Not the origin story you’d expect or associate with an already well established character, Lightyear paints a unique picture. Pixar essentially wants you to view this through the lens of those in the Toy Story world (like Andy for instance). The opening text to the movie reads “In 1995 Andy got a toy. That toy was based on a movie. This is that movie.” Establishing early on that this is how Buzz Lightyear came to be in that talking toy world.
It’s a concept that is worthy of praise. Having already had two satisfying conclusions to the series, Toy Story is a product of Pixar that ultimately has nothing left to say. So it’s an ‘origin story’ that despite continuing the brand which shaped it, has its own separate agenda. Pixar gives Lightyear – and its director Angus MacLane – a blank canvas to worth with.
Although that canvas is painted with great imagery, stunning visual detail and beams with colour, less strokes are taken with its plot devices and intriguing character development, leaving this spin-off lightyears away from the saga that once took this character to infinity and beyond.
After its contextual opening message, Lightyear wastes no time plunging us into the space adventure that Buzz – this time voiced by Chris Evans – and his fellow space rangers are a part of. When Buzz and his crew get stranded on the planet T’Kani Prime, he volunteers himself to test pilot a hyperspace crystal, but the effects scramble with his time frame, meaning minutes for him is years for everybody else. Desperate in his quest to return everybody home, Buzz continues to jeopardize his livelihood so he can complete his mission. He eventually crosses paths with a rookie unit consisting of Izzy, Mo, Darby and a robotic support cat named SOX, voiced by Keke Palmer, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules and Peter Sohn respectively.
Lightyear is in no way a close descendant of the Toy Story movies that came before it. It both wants to and tries to be included in that world, but the more it does that, the less it actually feels connected. It raises more questions to the franchise dating back to the opener in ’95, like why would these other characters never show up again? And are we really to believe that animation was that good back then? These questions – though you could argue not necessary – present arguments that perhaps this would’ve just been better off as a complete stand alone.
Although it’s sad that Tim Allen (the man responsible for voicing Buzz throughout Toy Story’s tenure) wasn’t offered the opportunity to reprise his role, Evans is equally as enjoyable, often making you forget that there’s a switch at all. The real MVP’s however are Taika’s Mo and Sohn’s SOX. Both adding the charisma and kookiness that this movie otherwise lacks.
I can’t say I was thrilled when I heard the news that Pixar’s trademark toy would once again be brought out the box at the expense of some quick bucks. It lacks that special quality which made the Toy Story franchise such a big hit. It has some thrills, has some cool gags, but all in all Lightyear fails to reach the stars. Maybe it’s time to put the toys away for good and cherish in the memories we’ve had over years and leave it with that.