“In 1995, a boy named Andy got a toy from his favorite movie. This is that movie.” This simple line of text appears as Lightyear begins, letting the audience know exactly what they’re in for: a movie based on a toy from a movie about a toy. Though it lacks the emotional depth of typical Pixar fare, the film lives up to the setup and it’s a charming tribute to classic sci-fi stories as well as one of Disney’s most technologically ambitious films to date.
Space Ranger Captain Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Chris Evans) and his partner Captain Alicia Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba) are on a distant alien planet when they are attacked. Due to a miscalculation on Buzz’s part, they are marooned on said planet with hundreds of crew. Racked with guilt, Lightyear makes every attempt to get back home, even though with each undertaking to reach hyperspace, he loses years. While Buzz tries again and again to escape, his friends and crew make the most of their time, settle down, have families, and create lives. After decades, Buzz finds himself among strangers and hostile robots led by Zurg, his archenemy (as seen in Toy Story 2).
This isn’t a prequel or a continuation of the Toy Story universe, but rather an origin story for Buzz, laying out what inspired the toy itself. One can only hope that if this movie does well, a dark, gritty Western about an alcoholic lawman named Woody is next, with his love of catching bad guys surpassed only by his love of spirits, causing him to hallucinate “snakes in his boots.”
So, this is Andy’s favorite movie…but will it be yours?
Directed by Angus MacLane, it’s safe to say that the animation is exceptional, even by picky Pixar standards. As the company’s 26th animated outing, Lightyear sets itself apart from the studio’s previous offerings via new ideas and technological achievement. It’s absolutely groundbreaking visually.
As for the story, it lacks the emotional insight and quippy language audiences have come to expect from the toon powerhouse. Not to say there aren’t a few gut punches throughout the story, but it’s nothing on the same level of Up, Inside Out, or the more recent Turning Red. Instead of a deep-digging story about inter-generational emotional trauma, this is a callback to science-fiction stories of yesteryear: uncomplicated, straight-forward and filled to the brim with action. Exactly the kind of film one would expect a mother to bring her son to in 1995.
Because of the simple setup, the stakes are fairly low. Aside from a robot invasion, almost all of the conflict in the story originates from mishaps made by the main characters themselves, which are made frequently. After a while, it becomes a bit repetitive and weighs things down with slapstick schtick, at least until the second act kicks in. It all makes for an amusing and undemanding escapade, even if space travel is only thing deep about it. At least the journey is full of visual marvels.