Synopsis: While spending years attempting to return home, marooned Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear encounters an army of ruthless robots commanded by Zurg, who is trying to steal his fuel source.
Stars: Chris Evans, Uzo Aduba, James Brolin, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Keke Palmer, Efren Ramirez, Peter Sohn, Dale Soules, Taika Waititi, Isiah Whitlock Jr.
Director: Angus MacLane
Running Length: 100 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: Strangely, in this age of audiences clamoring for the next installment of the big franchise film, the one studio that gets slapped on the hand for sequel-izing their big projects the most is PIXAR. I don’t know why it happens, but I consistently see upturned noses at the landmark computer animation studio taking their established work and branching them off in different directions. Heads were really spinning when Disney announced that PIXAR would be releasing Lightyear, a prequel (of sorts) to their first mega-hit Toy Story, which celebrates its 27th birthday in 2022. Perhaps it was the still fresh bruise of the arrival of Toy Story 4 in 2019 after many fans thought Toy Story 3 ended the series so well, but the advance anticipation of a new chapter in this universe was grim.
With the full disclaimer broadcasting to you that I’m over the age limit for being able to honestly grade these movies (if the screenings weren’t so late at night, I could bring a few younger critics that would really give their opinions), I’m pleased to report that Lightyear is a zippy ride into pre-Toy Story lore and one that shouldn’t ruffle too many feathers in the fandom. As the title card that preceded the film explains, Andy received his Buzz Lightyear action figure in the original Toy Story after he saw him in a movie. Lightyear is that movie. Wrap your head around that for a moment, adjust your bearings, and let’s move forward.
Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans, Knives Out) is a headstrong Space Ranger on a mission with his fellow ranger Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba, Miss Virginia) and a new rookie recruit (Bill Hader, IT: Chapter Two). They’ve landed on a mysterious planet, but fall under attack before they can accomplish their task. Buzz being Buzz, he tries to save the day but winds up stranding the three of them (as well as an entire crew back at the ship) on the desolate planet. Working to find a way off the planet takes time, and when Buzz and Alisha finally figure out how to return home, it comes with time-altering consequences. The more Buzz attempts the mission in space, the faster time moves back on the planet. Everyone ages except for Buzz.
As the years/missions pass, Buzz continues his trials, accompanied by SOX, a robot cat meant to stave off any psychological trauma of the time he’s losing but who winds up a valuable asset (to Buzz and the movie). Just as he figures out a way home, the evil Zurg appears and threatens to destroy the colony that has been built to sustain life for the crew while they await their home trek. Banding together with a multi-generational bunch of misfits, none of whom initially measure up to Space Ranger standard in the eyes of Buzz, the veteran ranger will need to trust his new team to have his back as he learns to let go and truly lead. Yet there are still secrets to be revealed about the origin of Zurg and once unveiled, will it change the mission goal or push Buzz and his team to go beyond the limits of their strength?
Director Angus MacLane keeps the action fast and, more importantly, fun for audiences that were kids when the original film came out and are probably taking their children to this new adventure. If I’m honest, the overall look of Lightyear comes off like a Disney+ film that tested well enough to get a theatrical run. I can’t say why a more earnest effort like Turning Red would get shuffled off to the streaming service…but it shouldn’t deter you from giving this one a go. It has a sizable amount of creative inspiration and inclusion (the mismatched gang Buzz has to lead is of varying ages and sizes), not to mention a fully formed same-sex relationship that isn’t the focus but isn’t pushed to the side as tokenism either.