LIGHTYEAR is directed by Angus MacLane. It features the voices of Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, James Brolin, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules, Uzo Aduba, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Efren Ramirez, and Isiah Whitlock Jr.
LIGHTYEAR is the in-universe movie on which the Buzz Lightyear toy in TOY STORY is based. In the film, Lightyear is a member of the Space Rangers, an elite unit dedicated to keeping the peace in the galaxy and patrolling and exploring uncharted space. When he and his crew find themselves stranded on a desolate planet, he vows to keep his oath of fulfilling the mission, getting the crew home. But when unexpected complications propel Lightyear further ahead in time, he must team up with a crew of misfits to blow up a mysterious spaceship that prevents any chance they may have of returning to their former home.
It's nice to see Pixar is getting a movie in theaters again, with so much of their recent output, despite its quality, winding up on the Disney+ streaming service. LIGHTYEAR isn’t the first time we’ve gotten an attempt to tell the story of the fictional character who inspired the toy in TOY STORY; there was a 2D animated Disney series prior to this that attempted to do the same.
So how does LIGHTYEAR fare? Overall, the movie is a fun sci-fi action adventure that still manages to pack in enough of the familiar Pixar beats that makes their movies good for young and old alike. The casting, animation, and action sequences are all fantastic, even if it’s totally predictable and derivative.
I’m glad to see LIGHTYEAR isn’t a rush job. The animation in the film is beautiful and colorful enough to keep the attention of viewers of all ages; I have no doubt this will be a gorgeous looking film come the eventual home video releases with the HDR treatment. Character designs and the settings all look fantastic. Pixar has created another film that’s a sight to behold, in every sense of the words!
The character designs and personalities fare just as well. With few exceptions, most of the characters outside of Mr. Lightyear himself are new to this film, and they flesh out this universe well. From hard, no-nonsense commanders to eccentric misfits who are as hilarious as they are inept, and a talking robot cat who steals the show in every scene he’s in, everyone’s favorite Space Ranger gets the supporting cast he deserves.
In many ways, the film feels like a love letter to science fiction. There are the expected STAR WARS homages, and Michael Giacchino’s musical score is reminiscent of John Williams’ work from that iconic sci-fi series. I won’t spoil the other references and moments here, as they really should be seen to be appreciated.
While the voice casting is solid, I am somewhat questionable as to the choice of voice actor for the title character. Chris Evans is a great actor, having proven himself many times over in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Captain America, and even in a handful of other solid roles. In the TOY STORY movies, the toy of Buzz Lightyear was voiced by Tim Allen; the official explanation of why Allen was asked not to reprise the role is because this is supposed to be a more serious take on the character, rather than the somewhat bumbling “toy” version from those films. The problem here is that, Evans’ voice acting more or less feels like an impersonation of Allen. So, what’s the point? If you’re going to hire Chris Evans to voice the character, have him sound like himself. Not an impersonation of the guy he’s succeeding in the role and is supposed to be distanced from.
If there’s one weakness about LIGHTYEAR, it’s that there’s just nothing original here. It’s stuff we’ve seen in a million films before. Some parts feel like deliberate homages, but that leaves no room for the movie to try anything surprising. Much of the overall plot I could see coming from a mine away. The villains of the movie are also introduced too late in the movie to really make an impact. You’ll be entertained by LIGHTYEAR, but not surprised by it.
LIGHTYEAR is unoriginal and about as derivative as can be, but there’s no denying it’s entertaining for young and old nonetheless. The animation, colorful locales, entertaining characters, and action sequences come together for something that’s solid enough, and for most audiences, that’ll be enough. Recommended.