Buzz Lightyear is obviously not the only reason why the Toy Story franchise is so beloved, but he’s certainly a piece of the puzzle. So, making Lightyear, an origin story for the character (of sorts, as you’ll see), is a bit of a risky proposition. Then again, Disney and Pixar didn’t hesitate to make Toy Story 4 even though Toy Story 3 was literally the perfect ending for the franchise, so they don’t seem to be fazed by risk. Luckily, genre spirit and a creative hook help to make this movie something fairly unique. By embracing the science fiction aspect of it all, Pixar has a real epic adventure on their hands that truly does go to infinity…and beyond.
Lightyear surprises by being, largely, a hardcore sci-fi film. It’s family friendly, but has as much in common with Interstellar as a Toy Story outing. That may sound strange, but in practice, it works. Even if nothing here has the huge emotional quotient of the company’s best, it’s still creative, exciting, and lively, with more than enough heart to invest you in everyone along the way. Plus, there’s a spin on the Pixar pet here that will absolutely delight you, mark my words.
The premise here is that we’re watching the movie that made Andy want a Buzz Lightyear action figure in Toy Story in the first place. We meet Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear (voice of Chris Evans) as he’s exploring a new planet with his superior officer Alisha Hawthorne (voice of Uzo Aduba). When the planet proves hostile, Buzz and Alisha attempt to escape, but their ship is damaged, crashing back down. Buzz is devastated, holding himself responsible, but Alisha urges him to finish the mission. In short order, the crew build up the planet, making the terrain hospitable, though the plan is always to get back home.
Determined to get off the planet, Buzz repeatedly attempts missions to figure out how to successfully pull it off. Years pass, with his missions failing, to the point where families grow around him. Given a robotic cat named Sox (voice of Peter Sohn) for companionship, the pair eventually figure out the issue, which brings him into contact not just with Alisha’s granddaughter Izzy (voice of Keke Palmer), but others, including none other than Emperor Zurg (voice of James Brolin). I’m being vague on purpose, as much of the fun here is in the discoveries along the way.
The voice work here is very strong, from top to bottom. Chris Evans obviously doesn’t sound like Tim Allen, but as a movie star version of the character? Sure, it works, surprisingly well, too. He has the cocksure attitude of Buzz, but also the earnestness needed to pull it off. Uzo Aduba has an emotional highpoint of the film, while James Brolin and Keke Palmer are exactly what you want, performance wise. A real highlight is Peter Sohn, who makes you fall in love with Sox immediately. Supporting voice players here include Bill Hader, Efren Ramirez, Dale Soules, Taika Waititi, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and more. Everyone more than pulls their weight.
Filmmaker Angus MacLane brings a deep love of science fiction to Lightyear. Directing it like a genre film, his screenplay, co-written by Jason Headley, does the same. It’s an approach that really works, too. Plus, they created Sox the Cat, one of my single favorite cinematic inventions of the year so far. Sox provides the absolute best moments in Lightyear, which also happens to be the most Pixar feeling ones in the flick. The score by Michael Giacchino is a classic sci-fi one, while the visuals are, unsurprisingly, impeccable. MacLane crafts something thrilling in the moment, but more so something that will likely get kids into science fiction, and that’s fantastic.
Lightyear should delight young audience members who don’t usually get sci-fi like this, as well as older viewers who do. It’s just a rock solid Pixar outing, if slightly below some of their top-tier efforts. Plus, Toy Story fans will likely get a kick out of seeing what made Andy fall in love with the idea of owning Buzz as a toy. This will likely be another smash hit at the box office for Disney and Pixar, rightly so, too.