Reviewed for Shockya.com by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: Angus MacLane
Writer: Angus MacLane, Jason Headley, Matthew Aldrich
Cast: Chris Evans, Taika Waititi, Keke Palmer, James Brolin, Efren Ramirez, Uzo Aduba
Screened at: AMC Lincoln Square, NYC, 4/8/22
Opens: June 17th, 2022
There is a point at which a story has run its course, and repeated attempts to infuse freshness or originality are no longer sufficient. This is a phenomenon that has plagued many film franchises, and additional installments can serve only to weaken the overall legacy of an idea that, at its inception, may have been superb. But there are exceptions, the rare opportunities where, rather than create more of the same, there is a genuinely new and invigorating take that manages to function well enough on its own and do its origin story proud. A prime and fantastic example is Pixar’s latest, Lightyear.
Buzz Lightyear is a space ranger, who, with his companion and friend Alisha, explores new worlds. When he makes a mistake during a visit to a hostile planet, Buzz finds himself stranded with an entire crew of suspended passengers who are awoken and build a colony where they are. When Buzz has the chance to find a way off the planet, he takes it, and when he fails to achieve the goal of his mission, he continues trying, over and over again, losing years each time he takes a ride in space for mere minutes and returning to a future that doesn’t feel at all familiar or welcoming to the tenets he values.
Lightyear opens with a title card describing how a kid named Andy got a toy from his favorite movie in 1995 and that this is that movie. That’s a crucial moment which serves to separate this from its Toy Story connections, making it the backstory of Buzz Lightyear the actual Space Ranger and not the toy who believes that he can fly even though, as Woody so often tells him, he’s just a toy. While he’ll forever be linked with that franchise’s legacy, it’s great to get a new start to this character, one that involves the strong choice of Chris Evans as his voice, leading an equally terrific voice cast.
Like so many other Pixar films in the best of ways, Lightyear functions on multiple levels that should make it a crowdpleaser for both children and adults. Its space travel concepts include time dilation, where years pass on the planet while Buzz spends minutes or hours in space, and the plotlines explored are reminiscent of some of the best science fiction films, including Interstellar and Star Wars. Yet it is also family-friendly, with the fantastic and simple addition of a same-sex couple that signals support for all types of families and has predictably led to condemnation from those who feel it serves only to indoctrinate a young and fragile audience.
But that spirit of inclusion is key to the message of Lightyear, which explores the way in which multiple perspectives are key to any situation. Buzz, for all the excitement and confidence his signature enthusiasm conveys, is most in need of a broadening of his mind, attuned only to what he believes is right and not willing to hear out the opinions and ideas of those around him, including Izzy, who wants to share what she thinks and is disheartened by his initial failure to even try to listen to her. This is, after all, a movie kids will enjoy, so there’s hope for our hero and his ability to evolve, just as the rest of us could all serve to do at least a few times in our lives.
While it would be a mistake to declare that this could be the start of a long and successful franchise, there are so many wonderful and effective elements at play here that it would be a waste not to return to this world. The animation is just as phenomenal as always, the voice actors are excellent, and the story is full of humor and heart. Everything works so well that it would be hard to imagine Lightyear as a standalone film, and it gets the added bonus of being spun off from a beloved film that makes a truly strong case for why its protagonist loved Buzz Lightyear so much.
Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+