Written by Alex Gilston
Pixar pins it’s post-pandemic hopes on a slightly more familiar property, taking us back to their roots. Charting the origins of the famous Toy Story character Buzz Lightyear, in an ambitious sci-fi adventure for all the family. Lightyear could mark Pixar’s first step into over ambition which will leave audiences more confused than entertained.
In the months leading up to the release of Lightyear, it wasn’t made perfectly clear what parameters the film existed in, but two opening cards confirm that Lightyear is the film that Andy from Toy Story would have watched to make him want the Buzz Lightyear toy. If that sounds a little confusing, it’s because it is. This detail is much more effective for the people watching Lightyear that would have watched Toy Story as children. When Buzz (voiced by Chris Evans in this iteration) first comes on screen with his fellow Star Commander Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) a child behind me in my screening exclaimed something along the lines of ‘They look too big to be toys’. Put it this way I wouldn’t want to be the parent who has to try and explain how this whole thing works to a 5 year old.
Lightyear follows the titular character as he and a Star Command squadron go off course to an uncharted planet and subsequently get stuck. To get off the planet they have to invent their own way of achieving hyperspace travel. After one trip sends Buzz Lightyear twenty years into the future he must bring a rag-tag group of rookies together to defeat the evil before them. The opening third of the film is incredibly promising, using a series of time jumps which pave the way for some effective emotional beats. The next two thirds that follow this are more generic, and the plot twist in the final act still can’t elevate it.
The voice cast delivers some decent performances. Chris Evans gives everything he can to the role despite it taking some time to get used to not hearing Tim Allen. Keke Palmer adds some of the charm as Izzy Hawthorne, but Peter Sohn’s Sox helps it overflow, injecting some much needed humour into a, at times, dry atmosphere.
The main problem with Lightyear boils down to not knowing what film it wants to be. Does it want to be a nostalgia trip for the 90s kids and Toy Story fans, or does it want to be a film that everyone can enjoy? In trying to do both it gets stuck on this middle road that never quite lets it jump to infinity and beyond. When we’re all aware of what Pixar is capable of, even as recently as with Domee Shi’s wonderful Turning Red, it’s disappointing.