Directed by: Angus MacLane
Premise: A spinoff of the Toy Story series. Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear (voice of Chris Evans) flies an experimental spacecraft that sends him decades into the future. Buzz discovers that his space station is under siege by Zurg and his alien robots.
What Works: Lightyear is intended as a standalone space adventure and taken as simply that the film mostly succeeds. It has the adventure and humor necessary to appease its audience. The best sequence occurs early on; Buzz goes on a series of test flights, each taking him several years into the future and the people and locations around him age while Buzz remains the same. It’s the single moment of Lightyear that achieves the artistry and emotional resonance that has distinguished Pixar’s body of work. Lightyear also works in some callbacks to the Toy Story films in a way that will reward viewers familiar with Pixar’s other movies.
What Doesn’t: As a subdivision of The Walt Disney Company, Pixar has an obligation to fulfill the corporate need for franchises and tie-in merchandise and Pixar does that by alternating art pieces like Inside Out and Soul with more commercial projects. Lightyear is a toy commercial movie. It’s designed to service and revitalize interest in the Toy Story brand. That commercial imperative is evident throughout this movie. The production values are in good order—everything looks and sounds fine—but nothing about Lightyear is memorable or outstanding. There’s no soul to it. The visual design looks like any other major Hollywood animation studio production and the story is an uninspired sci-fi adventure. The characters are mostly flat. Buzz learns to let go of his need to control things and work with others but the people he’s forced to work with are not very interesting nor do they have much personality. The filmmakers miss an opportunity to do something interesting with the material. Text at the opening of Lightyear informs us that this is actually a movie from 1995; it was the film that Andy saw as a child and made him want the Buzz Lightyear action figure seen the original Toy Story. But nothing about Lightyear looks like a film of 1995. This movie doesn’t play on conventions or styles of movies from that time and there is nothing to place it in that decade. Everything about Lightyear looks contemporary but in a way that is generic.
Bottom Line: Lightyear is an acceptable animated adventure. It’s essentially a highly polished version of the direct-to-video Toy Story spinoffs and specials. Lightyear is entertaining but the film feels like an afterthought.
Episode: #907 (June 26, 2022)