Director: Angus MacLane
Starring: (voices of) Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules, James Brolin, Uzo Aduba
Run Time: 105 mins
Lightyear is the latest from Disney Pixar, a spin-off of the family favourite Toy Story character voiced by Tim Allen. The Toy Story series was a perfect trilogy and when Pixar announced a fourth film, many were trepidatious. While Toy Story 4 is, by far, the weakest in the series, it’s remains a ‘pretty great’ quadrilogy. Pixar are now heading down the prequel route with Lightyear but the studio says the film is divorced from the Toy Story series. A succinct opening title card states the film’s intention – “In 1995 Andy got a toy. That toy was based on a movie. This is that movie.”
Chris Evans voices the space ranger and the film opens with Buzz and his commanding officer and best friend, Alisha Hawthorne, exploring a potentially habitable planet. Like the figure audiences have grown to love in Toy Story, this version of Lightyear is equally stubborn and prefers to work alone.
Buzz and Hawthorne soon discover the planet is home to devil’s snare-like hostile life forms and the vessel they arrived on sustains damage. The planet ultimately becomes home to the duo and in time, a colony including Hathorne’s granddaughter Izzy, as Buzz is unable to crack the code of hyperspace travel. Buzz feels responsible for his mistake and feels it his mission to move the colony off the planet to pastures new.
Lightyear is an amiable but unremarkable entry from Pixar that hits obvious narrative beats. It’s beautifully animated and the cinematography of Pixar-regular Jeremy Lasky, is inspired, but when you’re focussing on the interstellar aesthetics and not the story, there’s clearly a problem somewhere.
On the plus side, Chris Evans makes the character his own and seems to have made an effortless step into voice acting. The script is tightly-paced, although it doesn’t leave a lot of time for characters to breathe and for them to be fleshed out. Other than the brilliant feline robot, Sox, who gets some excellent lines delivered in deadpan by Peter Sohn, the humour didn’t really work for me.
The character interactions between Lightyear and the misfit crew are well-intentioned and they build a meaningful rapport. Taika Waititi essentially voices a spaceman version of himself and Keke Palmer is fine as Hawthorne’s granddaughter. Dale Soules as Darby Steel rounds out the crew and gets some humorous moments here and there, an ex-convict with a penchant for munitions.
Director Angus MacLane clearly has a love of science fiction and that’s evident in the film’s reverent tone. But he seems to be reluctant to deal with the reasonably philosophical themes of change and personal growth, only hinting at them now and again. The score by Michael Giacchino is serviceable but never particularly rousing.
Perhaps Lightyear’s execution is intentionally obvious – if Andy received the Buzz Lightyear figure in 1995, that would date the film to the 1980s. On that note, it succeeds and if you haven’t watched a film of this type before, of course a younger child would enjoy it.
Lightyear is a reasonably stirring and well-intentioned film but it doesn’t particularly advance the series, nor is it particularly memorable. It’s a film that deserves a stronger concept and story and it doesn’t live up to the vast majority of Pixar’s other animated works.