Movie Review: ‘Lightyear’ Blasts Off, But Never Reaches Emotional Heights
Director: Angus MacLane
Writer: Jason Headley and Angus MacLane
Stars: Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, and Josh Brolin
Synopsis: While spending years attempting to return home, marooned Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear encounters an army of ruthless robots commanded by Zurg who are attempting to steal his fuel source.
In 1995, with the release of the original Toy Story, we saw a young kid transition from cowboys and the wild west to space rangers and astronauts. It is never fully explained why this abrupt shift happened, and it is ultimately assumed that it’s all just a part of his growing up process. However, as Lightyear begins, it comes with a message telling the audience that the Buzz Lightyear toy that Andy received was actually based on his favorite movie, and this was that movie.
After Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) crashes on a mysterious and dangerous planet, destroying the only hyperdrive crystal on board, he, alongside his crew, does everything they can to finish the mission. They begin to rebuild on this new planet using the resources they have available, and, in no time, they are ready to test the next hyperdrive formula to see if it works. While completing one of his tests, Buzz realizes the world he comes back to is not the one he left, and instead a world that is 4 years into the future.
He continues his missions, and what seems like a year for him winds up being decades for his friends on the planet. After completing one of his tests, Buzz returns to the planet in danger. The people are trapped and surrounded by a robotic villain named Zurg. It is up to Buzz and his new crew to stop the evil Zurg and save everyone on the planet.
Knowing that this was the film that Andy would have seen that sparked his interest in Buzz Lightyear helps allow for expectations to be tempered quite a bit. Director Angus MacLane, directing his first solo feature after co-directing Pixar’s Finding Dory, delivers one of the more action heavy Pixar outings. This kind of film dives away from the normal Pixar structure in a way, and is a purely action genre based film, and this works quite well in that context. The scenes are shot beautifully, clearly taking inspiration from Star Wars for their space, and many of the action scenes are exciting and intense, pulling the audience into the fights and creating a real feeling of peril for the heroes.
But, aside from the action, the heart of this story is never fully explored. The best aspect was the idea that Buzz was so set on finishing the mission, fixing the problem he created, that he never took the time to look around and see that people on this planet were happy, and they were living their lives. This idea is only briefly touched on, but never fully fleshed out. Pixar is known for giving big emotional punches, and it felt as though they were setting up for one here, but the underuse of this concept never gave it the chance to truly land the emotional aspect.
The characters themselves felt underutilized as well. Izzy (Keke Palmer), who desperately wants to take up the mantle of her grandmother Alisha (Uzo Aduba), was well used as the granddaughter to Buzz’s best friend and partner. However, they still barely scratch the surface of the interesting dynamic that could have come from Buzz and Izzy. For how protective Buzz was of the suit and of the title of “Space Ranger,” it seemed odd that there wasn’t more of a fight with Izzy regarding her Alisha. The rest of the cast of side characters all felt extremely one note, including Emperor Zurg (James Brolin), whose character took a turn that I honestly still am not sure how I feel about it.
Luckily, they aren’t the ones fans will come to the theater for. That would of course be the titualr character Buzz Lightyear, and when it comes to Buzz’s character, it is easy to see the similarities between this Buzz Lightyear and the toy Buzz Lightyear from the Toy Story series. Throughout, they do a wonderful job of displaying similar characteristics that audiences have come to know from the toy’s long tenure. It might not have captured on the emotion, but it got all of the nostalgia pieces down well, including showing how Buzz slowly assembles his iconic suit. Also, the addition of SOX the robot cat might be one of the best Pixar “animal characters” in their storied history.
While Buzz and crew might never fully blast off to infinity and beyond, Lightyear still makes for a fun Pixar action film. Clearly geared more for kids, this is meant to be watched through the eyes of a young Andy who is about to have his life changed forever. I’m not quite sure if this movie will have the same impact for younger viewers today, but for fans of Toy Story, and especially of Buzz Lightyear, it’ll do the trick well enough.