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‘Lightyear’ is a superfluous but entertaining enough Pixar adventure

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You’ll never believe what the future has in store for sandwiches.

Walt Disney

By Rob Hunter Published on June 13, 2022

Pixar has been in the feature film industry for over a quarter of a century now, and despite countless successes over the years, it’s their first film that arguably left the biggest mark on pop culture. Toy Story premiered in 1995 and was followed by three blockbuster sequels, critical acclaim, a mountain of merchandise, a spin-off, a series, and more. After sending three films with original, exciting ideas and characters straight to streaming, Pixar is jumping back into theaters and back into the mainstream this year. Toy Story good in a somewhat interesting way – light year is an intergalactic adventure with Buzz Lightyear the man, not Buzz Lightyear the toy.

It is the future and humanity has sent hundreds of settlers into space in search of a new home. An SOS beacon from a previously unknown planet awakens one of the Space Rangers watching over them from cryo-sleep, and Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Chris Evans) decides to investigate. He is accompanied by his commander Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba), but Buzz’s piloting skills stumble and they are all stranded on the planet. Angry and feeling responsible, Buzz tries a series of hyperspace jump tests that keep failing. Although each jump takes Buzz a few hours, those on the planet have seen four years go by. They’ve built lives, families and a society while Buzz remains focused solely on proving he can save anyone, but what if he’s the one who needs to be saved?

“In 1995 Andy got a toy from his favorite movie. This is that movie.” Here’s the text on the screen that opens light yearand while it hardly seems likely that a 1995 CG animated film would look so impressive visually, the stage is set for some sort of origin story for one of Toy Story‘s main characters. After sending three movies with original stories, new characters and previously untouched themes and ideas straight to their streaming debut, Pixar decided to light year a theatrical release is a slap in the face to the creativity, spirit and beauty evident in Soul (2020), Luca (2021), and To blush (2022). However, other than that unfortunate business decision, Pixar’s latest adventure is an entertaining enough adventure with derivative ideas and redundant themes.

Part of light year‘s limitations come as an origin story for a character we already know well enough through the Toy Story movies. Yes, this Buzz is a movie character the toy is based on, but instead of letting him be his own person, his challenges and desires remain the same. He sees himself as a hero and does not need the help of others. That conflict is identified early on, but the film (written by director) Angus MacLane and Jason Headley) holds him tight for most of a runtime where Buzz learns his lesson, forgets it, and learns it more than once. Evans does a good job of voicing Buzz with just the right mix of determined heroism and self-doubt, but let’s face it… Buzz has never been the most interesting character.

Lucky for light year than the supporting players do a little better when it comes to personality and charm. Alisha is a compassionate friend of Buzz and becomes the source of the film’s biggest and most effective emotional beat. It’s a transition that’s handled through editing, something Pixar has had a firm grasp of before, and it’s done with both grace and beauty. The rest of the film never reaches that emotional climax, but there is fun to be had with the characters and adventures that follow.

Izzy (Keke Palmer) is Alisha’s granddaughter, and although saddled with her own doubts and struggles, she is a burst of personality that balances Buzz’s flatter, more stoic (by design) nature. She meets with two friends of her own in part-time adventurer Mo Morrison (Taika Waititi) and octogenarian “ex-con” Darby Steel (Dale Soules), but the character who steals the film is not human at all. Sox the cat (peter son) is a robotic cat given to Buzz and he is responsible for the vast majority of the laughs in the film. There are some really funny jokes about the robo cat, and it’s enough to make you wonder why 1995 Andy didn’t want a Sox doll either…

Not to harp on, but unlike Pixar’s previous three films – seriously, SoulLucaand To blush deserve theatrical performances — the ideas that play in light year, from the themes to the characters themselves, are all expertly executed but woefully uninspired. Movies are manipulative by nature, but this feels like a story designed around a checklist rather than a story told from the heart because it needs to be told. We’ve already seen Buzz learn to be part of a team, but here we see it all over again. There’s clearly more to it than that, but a flashy new paint job can’t hide the very familiar bones underneath.

That being said, light year delivers a pretty good flash with lots of action and fast moving parts. Kids will absolutely eat it thanks to the energy, humor, and callbacks to a character they already love, and its distracted nature isn’t enough to drown out the fun. The sci-fi attributes are well made and the action with starships, aggressive vegetation, robots and Emperor Zurg (James Brolin) is more than enough to hold your attention and generate some tension. MacLane has been with Pixar since the underrated An insect life (1998) and worked on all three Toy Story sequels, and he shows a sharp grasp of imagery and momentum.

Is it believable that a kid would have chosen this as his favorite movie of 1995? The same year when movies were seen as Batman foreverjumanjicand show girls† Probably not, but light yearThe prediction of the future of sandwiches is just as far-fetched. But if this is what Pixar can achieve without really stretching its creative or emotional talents, just imagine what they could do if they gave it their all. I’m kidding, you don’t have to introduce yourself – just go and see SoulLucaand To blush

Related Topics: Lightyear

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects before you were born, which is weird considering he’s so damn young. He’s our lead film critic and associate editor, calling “Broadcast News” his all-time favorite movie. Feel free to say hello if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter

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