In 1995, the computer animated family film, Toy Story, hit cinema screens, introducing the world to Woody the cowboy, Buzz Lightyear, and various other delightful cartoon characters. Those who are familiar with the picture will know how good Toy Story proved to be and thanks to a series of sequels and animated shorts, audiences got to watch further adventures with Woody, Buzz and Co. as they became involved in various imaginative and exciting stories.
This weekend the Toy Story franchise expands once again, but this time not via a new entry in the ongoing series, but rather through a standalone feature, inspired by the original movie. This expansion arrives in the form of new action-adventure picture, Lightyear, which hits UK and US cinema screens from today.
Directed by Angus MacLane, and produced by Disney-Pixar, Lightyear tells a story which centres around Buzz Lightyear. But this isn’t a tale about the action figure from all those Toy Story films, instead it is a picture about the character who inspired the toy.
In essence, Lightyear is the movie Andy (from the Toy Story films) saw before he began playing with his Buzz figure. As such, Lightyear is a movie that exists within the Toy Story universe, but can be watched with little knowledge of what came before.
Because this is a different Buzz Lightyear to the one we are all familiar with, instead of Tim Allen taking on voiceover duties for this film, Chris Evans plays the eponymous hero. He is joined by a voice cast which includes Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules, and James Brolin.
As to what they are all doing, well in this movie Buzz is a Galactic Ranger in Star Command. He is on an important mission with his commanding officer, as well as various crew members, as they look to explore the planet Tikana Prime.
But a short while into the mission Buzz and the crew are attacked by hostile natives, causing the team to abort their plans and flee the planet. However, their escape attempt fails and after their ship crash lands back on the surface of Tikana Prime, they become stranded.
A year passes by, in which time the crew settle on the planet and build a small craft, which they hope will give them the ability to find a way home. Buzz agrees to pilot the ship, to test out the hyperspace fuel which could prove to be the key to their success.
After taking the craft out for a test flight, Buzz returns to the planet, only to discover that time has passed at an alarming rate. For Buzz, he has been away mere minutes, but for everyone on Tikana Prime, four years have sailed by.
Unfortunately, these four years have been somewhat wasted, as Buzz’s mission was not successful. But keen to try again, Buzz heads back out for further test flights, resulting in yet more failures and more lost time.
In the blink of an eye, decades pass. Buzz barely ages at all, but his friends come and go.
Finally, after yet another unsuccessful mission, a new commanding officer calls ‘time’ on Buzz’s flights, informing the young captain that his piloting days are over. The crew have spent years building a colony on the planet and they no longer have a desire to leave.
But this is not what Buzz wants to hear, and soon he is disobeying orders and setting out on yet another attempt to flee the planet, creating enemies of his own commanding officers in the process. However, this is not the only problem that Buzz faces, as a robot army has arrived on the planet, and following orders from their leader, Emperor Zurg, they are rounding up all human life, including Buzz Lightyear.
Can Buzz escape the clutches of Zurg and finally find a way home? Or will he discover that what he’s been searching for all this time is a lot closer than he thinks?
OK, so it’s best to begin this discussion of Lightyear by making one thing clear. I am going to answer the all-important question: Is this movie as good as a Toy Story film?
The Toy Story film series has (so far) produced four big screen stories and all of them have been excellent. Does Lightyear follow suit?
Well, the answer to that question is that Lightyear is not as strong or as interesting as any of the previous Toy Story movies. However, it is a good movie, and I enjoyed it very much.
The reason Lightyear is not as strong as the Toy Story films is because all of those movies are nuanced and layered, and work on multiple levels, to appeal to different audiences. Kids can enjoy the fun characters and gags, while adults can appreciate the ongoing commentary about aging and losing touch with childhood.
Lightyear doesn’t have any of this, and its story is a lot more simplistic. Sure, it does have some emotional beats, including one very poignant scene where Buzz has to say goodbye to an old friend due to the passage of time, but for the most part the film is a straightforward adventure.
Those nuances and layers don’t really exist here. Lightyear doesn’t contain any additional commentary; it is more of a case of what you see is what you get.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is something which is significant. Some audiences who adore the Toy Story films may not warm to this picture in the same way, because the story is not so well crafted, and that is a perfectly acceptable response.
But this doesn’t stop Lightyear from being a great deal of fun. So long as you approach this movie in the knowledge that this is something different, and the story isn’t as strong as its predecessors, a good time can still be had.
Lightyear is a rip-roarin’ adventure film, which places its focus on action and spectacle. The movie features many scenes of Buzz and his pals battling robots, shooting blasters, and rocketing through space, and I whole heartedly believe that younger audiences will love it.
I also believe that younger cinemagoers will also fall in love with Buzz’s robotic feline companion, Sox, who is voiced by Peter Sohn. Sox the robot cat gets all of the best gags in the film, is cute as a button, and is likely to become the first thing that kids mention as soon as they leave the cinema!
But don’t for one moment think this movie is only going to entertain the little ‘uns, as there is plenty in this movie for adults too. From nods to the previous Toy Story films, and references to other sci-fi movies (including the Star Wars franchise), to some stunning visuals and great character work, Lightyear is sure to keep the whole family entertained.
There is also a great turn from Chris Evans as Buzz Lightyear, which is sure to impress too. Evans has the unenviable job of making a previously established (and iconic) role his own, and yet he pulls it off very successfully.
His performance is a careful balancing act which recalls the work of Tim Allen, while also bringing something different to the part. Evans’ Buzz is essentially an evolved version of what came before, which never abandons the past in favour of something completely new.
Embodying an established character is one thing, but ensuring you do it in a way that doesn’t piss off the fanbase is something different entirely. Evans has clearly worked hard on nailing the voicing of this character and it should be praised.
Outside of all this, the action sequences are enjoyable, the central characters are likeable, and did I mention the robot cat? Oh, yes, I did. Well, I’ll mention Sox again, because he really is a superb addition to the film.
Now, chuck in a fine score from Michael Giacchino, some fun sci-fi elements, and an amusing conversation about how humans eat sandwiches, and Lightyear isn’t bad at all. I expect some will not like it as much as I did, and it does suffer from a slightly saggy mid-section which slows things down a touch, but it is perfectly fine regardless.
The key thing for me is that Lightyear is entertaining. Kids will love it, and adults will have no problem with it either.
Sure, Lightyear isn’t one of Pixar’s ‘clever’ movies, and it is a shame that this one got the big screen treatment, when excellent pictures such as Soul (2020), Luca (2021), Turning Red (2022) didn’t, but blame the pandemic and some poor decisions by Disney executives for those mistakes, rather than the people involved with making this film. As with all Disney-Pixar films, Lightyear is a quality production, made by people who care about the material, and that shines through regardless of any shortcomings.