Pixar burst onto the scene with unique and imaginative stories. Their latest movie is a movie watched by characters from one of their other movies. You are likely asking “Why?” or sighing “Whatever,” depending on where on the frowny face pain scale the world has put you lately. “Lightyear” isn’t as bad as it sounds. It simply has no purpose or reason to exist. Just like the rest of us!
The movie begins with terse sentences that explain the premise better than what had to be $50 million in marketing over the span of a year. This is ostensibly the 1996 movie that Andy from “Toy Story” watched that made him want a Buzz Lightyear action figure. Had Pixar actually made a 90s-era sci-fi movie that a grade-school kid would have fallen in love with, there would be a lot more exclamation points in this review.
Andy was 6 years old in “Toy Story.” No 6-year-old has ever fallen in love with a movie about learning your limitations and letting go of your dreams by making the best of your circumstances. You do not get a Scouting badge for that. You don’t accept that your dreams are dumb and pointless until after you’re burdened with student loan debt. Please know that I am not kidding about the moral of “Lightyear.”
Buzz (Chris Evans) is a Space Ranger who accidentally maroons a huge ship full of people on a hostile alien world. With the misguided support of his best friend and commander, Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba), he keeps trying to get them home. This involves testing out fuel sources for interstellar travel. Because of the very loose “laws” of physics, each four-minute flight keeps him away for around four years, relative to those stuck on the angry jungle planet.
After a slew of failed attempts, he returns to find the granddaughter of his BFF, Izzy Hawthorne (Keke Palmer), leading a ragtag group of rejects against evil robots. With only his robot cat, Buzz must soon decide between his commitment to “finish the mission” at all costs or change his outlook on life. It’s a cartoon, so it’s not as hard for him.
Something is missing here. The elements all seem to be present: A goofy side character voiced by Taika Waititi, a villainous plot twist, absolutely stunning animation. But the twinkle don’t flicker in the characters’ eyes. Not just because they are 1s and 0s with no soul, Google swears. The Pixar spark is absent.
For example, they establish a sci-fi world where literally anything in imagination is possible and they went with…a planet with grabby jungle vines? There’s a gag about how things change in the future that hinges on people deciding sandwiches should be two pieces of meat containing one slice of bread. That is…not clever. Or insightful. It feels like a placeholder joke that somebody accidentally animated so they had to run with it.
After the tsunami of worship for “Top Gun: Maverick,” it is delightful to see a movie in which a militaristic white dude (even a CGI one) accepts his fallibility and grows as a person. The action pieces are crisp and the pace is breezy, but it feels so slight and irrelevant. Pixar used to gut you, remember? It used to stab your heart and make you feel in a raw, real way. Other than “Cars.” This one seems to say “I don’t know, maybe giving up is good?” Pixar, do you need a hug?
Grade = B-
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Collier Jennings at But Why Tho? says “Though it isn’t as groundbreaking as ‘Soul’ or ‘Turning Red,’ it still has enough of Pixar’s trademark emotional weight and character work to make it worth a watch.”
Jonita Davis at The Black Cape Mag says “One of the things I loved about the film is how it utilizes Hawthorne to normalize all kinds of families, and just in time for a Pride Month discussion with the kids.”
Kristy Puchko at Mashable says “Director Angus MacLane offers exhilarating action sequences, involving racing rockets, robot armies, and a truly breathtaking space walk. The animation is Pixar in its comfort zone, building incredible worlds full of adorably oddball characters.”