From the first frame, LIGHTYEAR Pixar’s latest film wants us to feel like a kid again. It begins with a reminder that this isn’t the Buzz Lightyear so many of us remember. In fact Pixar gets as meta as it can for a children’s movie that also needs to sell toys. Yes this is a reminder that what we are about to see is the film that the Buzz Lightyear action figure came from. A toy that has become synonymous with going above and beyond in life; to infinity and beyond to be exact. So when the film opens up it tells us that in 1995 Andy got a toy from a movie he loved, and we are about to witness that movie. It’s a strong move that will bring you back to the days of seeing a film that reshaped and defined your childhood. A film like well 1995’s Toy Story. A movie so man y people both young and old remember witnessing and never being able to look at their or their child’s toys the same way again. LIGHTYEAR is another solid win for the mega Pixar studio, and for all its attempts at being a film within a film it is just a great time to allow yourself to be a kid again and stare at the screen and remember what it was like to watch things with total fascination.
Buzz may look and sound different (this time he is voiced by Chris Evans doing a wonderful man of action but still boneheaded interpretation) but his mission feels like a familiar one. He has landed on a strange planet and “there is no signs of intelligent life.” Buzz works for Star Command and he and his copilot Alisha (Uzo Aduba) informs him that before he goes to look around he must bring the new recruit something Buzz scoffs out. This is not just a cocky Buzz, but one that has no time to work with others when it could be the difference between life and death. But as any life lesson children’s movie can tell you doing things on your own and refusing help will cost you. When Buzz screws up and costs his entire fleet (a crew of hundreds of people it appears) the chance to get home, Buzz now spends his days trying to find a way for him and everyone to get back to earth and fix a life haunting. Unfortunately for him this means attempting to reach hyper speed, a process that can only be done traveling through space and time for a only a few minutes but costing him years back on earth. In a sort of “2001 A Space Odyssey” and “Interstellar” mashup one minute traveling through space means one full year on earth. Pixar known for it’s always effective emotional core uses this to show Alisha being able to enjoy her life which includes finding love and starting a family while Buzz comes home still desperate and a lot less experienced than his friends. Thankfully Buzz has one constant and that is in the form of SOX (Peter Sohn) a robotic therapy cat that might be Pixar’s best and most adorable sidekick. Credit to the entire animation team for making these moments of lost time and space exploration some of the most visually stunning for Pixar. It’s not hard to see why a young child got swept up in this world.
As Buzz and SOX find themselves stuck in time the film finds its usual Pixar recipe. A ragtag team of Star Commanders who are so inept they haven’t even reached rookie status. This group consists of Alisha’s granddaughter Izzy (Keke Palmer), Mo (Taika Waititi) a sort of Goofy turned human who is also a walking injury and Darby (Dale Soules) who fits the “old lady who likes to play with bombs” cliche. It’s a fun mix for the stubborn Buzz even if some of the humor feels the need to be inserted in moments of sincerity. Pixar continues to do a great job with their voice casting even if it means just relying on those that already belong to the Disney family. Taika Waititi is practically a staple in Disney films and shows nowadays and Keke Palmer is a welcome addition as Izzy who faces so many fears her grandmother never did. This however is Evans’ show. The man who has made a career and will forever be remembered as Captain America channels that energy to show where that stubbornness and naiveite that we remember from the original first came from. It is no surprise that Tim Allen’s classic creation of the toy has so many issues once you see the blueprint version.
LIGHTYEAR works best when it sticks to its action adventure roots. This is Disney’s most sci-fi film since TRON: LEGACY in that in never is afraid to get a little weird. Some of its choices may seem odd and even out of left field for children today, but again this is their way of honoring a generation who grew up on true cinematic experiences that might not have understood everything they were seeing but they know it moved them. It’s pursuit of being the first Disney film within a film since Buzz Lightyear of Star Command (underrated!) can make it stumble to find that emotional big moment that so many expect from Pixar. It also doesn’t help that the film wraps up so quickly you almost forget the emotional arc Buzz, took but it’s focus on the big journey never fails.
This is not a film that is settling but instead trying things from a different angle. A studio that has already wrapped up the Toy Story saga and gave Woody his big goodbye is now honoring its other hero the best way they know how, and if this is their way of starting a whole new franchise (within a franchise) then it’s safe to say they will take Buzz way beyond infinity.
LIGHTYEAR WILL BE RELEASED IN THEATHERS EVERYWHERE JUNE 17TH