I learned something going to the latest Pixar movie Lightyear. (As a critic you need to keep learning, growing and expanding your idea of what makes a great film). I realized a film can have a very questionable concept and premise but if it is executed with enough panache and good spirits I don’t care. A talented filmmaker can take a convoluted and jumbled premise and make a compelling film. Likewise a poor filmmaker can take a simple premise and execute it into a big mess (Superman 4 comes to mind).
I have had many a Pixar devotee explain to me the concept of this movie. Evidently in the world of Toy Story there was a movie about a space ranger man named Buzz Lightyear (at first they said this was a true story in that world but that has clearly been abandoned given there are aliens and evil Emperor Zurg appears). This film was evidently the Star Wars of the Toy Story world and young Andy was a big fan (he was 6 at the start of the first film which is pretty young but we’ll go with it).
The Lightyear movie (which we get a title card to at the beginning saying this is the movie Andy watched) was so popular that like Ghostbusters and Robocop it spawned an animated series in 1995 (ala Saturday morning cartoons). Then the animated series inspired the doll which Andy got for his birthday and it proceeded to ruin Woody’s life. That’s why in this movie there aren’t many of the catchphrases or Tim Allen’s voice (Chris Evan’s plays Buzz here, which I still think it is weird because most animated series still use at least soundalikes for the live action characters).
Anyway, all that explanation helps us get started with the new movie Lightyear. I definitely think it is a risk to present a new version of a beloved character like Buzz (think Runaway Brain with its horror version of Mickey Mouse which upset many people), but my friends tell me it won’t be a problem for the average moviegoer so who knows? I guess we will see.
So after explaining all that nonsense how is the actual movie? To my somewhat skeptical surprise it was an enjoyable space adventure. As distracting as all the Toy Story connections are, the core story and characters are fun and the animation is terrific.
The story takes Buzz Lightyear space ranger- human person, onto a distant planet where a group of explorers are trying to get back to their home planet. Buzz has a group of ranger friends including his best friend Alisha (Uzo Aduba) and a robotic cat named Sox (director Peter Sohn). We also get to know a pen-obsessed ranger Mo (Taika Waititi) and an older ranger named Darby Steel (Efren Ramirez).
I won’t give any more spoilers but Buzz goes on his adventures and the passage of time takes its toll on all of the characters. Similar to Up we get an emotional montage at the beginning involving one of the characters that is moving and lovely. We also have tons of fun with Sox who is destined to go down as one of the great Disney cats (I wrote a whole history of Disney cats a few years ago so I know!). Even if kids don’t get the convoluted concept they may like Sox enough to enjoy Lightyear regardless.
There are parts of the story in Lightyear I didn’t love. The villain felt strange and heavy-handed, which I didn’t care for. Also it’s only 105 minutes but it felt long in spots. I wasn’t with kids when I saw it but I can imagine especially young kids getting fidgety in sections.
Like I said, I went into this film skeptical. The trailers hadn’t impressed me, and I still think the concept is a reach. But the wizards at Pixar worked their magic and managed to win me over. I kind of wish it was an entirely new franchise without all the distractions but we’ll see how audiences respond. I recommend seeing it on the IMAX if possible. The animation is gorgeous and deserves as big a screen as it can be seen on (especially since the last 3 Pixar movies haven’t gotten that consideration it feels extra special).
7 out of 10
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19 thoughts on “[REVIEW] ‘Lightyear’ or Fun Space Movie About a Version of Buzz? I Guess?… (Pixar 47)”
Like you, I’m skeptical of this film, so wasn’t really planning on seeing it. But who knows?
It’s best if you just accept it as its own thing and not a Buzz Lightyear movie
I just wrote my own review of Lightyear, and I actually really liked it.
I do agree that Andy being a little young to see Lightyear unsupervised (BTW, Andy was 7 in Toy Story 1, not 6). However, I was in kindergarten when I first saw Shrek in theaters (it was part of a field trip), and that film had lots of dirty jokes.
I also felt that, without giving away any spoilers, Zurg’s origin story is similar to Rex Dangervest’s in The LEGO Movie 2.
