By now, we all know the catchphrases – “To Infinity and Beyond”, “Buzz Lightyear to the Rescue”, and “Buzz Lightyear to Star Command, come in Star Command” with so many more available once a tiny button is pushed on the back of the action figure we’ve come to know over the span of 27 years but knowing the story behind those catchphrases recorded for the toy version in some studio in the mid 1990’s has been a mystery. Until now. Obviously, the voice we all grew up with alongside Andy is now confirmed to be a voice actor reading lines for a paycheck while the real Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Chris Evans) is a science fiction hero the toy is based on. This is the story of Andy’s favorite movie, released in 1995 as the tagline says before the action begins.
The real question is, was Andy’s version live action or computer animated in the same vein as Pixar, the brains that brought Toy Story to fruition.
Philosophical questions that will keep you up during all hours of the night aside, Lightyear is a special film for the studio. For the first time since Onward that was released in early 2020, a Pixar film is being released in theaters instead of being dumped to the streaming service Disney Plus due to the ongoing global pandemic the world has been stuck in for over 2 years now. That alone is cause for celebration for this film and studio but also, it’s a celebration for the hard-working Pixar staff that would spend years on one film – perfecting each frame, from the lighting to the camera placement to the alive background that revolutionized how animated films were made. To have it released in theaters, seen on the biggest screens with the best sound systems is how these films were intended to be viewed. A home theater just doesn’t compare.
All of that aside, what can be expected from a Pixar film is once again delivered upon from the moment the turnip shaped spaceship touches down on a remote and uncharted planet. Visually, this is the most breathtaking the animation has ever looked given how fast the technology advances. To use the word stunning would be a disservice to how Lightyear looks and feels. Every frame resembles a painting, it’s the films strongest aspect, as it is in every Pixar film released since the inaugural film that this is in relation to.
Written by Jason Headley and longtime Buzz animator Angus MacLane, who also directed the film, Lightyear’s story pays homage to the sci-fi genre with nods to several different franchises and films that have left a lasting impression on the genre. I imagine the “director” of the movie Andy adores to take pieces of what they loved and create their own foothold. After failing to launch off a planet inhabited with giant insects and vines that will capture prey, Buzz, and his space ranger partner/best friend Alisha Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba) along with the marooned crew set up camp in the hopes to recreate the destroyed crystalized hyperspace fuel to return home.
With each hyperspace fuel test Buzz volunteers for, a 4-minute flight takes 4 years away from life for the people on this unnamed planet. Therein lies both the best and worst parts of Buzz. On one hand, he feels responsible for stranding the entire crew with no successful test, and on the other he becomes obsessive which leads to an arrogance to him. The test pilot must be him – there is no one else that can do this.
Over the course of the first act, with each failed test, Buzz returns to a planet that has aged in 4-year increments while he stays the same age. The science of it all makes sense to the story being told – the same can be found in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. A lot of Lightyear can be traced back to the Nolan Science Fiction spectacle. As the connections are made, differentiating between the two becomes more blurred over the course of the 100-minute runtime. We also meet the artificially intelligent cat Sox (voiced by Peter Sohn) aiding Buzz in a search for the right combination used for hyperspace fuel to being his white noise machine at night.
How Andy didn’t demand his mom to also get a Sox action figure along with Buzz is a disappointment. Sox alone accounts for Lightyear’s humorous dialogue with Mo Morrison (voiced by Taika Waititi) as a close second. Maybe it would have crushed the ego of Slinky-Dog to have a cat toy in Andy’s toy chest. With a film that is all about the origin and adventures of the Buzz Lightyear, Sox outshines the titular space ranger in every imaginable way. We need more Sox, plain and simple.
Knowing what we know from the distant cousin of Toy Story movies, especially 2, director John Lasseter tips his hat to Star Wars Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back with Buzz, the toy. What is established in that film with the arch-nemesis Emperor Zurg (voiced by James Brolin), is either forgotten about or retconned to fit into the narrative here. Fans of the Toy Story franchise will pick up on it immediately leaving Lightyear asking more questions than its answering. Zurg and his robotic army are shoehorned into the final act to pick the pace up from a slowed down act 2, which is used as more of a set up for potential future sequels and spin-offs.
I’m conflicted with Lightyear. Visually, an animation film of this caliber needs to be seen in theaters, it would have been a massive failure if dumped on Disney Plus. Top to bottom, the voice cast knocks it out of the park from Evans to Taika to Peter Sohn as Sox and Keke Palmer voicing Izzy Hawthorne, Alisha’s granddaughter, who gets her own well-developed arc. It’s the story and villain that feel out of place. Too much is borrowed and thrown together story wise that keeps Lightyear from being great and landing firmly among the middle tier of Pixar’s filmography.
Written By: Jason Headley & Angus MacLane
Story By: Jason Headley, Angus MacLane & Matthew Aldrich
Directed By: Angus MacLane
Music By: Michael Giacchino
Cinematography: Jeremy Lasky (camera), Ian Megibben (lighting)
Starring: Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, James Brolin, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules, Uzo Aduba
Release Date: June 17, 2022
Running Time: 1 Hour 45 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%