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Lightyear Movie Review

Lightyear(2022) movie poster

Theatrical Release: June 17, 2022 / Running Time: 105 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Angus MacLane / Writers: Jason Headley, Angus MacLane (screenplay & story); Matthew Aldrich (story)

Voice Cast: Chris Evans (Buzz Lightyear), Keke Palmer (Izzy Hawthorne), Peter Sohn (SOX), Taika Waititi (Mo Morrison), Dale Soules (Darby Steel), James Brolin (Zurg/Old Buzz Lightyear), Uzo Aduba (Alisha Hawthorne), Mary McDonald-Lewis (I.V.A.N.), Isiah Whitlock, Jr. (Commander Burnside), Angus MacLane (ERIC, DERIC & Zyclops), Bill Hader (Featheringhamstan), Efren Ramirez (Airman Diaz), Keira Hairston (Young Izzy)


Pixar has been the gold standard in theatrical animation for over a quarter-century, but their status as industry leader appears to be growing less certain with every year. Part of it is that the competition has caught up. In the past decade,
Sony and Warner have reached the studio's lofty heights with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Lego Movie, respectively. At their very best, Disney and DreamWorks have also been comparable.

But the gap has also narrowed on the basis and nature of Pixar's output. Ever since Toy Story 3 thrust them into the world of billion dollar worldwide grosses in 2010, the studio has been eager to expand the universes of their most beloved brands. Sometimes, it's worked out well and other times, it's looked like commerce being prioritized over art. Their most creative and daring works since the start of the pandemic have been relegated to Disney+ fodder. And even those have fallen short of the brilliance the studio established as their baseline in their first fifteen years of feature filmmaking.

Tonight sees the first North American theatrical release for Pixar in over two years, since COVID cut off Onward at its knees a week into what should have been a long run. Unfortunately, it's for another "brand deposit" and one as uninspired as almost anything bearing their name.

Opening text establishes the premise of Lightyear, which is decidedly not a fifth Toy Story movie, but a galactic action-adventure centering on the heroic space ranger who inspired Andy's new favorite toy in the original 1995 masterpiece. It purports to be the movie that made Andy fall in love with Buzz, but that doesn't exactly align with him getting gifted the plastic action figure by some random kid attending a birthday party improbably close to his family's moving day.

Buzz Lightyear is back but not at all like you remember him in Pixar's uninspired IP play "Lightyear."

Despite that conceit, Lightyear bears no resemblance to a 1990s family film and little to any of the four Toy Story movies. Its closest kin is "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command", the early 2000s Saturday morning ABC cartoon series that was launched by a low-effort direct-to-video release. In contrast to that spin-off's old school 2D aesthetic, Lightyear predictably pushes the envelope technically, showing off just how far CGI animation has evolved since Buzz was first introduced.

Lightyear is a visual and sonic feast and even more so than most Pixar movies, as the studio gets to explore sci-fi settings and human characters with greater realism and less styling than even Brad Bird's stunning Incredibles movies.

Narratively, though, the proceedings leave much to be desired. Our plot hinges upon Buzz being obsessed with mastering a challenging mission, one which sees him reaching warpspeed, blazing through some suspended rings, and aging a day while his colleagues age over four years. Buzz (now voiced by Captain America star Chris Evans instead of Tim Allen) does this again and again, occasionally uttering one of his many memorably deluded one-liners. His best friend at Star Command, Alisha (Uzo Aduba), who is lesbian and African-American because this is 2020s Pixar, grows old and dies.

A brunette Buzz Lightyear is joined by unseasoned space rangers Izzy, SOX, Mo, and Darby in Pixar's "Lightyear."

This leaves Buzz to face tall odds with help from a robotic orange cat named Sox (Peter Sohn) -- by far the most likable character in this world -- and three untrained human misfits: Alisha's granddaughter Izzy (Keke Palmer), elderly convict Darby (Dale Soules), and gangly geek Mo (Taika Waititi). The group dynamic is mildly endearing and there are some genuinely diverting moments, like an only slightly belabored look at the slimy future of sandwiches.

Lightyear is breezy entertainment, even if it never shakes the feeling of being a board-approved play for a ten-figure gross that isn't another sequel that slightly pulls down on Toy Story's legacy.
Toy Story 4 showed that Pixar was capable of making a Toy Story movie that wasn't a masterpiece. Lightyear demonstrates the studio is okay with making a mediocre one with a new take on one of their cornerstone personalities.

Despite the connection to Pixar's most beloved franchise, Lightyear is one of the least broadly-appealing works to date in the studio's now 26-deep canon. This origin movie makes about as much sense as a Woody western or a Rex dino adventure. Obviously, writer-director Angus MacLane (making his solo directing debut after twenty-four years at Pixar) has great affection for Buzz, as do executive producers Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter, who have been around since the very first Toy Story. But deep-seated affection does not keep Buzz's curly Q beard from becoming a tiny dimple. And it is no substitute for an inventive plot, compelling settings, exciting sequences, and complex characters.

Lightyear lacks both humor and humanity, two areas in which the best Pixar movies (especially Toy Story 1 and 3) absolutely shine. That absence may not register with the young moviegoers the film seems most directly aimed at. These are the kids who probably saw Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and will be inundated with ads for the new Minions movie soon opening. Clearly, they could do much worse than Lightyear. But we also know that Pixar could do much better.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: The Bob's Burgers MovieJurassic World: DominionTop Gun: MaverickDoctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure BeginsToy Story 4Toy Story 3Toy Story 2Toy Story

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Reviewed June 16, 2022.

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