Toy Story put Pixar on the map when it first came out in theaters as it innovated animation and storytelling through the use of computer-generated visuals. The franchise has grown into four successful films following the adventures of Andy’s toys. With the tale of Andy’s toys reaching its end, the question of where the story might go next was on everyone’s minds. Pixar decides to take the franchise in a different direction by focusing on one of its main stars, Buzz Lightyear. What came as a result is Lightyear, a film that focuses on the story of the astronaut that inspired the fictional space cadet in Toy Story. What audiences will get after watching this is a film filled with adventure that is reminiscent of the classic sci-fi films in the early 90s and some callbacks from the Toy Story franchise that fans are familiar with.
Lightyear follows the human Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) that inspired the toy from the main films. However, the opening credits do reveal that this happens to be a film within the Toy Story universe that young Andy loved to watch and inspired him to buy the toy. This is a feature made for those who grew up watching the Toy Story movies because the sci-fi elements we get here are straight out of the classic sci-fi epics of the late 70s and 80s like Star Wars. Not a lot of young people would be familiar with those references, but adults surely would. This is clearly a love letter to the Toy Story films by focusing on one of its beloved characters, Buzz Lightyear.
The story follows Buzz who works as a space ranger at Star Command alongside his partner Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) as they are on a voyage with a crew and end up stranded on a hostile planet. After constructing a colony and making repairs on their ships, Star Command sends Buzz to test out a hyperspace fuel for travel usage on their ships. After a couple of attempts, we find out that each trip Buzz makes ends up causing time dilation where four minutes for him would be four years back on his home planet. It is with each test that time keeps passing by until it is almost 62 years have passed and Alisha is gone from his life. We find Buzz as he finds out that an alien invasion has taken his colony hostage and must team up with Alisha’s granddaughter Izzy (Keke Palmer) and a ragtag team of recruits to save their home.
With the pedigree that Pixar has with its films, every single one of them pushes the boundaries of animation. When it comes to Lightyear, it still holds true that Pixar has created a visually stunning piece of work. We get so much brightness with the colors and the depiction of space in the film is just gorgeous to look at. There’s so much detail that is put into the environment and even the cast of characters. The action set pieces are also incredible, something that is to be expected in a film like this. Pixar has wasted no expense in making Lightyear one of the most stunning pieces of cinema to put out on the big screen, and that says a lot due to the fact that it’s been a while since Pixar put out a film in theaters.
Chris Evans had some big shoes to fill as he takes on the role of Buzz Lightyear, a role that has made Tim Allen a household name in the animation world. This is also Evans’ first foray into voice acting and he does a fine job. He doesn’t try to emulate some of what made Allen’s version so great, but Evans does make this take on Buzz his own by displaying his mannerisms and the heavy emotions that his character carries throughout the film. Perhaps he’s doing so well because this is another character who is a man out of time just like Captain America. Regardless, Evans makes Buzz a relatable hero with flaws and brings his own personality into it.
We also have some great characters that share some of the spotlights with our hero. Our scene stealers have to go to Taika Waititi and Peter Sohn with their characters Mo and Sox. These two bring some humor into the more action-packed scenes, which happen to be some of the best parts of the film. Keke Palmer shows some readiness in her role as Izzy, who is connecting with the only person who knew her late grandmother and aspires to be just like her. Uzo’s Alisha becomes pivotal to the story as it drives Buzz into completing his mission. We do get a bit of an LGBTQ story involving her character, but it doesn’t go much beyond that. However, it does become important to her arc as we experience her relationships and how happy her life has become with each passing moment that Buzz comes back home.
Lightyear tries to be delicate when they address some of the big themes in the film. We see Buzz as he focuses a lot on the mission at hand and lacks faith in trusting other people for help. As the film progresses, Buzz soon learns that it’s okay to be more than just a space cadet and that he can also have a life worth living. It may not be a perfect one, but Buzz can see that even his flaws bring out the best of himself. These messages are what makes Pixar thought-provoking with its storytelling. Sometimes it takes a more friendly approach to address these themes rather than head-on, but Pixar manages to still make it work.
At the end of the day, Lightyear delivers breathtaking visuals, lovable characters, and themes that stick with the audience. The film may not be as strong as many of Pixar’s other properties, but it is an entertaining flick that is great for the whole family. It also doesn’t soar to great heights like the great sci-fi movies, but it does pay respects to that genre as well as being a homage to the Toy Story franchise. Lightyear is a great addition to the popular Pixar film that started it all and it also opens up some bold new possibilities to where the studio can go next with these characters.
Lightyear is now playing in theaters everywhere.