- Great visuals
- Solid character development
- Solid humor and heart
- Fun adventure
- Non-engaging plot
- Average compared to its predecessors
- Lack of depth
Amazing visuals, great voice performances and a fun adventure are slightly enough to carry the average “Lightyear”.
Legendary space ranger Buzz Lightyear embarks on an intergalactic adventure alongside ambitious recruits Izzy, Mo, Darby, and his robot companion, Sox.
There are many that may debate the reason for Lightyear’s existence but there are few that would actually refuse the nostalgic urge to see the origin story of the “influence” behind everyone’s favorite toy (or friend). Surprisingly enough, the justification of Lightyear’s existence is made within the first two seconds of the film via explanatory text – this film is Andy’s favorite film (Andy being the main child featured in the “Toy Story” films), hence why his mom bought him the Buzz Lightyear toy that sets in motion the events of the first “Toy Story”. Clever, Pixar, clever. Now, once that justification is out the way, then begins the fictional (even in-Pixar universe) story of the heroic astronaut Buzz Lightyear (heroically voiced – but not too ironically – by Chris Evans).
We begin the adventure with Lightyear and his BFF partner-in-crime Alisha Hawthorne exploring a planet called T’Kani Prime. As they escape from monsters hunting them down, Lightyear crashes the ship and forces the crew to repair the vessel on the planet. Now, the whole astronaut crew is marooned and must find a way to escape this strange new planet (or Brave New World, hardy-har to my AP English teacher). Lightyear, a hero with a savior complex, volunteers to test hyperspace fuel which could play a part in getting him and crew back home where they belong. In a visually sumptuous sequence, Lightyear flies around the planet, trying his best to hit hyperspeed. He fails and returns back home, learning to his surprise that four years have passed. Alisha is now engaged (to another woman – a minute detail that has led to a large amount of unfair and review bombs from politically far-right moviegoers – or trolls) and Buzz now has an emotional support robotic cat named Sox (voiced brilliantly by Peter Sohn). Feeding into his nicely written flaws, Lightyear refuses to accept this defeat and pushes onward.
Thus begins an emotional montage that matches up to (but doesn’t necessarily surpass) the terrific groundbreaking montage of “Up”. Buzz tries, he fails, more years pass, Alisha’s pregnant, he tries, tries and tries again, Alisha grows old and eventually passes on and Sox stays busy working on an algorithm for the fuel composition (whatever in the McGuffin that means). After many decades and many fails, Buzz returns and Sox finally figures out the algorithm. Buzz then embarks on one more mission – much to the chagrin of Alisha’s replacement Commander Burnside (Isiah Whitlock, Jr, great) – finally nailing hyperspeed. He returns and runs into Izzy Hawthorne (Keke Palmer – great and fitting), Alisha’s granddaughter all grown up and just as spunky and determined as her grandmother but not as skilled. Along with her ragtag crew – clumsy Mo, (voiced by Taika Waititi, funny) and old parolee Darby (voiced by Dale Soules from Orange Is The New Black, hardy-har again) – Buzz and Alisha escape from an unseen foe named Emperor Zurg, who resides in a dominating spaceship in the sky, as Buzz still tries to discover how to get him and his crew back home.
Lightyear moves along well enough in its pacing and there are great performers in its voice cast but, even with a solid-but-slightly-predictable twist towards its climax, Lightyear is an average Pixar film. There are strong heroic character flaws within its central protagonist, amidst all the chasing and fighting, Buzz is confronted with a challenge to work with others and fall back as the leader. This is great palpable character work on director/co-writer Angus MacLane’s part and it makes Buzz a great foil to the optimistic-but-inexperienced Izzy but it isn’t enough to carry the whole film. The solution to Buzz’s flaw is too easy – encouragement towards his colleagues rather than just chiding them for not doing and knowing better. Be a team player not just a team leader. These scenes of personal enlightenment feel like filler to carry the film forward rather than necessary moments that add depth. Stunning visuals aside, there is not much complexity to the plot of Lightyear. Try, return, fail, try some more, finally win, return, escape. There. That’s the plot. Whereas running around in a circle in the desert worked well for George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road”, such a circular plot is derivative and redundant here with “Lightyear”.
For all of its flaws, Lightyear is still a fun film. The clash of personalities within the main group of heroes makes for solid heart and humor moments that Pixar films are known for. Sohn, Waititi and Soules are a nice humorous trio with great commentary on the action as well as some notable one-liners. Palmer matches well with Evans as Izzy builds upon her grandmother’s influence on Buzz and helps him make his turn as a teamplayer rather than a one-man army (regardless as how easy that transition may be).
It may be splitting large hairs to state how Lightyear’s lack of a complex plot makes it an average Pixar film – stunning visuals and palpable character work and all – but one could argue that the magic that makes Pixar “Pixar” is the creativity to make films that carry all three perfectly. Plot, character and visuals. I know one can’t always be at the top and everyone knows Pixar has kept that number one spot for great animation nice and comfy for many years but everyone has their moment in the sun. “Soul” was a terrific mature step in an interesting direction but lately, we have passed the glory days of “Toy Story” and “A Bug’s Life”. “Lightyear” is a nice looking, mature, fun animated film that lacks in soul for what it gains in entertainment. But, who knows? Maybe a “Woody” spinoff will be better. He’s the better toy anyway….