Film Review: Lightyear
Director: Angus MacLane
In Theaters 06.17
My nephews, ages three and six, came with me to the press screening of Lightyear. When we were in the car after the movie, the six-year-old, Timmy, said: “You know, it started out with this kinda Toy Story vibe, but then it turned into a whole different movie.” It was a well-expressed, astute observation, and one of the proudest moments of this critic’s life.
Lightyear begins with an opening crawl that explains that the movie we are about to see was the movie that inspired a boy named Andy to ask for a Buzz Lightyear toy in 1995. In other words, it’s Star Wars.
This perfectly sets the tone for the film, which follows a Star Command Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Chris Evans) on a mission into unmapped space. After a mishap, Buzz, his commander and the rest of the crew find themselves stranded on an uncharted planet, T’Kani Prime, 4.2 million light-years from Earth. Buzz must find a way to get himself and his comrades—including his “emotional support robot,” a cat named Sox (Peter Sohn)—back home through hyperspace. As they experiment with a new, alternative fuel source, the crew run into problems with time dilation that complicate things considerably. Above all, Buzz will have to get past Zurg, a mysterious alien presence who shows up with a formidable robot army at the ready.
Writer-Director Angus MacLane (Toy Story of Terror!) hasn’t set out to make a Toy Story movie here, or even something in that vein. Lightyear is meant to be a fast-paced, thrilling sci-fi adventure—albeit a kid-friendly one—that merely uses the connection to Toy Story as a jumping-off point. Frankly, it’s a way to coax audiences into theaters in an era when people simply don’t come out in droves to see anything that isn’t based on an existing intellectual property. If you’re expecting something as brilliant, hilarious or profound as Toy Story, you may feel disappointed by Lightyear. On the other hand, if you compare it to any recent Star Wars, Star Trek or Marvel movie, Lightyear stacks up quite favorably with the very best of them as grand popcorn entertainment with genuinely smart science-fiction elements. Lightyear also has plenty of humor and heart in comparison to those films, and frankly, I believe that the small number of critics who aren’t loving Lightyear didn’t have as firm of a grasp on what they had just watched as my precociously sophisticated little nephew does.
The cast of characters is memorable. Evans isn’t replacing Tim Allen, he’s playing a different character who shares a strong kinship with the toy we all love. Evans infuses his performance with just enough of Allen’s inflections to create a strong link between them while respecting the separate identities of Buzz the action-movie hero and Buzz the action-figure toy. Keke Palmer (Hustlers, Alice) shines as Izzy, a new recruit to the Space Ranger Corps, and Sox the cat is Baby Yoda–level endearing.
Lightyear is likely to get a lot of positive and negative attention alike for including a significant LGBTQ supporting character with Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba, Orange is the New Black), Buzz’s commanding officer and best friend. It’s neither a major aspect of the plot nor a romance that unfolds on screen, yet it arguably manages to be Disney’s most successful step toward equality in representation. It also nicely presents kids with the concept that men and women can be best friends without their relationship being romantic or sexual in nature. It’s all handled beautifully, and anyone who sees a dangerous agenda here needs to step back, take a look at recent hate-fueled world events and do some serious soul searching in regards to what it really means to keep their children safe.
Lightyear is one of the best adventure movies to come along in a number of years, and it’s likely to be among the best of the summer blockbusters. The key to enjoying it lies in focusing on what the movie is as opposed to what it isn’t even trying to be. If audiences are able to do this, they’ll find Lightyear to be a memorable and engaging blast of space-age fun. –Patrick Gibbs