Movie Review: Lightyear

From Disney and Pixar, the companies that have mastered the art of milking the hell out of their IP, comes the origin story to the cultural phenomenon that is known as the TOY STORY franchise. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past two years, LIGHTYEAR is the “1995 film” (my quotation marks) that led to little Andy getting a Buzz Lightyear action figure from his parents in the first TOY STORY film.

In the film, Buzz (Chris Evans, the AVENGERS franchise, KNIVES OUT; BEFORE WE GO), a Galactic Ranger in the Star Command, is exploring a distant planet with his commanding officer and best friend, Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba, TV’s ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK), when they and their crew suddenly find themselves stranded. One year later, the crew has built a colony on the planet and repaired their ship but they need to test their hyperspace fuel before they can leave. Buzz volunteers to test it but when he returns after a four-minute flight, he discovers that four years have passed on the planet. To help him cope with the change, Alisha assigns him SOX (Peter Sohn, SOUL; TOY STORY 4; COCO; INSIDE OUT), a robotic cat that becomes his companion. More tests take place and, each time Buzz returns, both time and his colleagues have moved on while he has barely aged. When Buzz’s test finally is a success, the planet and people he knew have all changed. Alisha has grown old and died, and now her granddaughter, Izzy (Keke Palmer, HUSTLERS) and her misfit sidekicks, Mo Morrison (Taika Waititi, JOJO RABBIT, the THOR films; WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS), and Darby Steel (Dale Soules, THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST; TV’s ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK), are Buzz’s only hope to ever make it back to Earth. But Buzz has a new challenge in the form of Emperor Zurg (James Brolin, THE 33), who is the leader of an invading robotic army.

Not surprisingly, LIGHTYEAR borrows very heavily from another Disney mega-property, STAR WARS, and there are many scenes that wink a computer-generated eye to that franchise’s first two films (i.e., STAR WARS and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK). It also borrows from INTERSTELLAR, TOP GUN: MAVERICK (though that one might just have been a fluke), 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and, my friend says, the early INDIANA JONES films. I’m not so convinced about the last one but he is. The story moves along at a good clip so it’s a good choice for both adults and children, the animation is as good as what we’ve come to expect with a Pixar production, there are some good takeaways about friendship, trust and life choices, and Evans does a good job stepping into Tim Allen’s shoes. And that’s the problem with LIGHTYEAR. It’s just good which, as the saying goes, is the enemy of great. It’s not going to break any box office records and, if you’re going to compare it to any of the TOY STORY films, it’s going to come in fifth.

What is great about LIGHTYEAR, though, is SOX, who is a cross between R2-D2 and C3PO. SOX is by far the most interesting character in the story, not that there’s much competition. Izzy, Mo and Darby are just not that memorable. If I was kid though, I’d be bugging my parents for a SOX doll right now. Buzz who? I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of SOX in the inevitable LIGHTYEAR sequel.

The film is already courting a fair bit of negative press with Patricia Heaton (EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND) tweeting the other day that Disney/Pixar castrated Buzz by not casting Tim Allen in the role.

Not to be outdone, 14 Muslim countries have decided to ban the film from their cinemas because of a lesbian kiss. The ridiculousness of this move is that the kiss happens between spouses so one has to wonder if these countries are okay with same-sex marriage but not same-sex kissing. Moreover, the kiss happens so fast and it’s so innocuous that if you blink, you will miss it. I was expecting cartoon woman-on-woman serious snogging action but that doesn’t happen here. It’s a peck! Good on Disney, though, for not snipping out the offending half-second.

LIGHTYEAR opened in Hong Kong yesterday (June 16th). It also opens around the world over the next day or two… unless you live in one of those 14 countries that have banned it. Check it out in the cinema or wait 45 days for it to land on Disney+. It’s perfectly good.

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