VOD film review: Lightyear
James R | On 07, Aug 2022
Director: Angus MacLane
Cast: Chris Evans, Uzo Adoba, Keke Palmer, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules, James Brolin, Peter Sohn
“To infinity… and beyond!” That’s the catchphrase Toy Story fans were repeating to each other after Pixar’s 1995 animation introduced us to the adventures of Woody the cowboy and Buzz Lightyear, a space ranger action figure. Fast forward 27 years and the animation giant gives us Lightyear, a solo outing for Buzz – but not the Buzz that we know.
This sci-fi romp is the movie that Andy’s toy in Toy Story was based on – a film-within-a-film that’s entirely fictional. No, Buzz didn’t really exist in Toy Story’s universe, but a franchise-within-a-franchise did. If you can already feel limits creeping in around the infinite possibilities of Buzz Lightyear, you’re not the only one.
We pick things up as Buzz (Chris Evans) is on a hostile planet with his commanding officer and long-time friend, Alisha (Uzo Aduba). Unable to leave the planet, they build a base and Buzz attempts to test a hyperspace drive needed to get them home – only for his voyages to take him further and further away, chronologically speaking. Effectively on his own, he finds himself teaming up with a new crew of younger misfits – Izzy (Keke Palmer), Mo (Taika Waititi) and Darby (Dale Soules) – and together they begin to tackle the problem of the menacing robot forces gathering under the leadership of the sinister Emperor Zurg (James Brolin).
If all this sounds exciting enough, what’s surprising is just how pedestrian the intergalactic adventuring is – nothing here feels surprising or new, with a string of moments that owe a debt to every genre favourite that’s gone before. The cast bring some humour and chemistry to their dialogue and the occasional slice of slapstick, but there’s little energy fuelling things forward – and, with a script that’s nonetheless determined to keep things moving without any real world-building, there’s no chance to be emotionally invested in Buzz’s journey of learning to be part of team. (The fact that we’ve already seen that journey played out in miniature plastic form more than two decades ago doesn’t help.)
The introduction of a robot cat, Sox (Peter Sohn), is cute enough, but feels like an echo of comic-relief sidekicks from Pixars past. Meanwhile, the choice to cast Chris Evans in the lead – regardless of his excellent vocal talents – removes any connection audiences might have with the Buzz that, at least in our timeline, retro-inspired this whole endeavour in the first place. The result is a bland, oddly generic affair, with Michael Giacchino’s soundtrack the only memorable component.
Throughout the 105-minute runtime, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the film doesn’t know who it’s for. Fans of the original film, who have since grown up? Newer viewers who probably don’t give two hoots about the intricacies of merchandising within an animated franchise? Pixar has gone into space before, with WALL-E proving the infinite, inventive possibilities the sci-fi genre can hold. Lightyear doesn’t even make it that far, let alone beyond. The only thing powering this mission is the knowledge that this film one day will capture the imagination of a young CGI boy – but imagination is exactly what’s missing.