Back when you watched the original Toy Story (1995) for the first time, did you ever wonder what movie a young Andy saw to make him so excited to own a Buzz Lightyear toy? No? Well, me neither… but they’ve given us that movie anyway. Lightyear follows Buzz Lightyear, a Space Ranger who embarks on a last-ditch effort to complete his most daring mission yet – attempting to save his people and survive the onslaught of the evil Zurg and his army of robots.
To my surprise, I had an absolute blast with Lightyear – it’s a fun and fast-paced space adventure with all the action, laughs and intrigue I could’ve asked for. Right from the get-go, I was wholly invested in this story and its characters, both on an emotional level and a purely entertainment level. Being primarily for kids, it’s not overly complex – it sets up the main narrative very simply and gets right into fleshing out its characters. I was shocked by how I found myself so emotionally attached to both Buzz (Chris Evans) and Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) in such a short amount of time. I guess that’s just the storytelling power of Pixar on full display – their ability to get you hooked on certain characters within minutes. The writing rides this fine line of never really delving extremely deep into various character relationships, while still giving you enough to understand their history and be emotionally invested in their journey. There’s a real emotional weight to the story I should’ve expected but didn’t at all. It’s not one of Pixar’s all-out tear-jerkers, but it hits you in the feels at some key moments.
Now, from a purely entertainment-based standpoint, I loved the adventure we’re sent on. It really is like a Buzz Lightyear theme park ride – just leaping from one fun action sequence to the next in pretty quick succession. Sure, there’s some necessary moments of downtime to develop its characters, but I was never bored or wanting the story to hurry along. It really did make me feel like a kid watching a cool space adventure of my favourite toy – which was absolutely its goal. Besides being relatively simple in its story, there’s some great surprises within that I very much enjoyed. The characters are all pretty strongly written, maybe aside from Commander Burnside (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), who is very one-dimensional by design.
As far as the performances go, all of the talk and light “controversy” was surrounding the casting of Chris Evans as Buzz Lightyear (the man, not the toy). Where I stand on it is that it makes complete sense within the context of the movie why it would be a different person voicing Buzz, so I understand the decision. But at the same time, they could have just used Tim Allen and no one would have thought twice about the in-universe logistics. Within the movie though, I really enjoyed Chris Evans in the role – so much so that I didn’t even really think of the fact that it was a different voice actor. He fit seamlessly into the role and it didn’t take me out of it at all. Both Keke Palmer (Izzie) and Taika Waititi (Mo) have some great moments and interactions with Chris. They both dish out strong comedic beats, while Keke also contributes a little to the emotional weight of a couple of moments. The MVP has to be Peter Sohn as SOX, Buzz’s feline assistant. Every moment was SOX was comedic gold – and that’s down to both the strength of the writing and Peter’s well-casted performance.
Being a Pixar film, it goes without saying the animation is going to be stunning. It may not be the most visually-arresting of their projects but it’s still beautiful to look at. The space sequences are absolutely mesmerising – specifically the hyperspeed scenes, which are undeniably gorgeous. Everything is just so crisp and well-polished that it’s hard to not get lost in the beauty of what you’re watching.
In the end, Lightyear is a film that all ages are bound to enjoy – whether you’re an adult who loved Toy Story as a kid, or this is your entry-point to that world. It’s packed to the brim with visual references to the Toy Story films, and it also hits a number of callback quotes that make it even more rewarding for franchise fans. There’s nothing about the film that I disliked – it’s fun from beginning to end, contains great jokes throughout and the story actually has some emotional weight to it. As long as you can get over the inconsequential fact that Chris Evans is Buzz Lightyear, you’ll have a blast!