Movie Review: Lightyear
Rating: 3 Stars
I’m not sure how director Angus MacLane got through the Disney pitch room with, “It’s a kid-friendly Ad Astra starring Buzz Lightyear,” but here we are.
Beneath vibrant colors and stunning animation, there are well-fleshed-out characters and dialogue packed into Lightyear’s hour and 40-minute run time. Indubitably this is Pixar’s modus operandi. Their films challenge writers to tightly and cohesively convey their stories and themes well within the two-hour mark.
So long as the right fluff is cut out, the formula is usually successful. Case in point, there’s a scene in Lightyear where Buzz meets someone eerily familiar. It’s a scene that could drag on with unnecessary dialog or posturing but the conversation only goes as long as it needs to.
It’s probably fairer to say that Lightyear is derived from Star Trek influences than it was Ad Astra, but adults will find shades of either.
Lightyear is a film about the difficulties in shedding one’s own ego. The original Toy Story explored this theme to a great extent as well.
Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) is a veteran space ranger serving alongside his venerable teammate, Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba). The two are stranded on an unknown but habitable planet in the far reaches of space. Without the proper fuel to make a hyperspace jump, they awake the many scientists aboard and build a space station to test different variations of crystals that’ll send their ship back into hyperspace.
Each attempt Buzz makes ends in failure with the consequence that for the several minutes he is off-planet, years pass on the planet. Alisha grows old and has an entire family lineage. She also gifts Buzz a therapy robot cat named SOX.
A new commander takes charge and affirms to Buzz that there will be no more escape test missions. Coincidentally, SOX discovers the formula for the hyperspace crystal. Buzz escapes for one last try at the hyperspace jump and pulls it off.
As Buzz returns, there’s a new threat of nearly indestructible robots attacking the human base. Buzz crash lands and is immediately found by Alisha’s granddaughter, Izzy (Keke Palmer). Izzy has gathered a gang of misfits to go after the giant ominous ship orbiting above. Buzz finds himself saddled with Izzy’s ragtag crew despite his insistence he can take care of the threat on his own.
There’s plenty of silliness to entertain the kids while the action and drama will satisfy the adults. I found SOX to be quite a lot of fun and have much more depth than I was initially prepared for. A lot of clever and witty writing was reserved for the talking robot cat. There’s a great throwaway visual gag early on when Buzz says he likes to sleep to the sound of white noise and SOX sits by his bed and generously opens his mouth wide for said white noise to spew out.
SOX also has a great line in a pivotal moment as Izzy stands face-to-face with her greatest fear.
Buzz’s nemesis Zurg (James Brolin) makes a few appearances and is quite the menacing villain. His identity definitely caught me off guard and was a central part of the film’s theming.
Izzy’s two companions, Mo and Darby, didn’t do much for me. Darby is a recovering convict and Mo is a fumbling and bumbling human hazard sign. They do and say things for comedic effect but I didn’t find much of it landing with me. The younger audience may enjoy Mo’s antics.
Lightyear isn’t particularly profound nor does it inspire deep inner thought as Soul did, but it does have a lot of life and energy much akin to Onward. It’s an enjoyable watch that takes flawed characters and puts them in uncomfortable situations where the solution becomes prevalent in time.
Lightyear poses that there is more to life than living up to our internal or external pressures, whether those pressures be from our own selfish desires or brought upon by our family lineage.