While part of me thinks that a Buzz Lightyear movie is somewhat unnecessary due to all of the TOY STORY movies and the spinoff straight to video, this long-awaited spinoff LIGHTYEAR is finally here, warts and all. The movie opens on an amusing title card that tells us that the movie we are about to see was a kid’s favourite movie after he got a toy for his birthday. Immediate memories came flooding back of that Saturday afternoon matinee screening of TOY STORY that I saw in 1995 with an audience of all ages, completely overwhelmed with the idea that a movie could entirely be made on computers. Yet in this case, we are seeing what would have been Andy’s favourite movie. And while there are some qualms as to the actual content in here, much of it warranted with the current PC culture, there is still quite a bit of fun to be had here.
Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Chris Evans, replacing Tim Allen) has crashed an exploration spaceship on a new planet. The crew on board go on with this new planet and inhabiting into this new space, and Buzz tries as best he can to create tests with hyperspace fuel cells to get everyone home. Problem is, every time he tries this he goes to the speed of light and everyone around him ages while he doesn’t. He does this so often that generations pass and even his commander Alisha has a kid and then granddaughter. By the time he keeps trying and Emperor Zurg (James Brolin!) comes along and invades the planet, Buzz now teams up with Alisha’s granddaughter Izzy and other comrades to save the day.
Throughout there are not only a lot of fun references to the TOY STORY franchise but also 2001, STAR TREK, ALIEN. There’s even a nod to INTERSTELLAR if you think about it. And it isn’t just the references; there are all the usual little Easter eggs from other Pixar movies, right down to a key display on a ship looks like the Atari logo. Then there’s also the evil Zerg, who has a couple of great moments here in a much more enhanced bad-guy than what was just teased in TOY STORY 2.
LIGHTYEAR has a strong energy throughout, a thrilling visual design and even hits a few notes on aging and moving on with your life that quite surprised me. It is done in such a way that I think even younger kids could understand and relate to, especially when it comes to seeing your friends older while you stay the same. Buzz Lightyear has more in common with the Chris Pine STAR TREK era stubbornness built into him, clearly not taking a no-win scenario as a solution. I also liked his relationship with Izzy as it was pretty no-nonsense between the two of them. Stealing the show is the C-3P0/R2D2 of the show in Sox the android Cat, a little ball of wonder that I wish Andy would have loved enough to be put into the original series in some way. Though the voice work by Peter Sohn isn’t my favourite — it could have been a lot more comedic — this is still a great character that will be the thing I remember most about the movie.
Overall LIGHTYEAR does entertain in its animated world but it really doesn’t go much further than that. I seriously doubt this would be the mid 90s movie that Andy would have seen (the critical comments about some of the more PC aspects of the movie I understand and are quite warranted) and yet even with a slightly sluggish middle act, this is still visually fun actioner with a lot of references throughout its runtime to recommend.
LIGHTYEAR is now playing in theatres.