Also, when I saw the movie in theaters, I was given a poster created by production designer Tim Evatt of Andy seeing Lightyear in the movie theater along with some of his toys: Woody, Lenny, Rex, Hamm, the Army Men, and even though they wouldn’t join the group until Toy Story 2, the Pizza Planet Aliens.
Anyway, great review as always, and I’m interested to hear what you’ll think of Minions: The Rise of Gru. I’ll definitely skip, but my dad wants to see it so badly.
I basically agree with your thoughts on the movie. I watched this with my dad in the theater yesterday, and if you take it as what it is, it really is a perfectly acceptable, passively enjoyable film. It is nothing special, but does feel like a movie that would exist inside another movie.
Something I noticed you didn’t mention is that there was another movie made exploring the fictional Buzz’s origins over 20 years ago that came out direct-to-video and served as a pilot to a spin-off series. According to the filmmakers, this movie is supposed to have inspired that, and I think that’s what makes the film work, when you realize it’s just a prelude to something else, and this doesn’t in and of itself explain what justified the Buzz Lightyear phenomenon that took off in the Toy Story universe.
I enjoyed the visual callbacks to 2001, too. It was funny to see the outdated 1990s model of futuristic gear replacing the far more modern-looking suits, too.
I only have a few real complaints: I am very irritated that they have gotten rid of Pixar hallmarks like the short before a film or John Ratzenberger’s appearance. (Have we even gotten any reason for this? He’s doing voice work for another non-Pixar animated film later this year.) A113 doesn’t even appear in this, either, so the only one of the 3 Pixar hallmarks is the Pizza Planet truck!
Also, Alisha was a very strong and likable character and she shouldn’t have been killed off so early, especially given this is a poor habit of works trying to show LGBT representation.
Basically that animated feature is part of the series that the doll is based off of. The director has said it’s similar to Ghostbusters that had an animated series based on the movie loosely and then toys based on the animated series. It’s a stretch of a concept but whatever.
I think not having Ratzenberger makes sense because he already voices Hamm in the Toy Story world so that would be weird for him to have another character’s voice. I’m sure that’s why they didn’t do it.
Then why wasn’t he in Luca or Turning Red? Or Soul apart from his animated likeness?
I dont know but you can’t have him voicing 2 characters in a movie Andy’s toys could potentially watch
I don’t see why not. Harry Morgan played a character in The Apple Dumpling Gang and then a completely different one in the sequel.
It’s pretty obvious Pixar is parting ways with Ratzenberger for some reason.
Yeah but in the world of this movie the Toy Story characters still exist as separate dolls that Andy got after seeing this movie. They could watch this movie (we see them playing video games and watching stuff all the time). This isn’t a spinoff but supposedly in the same world as the other movies. That’s why the concept was so dumb. They should have just made a space movie and then they could have whatever voice actors they want
I have to be honest I don’t think it matters if the concept is dumb. As you said what matters is the execution and that’s something I discovered years ago with films like The Brave Little Toaster and Kung Fu Panda.
Yeah just a little distracting is all and I think it is the reason it’s underperforming more than a protest or whatever
But you could be right about Ratzenberger. I have no idea. The Toy Story angle to this was just distracting imo
Let me know if I’ve gotten that wrong and there IS an appearance of A113.
Not sure about A113
Also they really do kind of drop the ball with the third act when it comes to creating a memorable villain, and the whole concept of another Buzz coming back from the future just makes things confusing, and comes out of left field.
Yeah that’s a spoiler but it’s what I was referring to in the review as not loving the villain plot line
So, I enjoyed the first half, but then I felt like it was getting a bit convoluted or I just didn’t care about the characters enough. I also learned that I am apparently too old/overworked to see a 9pm movie on a Friday night LOL, because I fell asleep for the last 15 minutes or so. I definitely need to rewatch it but don’t feel compelled to back to the theaters.
Sox was fantastic though. I wasn’t too bothered by the whole idea that it was a different sort of Buzz Lightyear, but I had a hard time feeling like it was the type of film that a 6 year old would fall in love with? I dunno, if I was Andy I’d be wanting a Sox toy, not a Buzz 😉
I’m about to start grad school and I want a Sox toy, too.