"Lightyear" stars Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Dale Soules, Taika Waititi, Peter Sohn, Uzo Aduba, James Brolin, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Efren Ramirez, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. Released on June 17, 2022, the film is about a test pilot who journeys to become a Space Ranger.
The film features the directorial debut of Angus MacLane, who co-directed "Finding Dory" with Andrew Stanton. He also directed the Pixar shorts "BURN-E" and "Small Fry", as well as the television special "Toy Story of Terror". It is the spin-off of the "Toy Story" film series. "Toy Story" is a definitive animated classic that kickstarted Pixar and changed the animation world forever. The first movie from the iconic animation studio is well-known for its ambitious storytelling and beloved characters, including the space ranger himself, Buzz Lightyear. But one must ask how this space-traveling toy came to be and why Andy was so obsessed with it. Well, we may have just found the answer, thanks to Pixar's latest animated feature. In what seems to be the strangest project the Pixar team has done, the film is taking the spin-off route for the popular franchise, but here's the catch: it doesn't take place in the same universe as "Toy Story". Instead, it's envisioned as a film within a film the characters would watch, including Andy. So don't expect any other toys to make a cameo in this fictional science fiction world, including Woody. The concept was previously explored in the "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command" show in 2000, but the film seeks to stray away from the light-hearted cartoon in favor of its grounded sci-fi action feel. Despite the lack of Tim Allen, I was pretty excited with the fresh direction they're going for Buzz. More importantly, I'm ecstatic that the film is the studio's first theatrical release since its last three movies went straight to Disney+. From the looks of its footage, it seemed like a perfect fit for that occasion. But was this space adventure also a fitting addition to the "Toy Story" franchise? Let's find out.
The story follows Buzz Lightyear (Evans), a Galactic Ranger whose actions resulted in him and his crew being stranded on a hostile planet known as Tikana Prime. Hoping to correct his wrongs, Buzz, along with his robot companion Sox (Sohn), volunteers to test the hyperspace fuel that would allow them to return home to Earth. However, his trip through hyperspace lands him on the same planet a couple of decades into the future. Buzz later encounters Izzy Hawthorne (Palmer), an ambitious ranger who's also the granddaughter of his best friend and commanding officer Alisha Hawthorne (Aduba), and her team of rookie recruits. To get back to his own time, Buzz must join forces with Izzy and the team to save the universe from the nefarious Emperor Zurg (Brolin) and his robot army.
The last Pixar film I watched in the theater was "Onward" two years ago, nearing the beginning of a year-long lockdown. My family and I attended the nearly-packed advanced screening of the film, and it was one of the best final days at the cinema before it closed due to the pandemic. Watching a high-quality animated movie from Pixar on the big screen is truly an experience that's as memorable as any other action blockbuster, especially when it's a great Pixar film. So it was a shame that the following movies after "Onward" wound up getting shipped to Disney+ because of COVID, mainly "Soul" and "Turning Red". Thankfully, Disney didn't give up on the "Toy Story" spin-off as its scope and adventurous tone are big enough to keep its theatrical debut on the cards.
I watched "Lightyear" on a large premium screen because that's usually the best way to view a scope-heavy film like this. Based on my experience, I can easily say that Disney made the right call. When it comes to the movie's immersive sci-fi setting and action sequences, the big screen is the best way to view "Lightyear". But I'm sure you're not here to read my theatrical experience. You're here to find out whether the movie is worth going to infinity and beyond for or not. To no one's surprise, the film delivered what I expected it to be: a fun sci-fi adventure that honors one of the most beloved characters in the "Toy Story" franchise. However, I would also admit that it's far from the studio's best work in its lifetime.
One thing you should know about the story (in case it wasn't obvious enough) is that "Lightyear" deviates heavily from the "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command" show regarding the supporting characters and tone. So don't expect to see Mira, Booster, or even XR from the cartoon series making a cameo appearance in the movie. The story in "Lightyear" focuses mainly on Buzz's attempt to correct his mistake that left his Star Command crew stranded while learning to put his trust in others for help, especially the rookies. Compared to some of Pixar's animated gems like "Inside Out" or "Soul", "Lightyear" has the type of storytelling that may not subvert every expectation regarding its quality and direction but still retains the humor and heart that the studio's known for since the beginning. There were also a few moments where the film's emotional depth in its characters and plot felt a bit lackluster regarding its pacing and fundamental narrative. However, just because a Pixar film has a more basic story than its other classics like "Toy Story", it doesn't automatically make it bad or a disappointment. What matters is if the story is executed in an entertaining and heartfelt way. "Lightyear" manages to accomplish that mission with ease with elements that maintain my interest and messages that are suitably inspiring for its young audience.
The voice cast did a fantastic job with their performances, especially Chris Evans as Buzz. It did feel a bit off hearing Captain America's voice coming out of Buzz's mouth instead of Tim Allen's. However, I immediately got used to it after the first few minutes. Evans brought new life into the space ranger while maintaining the character's soul from the "Toy Story" films through his dialogue and Easter eggs. Keke Palmer was also great in her role as Izzy, and so was Uzo Aduba as Izzy's grandmother Alisha. However, the main highlight of the cast regarding the film's humor is Peter Sohn as Sox, Buzz's robot cat companion. Sox is undoubtedly hilarious, with Sohn's deliverance and the character's likable personality resulting in him being another stellar addition to Disney's collection of memorable side characters. Taika Waititi and Dale Soules also delivered some solid laughs as Mo Morrison and Darby Steel, Izzy's recruits. There's also the film's version of Emperor Zurg, who looks more menacing than the toy version in "Toy Story 2". This latest take on Buzz's arch-enemy offered enough interesting elements in his personality to make him more than just a formulaic antagonist. Plus, James Brolin was a solid choice in manifesting Zurg's ominous nature.
Then, you have the film's animation. Aside from Buzz himself, the animation in "Lightyear" is the main reason the film is worth seeing in the theater. The style is supposed to evoke the science fiction films that inspired it by providing a "cinematic" and "chunky" presentation. Disney and Pixar never fail to deliver detail and quality in their animation style, even though some of their works aren't as good as others. Unsurprisingly, "Lightyear" is no exception. The planet locations are limited, but the movie compensated for this flaw by providing stellar lighting, detailed designs, and solid cinematography for its graphical backgrounds and flashy action sequences. It represents what I would typically see in a live-action science-fiction movie like "Star Wars", except it's full of cartoon characters instead of live-action actors.
Overall, "Lightyear" may not go beyond infinity regarding its story, but it has enough fuel in its spaceship tank to reach its entertainment limits. The movie is a fun and humorous space adventure that honors the iconic space ranger from the "Toy Story" franchise while maintaining the humor and heart I'd expect from Pixar. More importantly, it works as a solid big-screen comeback for the animation studio when considering its beautiful animation. Add in its terrific voice cast, decent story, and entertaining characters, and you get another good addition to the studio's lineup. This is another Pixar film that I think belongs in its "good content" pile instead of its "god-tier" pile or even the "Cars 2" pile. If you're a fan of the Buzz Lightyear character and space movies in general, this movie is worth checking out.