payroll, voices Mo. Mo is a member of Junior Zap Patrol who, despite his fear of danger joins Buzz to go up against Zurg. Mo is joined by Alisha’s granddaughter, Izzy Hawthorne (Keke Palmer), and ex-con, Darby (Dale Soules).
It goes without saying that the animation is top-class. As this is the “real” Buzz, the characters are not toys. The uniforms have been redesigned to echo the Toy Story Space Ranger, but look more realistic. With a retro-future design style, the movie really does feel like a Toy Story in-universe 90s movie.
I wouldn’t say that Lightyear was Pixar’s strongest entry but the the story is good, if not particularly memorable- as clever a conceit as it is. It’s got a big heart, enjoyable characters, lots of thrills, and an apt moral to it all. I’d go as far as to say it’s a fair kids’ animated sci-fi movie, in its own right.
Lightyear is a great movie to take the kids to and one that adults will enjoy as well. Whilst it’s worth seeing on a big screen, I can see it being a staple on Disney Plus after its eventual release on the streaming platform.