Ever since their first feature film back in 1995, Pixar, for the most part, have been lightyears ahead of the competition. For their latest film, they go back to where it all began… sort of… with Lightyear.
It is fair to say that when this film was announced, with Chris Evans rather than Tim Allen, as the eponymous Space Ranger, it caused a lot of confusion. This feeling was not exactly subdued when Evans tweeted “And just to be clear, this isn’t Buzz Lightyear the toy. This is the origin story of the human Buzz Lightyear that the toy is based on.”
The opening credits of the film attempt to explain its origins in a more succinct manner. “In 1995 Andy got a toy from his favourite movie. This is that movie”.
So Lightyear is the movie within the Toy Story universe that generated the Buzz Lightyear toy. Simple right?
Well not quite. For example, why does the voice of the toy not match the voice from the Lightyear movie? Was there a licensing issue where the actor did not give the toy manufacturer the rights to his voice so they found a substitute? Perhaps the toy was actually based on the animated series Buzz Lightyear Of Star Command. In a similar way to how the Ghostbusters toys were derived from the cartoon series The Real Ghostbusters rather than the movie. Then there is the question of why Buzz’s behaviour and character is out of sync with that of the hero we see in this movie. In the Toy Story universe, do the toys take on the characteristics and conciousness of the characters they are based on or are they unique? It would explain why Rex does not behave like a typical T-Rex. Or why initially do all Buzz Lightyear figures behave in the exact same manner.
These are the sort of questions that race through a film nerd’s mind as they start out watching the film. The biggest one being that with Sox clearly being such a popular character, why on earth was a toy not made of him back in 1995?!
However is it possible to quieten one’s over-analytical mind, put aside any glaring inconsistencies with the logic (there is one particular retcon to a major character that completely undoes a plot thread in Toy Story 2) and just enjoy the film for what it is?
As a visual spectacle, it looks fantastic as one would expect. The animation is out of this world and the Pixar team continue to raise the bar.
However for a film whose central crux revolves around achieving hyperspeed, the plot here is much more pedestrian.
True it is not reaching for the stars with a novel concept like “What if toys were alive?” or “What if a rat wanted to be a Michelin-star chef?”. Instead, they are paying homage to the space operas that we grew up with as children. Films like Star Trek and Star Wars that made us fall in love with cinema… and with collecting and playing with the toys based on those movies.
Director Angus MacLane clearly has a love for the genre and peppers the action with homages and references from the likes of Star Wars and Aliens all the way through to Interstellar.
After years playing the Star Spangled Man With A Plan, it is no surprise that Chris Evans has the art of playing an all-American hero down to a tee. After a riff on Buzz’s classic opening gambit, it is clear this is a different version of the character and Evans becomes Lightyear.
His journey stems from preferring to work alone. His recklessness gets other people in danger. Following a test flight that the future of his colleagues depends on its success, he is forced to teach a bunch of rookies, including the child of a lost friend, how to work together as a team in order to complete a dangerous mission. But enough about Top Gun Maverick…
The rag-tag group of rookies are there purely to allow Buzz to grow and evolve as a character. To move from the lone wolf to team player and leader. Of the group, Izzy Hawthrone provides the heart and link to Buzz’s past. The greatest spark is generated between Lightyear and Sox, the robot feline companion. Ironically, it will be Sox toys that will become the big hit out of this movie. I guess we can expect the Sox spin-off movie in about 30 years.
It is unclear what Taika Waititi has on Disney, given his constant attachment to their projects whether it is Marvel, Star Wars or Pixar. The one note performance that he has given in every movie in the past few years has run its course and is just grating now. Please stop and give someone else a chance.
The biggest letdown however is the appearance of Zurg. It was always expected that he would be the antagonist of the movie given that he has been set up to be the Darth Vader to Buzz’s Luke Skywalker. After all, a hero is only as good as their villain. Zurg’s motivations and back story are very weak and potentially rage-inducing to some sections of Film Twitter.
Overall, Lightyear is fun, summer popcorn fare. However it is unlikely to make the same cultural impact as it did in the Toy Story universe. If it makes enough money to inspire a sequel, Buzz’s legacy may continue to Infinity… but not beyond.
Lightyear is in cinemas from June 17
Director: Angus MacLane
Stars: Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, Taika Waititi
Runtime: 100 minutes