Movie review: Pixar’s ‘Lightyear’ hits theaters

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

‘To Infinity and Beyond’ Takes a Different Context in Pixar’s Excellent Film Light year. Instead of a pithy catchphrase, the words become a heartfelt exchange between Buzz Lightyear and his friend and commanding officer, Alisha Hawthorne. This tweak encompasses the tonal shift from Buzz’s cinematic origin to the world of toy story.

Here, Light year is the favorite movie of toy storyof young Andy Davis, who received a Buzz Lightyear toy in 1995 when the film was released. Light year is a meta-spinoff of the toy story series but its own entity. Buzz Lightyear is not the action figure but the source character himself. He’s less of the stiff, oblivious punchline and more of a mildly but easily exasperated military careerist. The Star Command Galactic Ranger and Alisha explore the planet Tikana Prime, which is overrun by attacking vines and insectoid creatures. While trying to evacuate, Buzz damages the ship, leaving the crew abandoned as they make repairs.

What follows is a classic sci-fi story dealing with the variegations and complications of time travel. Each time Buzz attempts to go to hyperspace, a time dilation of the four-minute trip changes to four years on Tikana Prime. Buzz focuses on freeing the stuck team. Meanwhile, the crew continues to live and thrive, developing a community that doesn’t include the alienated (and often alienating) Buzz.

A scene from ‘Lightyear’. Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar

Societal growth is most evident in Alisha, who marries and raises a son with his wife and eventually passes on her love of being a ranger to her granddaughter, Izzy. While Buzz obsesses over the world left behind, Alisha thrives in the world that is present. (This beautifully integrated LGBT element made it the first animated children’s film to receive an NC16 rating in Singapore, equivalent to an R rating in the United States.)

The film is not without laughs, but they are often of a more subtle variety. Alisha berates Buzz for his constant self-narrative, reminding him that no one ever listens to his diaries. Buzz receives a robotic service animal, a feline named Sox, whose racing commentary and support functions as an emotional bond for the loner Buzz. Below the “I’m Buzz Lightyear, I’m still sure” is a lost and slightly damaged ranger.

After sixty-two years of failure, Alisha’s replacement, the callously bureaucratic Commander Burnside, puts an end to Buzz’s attempts. To date, robots have invaded the planet under the control of the mysterious Emperor Zurg (the only other character in the toy story cannon). A laser shield was the only protection against machines invading the vulnerable community. Bruised but fearless, Buzz goes rogue to complete the mission. He meets ragtag members of the colony’s defense forces who eventually become his team.

There is nothing really new in Light year. In its beautiful raw cinematic animation, it evokes the universe of Lucas. Sneaky references permeate Jason Headley and Angus MacLane’s slick, straightforward script. The basic characters are written with wit, but more importantly, with humanity. The antagonist reveal provides a powerful “ah-hah” moment, giving Buzz a personal epiphany.

Chris Evans voices Buzz Lightyear in new Toy Story spin-off.
Image courtesy of Disyey/Pixar

Chris Evans portrays Buzz with the right balance of emphasis and guilt, never sacrificing pain for laughs. Uzo Aduba’s Alisha is the perfect foil: intelligent, intelligent and fully aware. The trio of undertrained rookies form Buzz’s eventual entourage. Keke Palmer captures Izzy’s mixture of impatience and fear. Taika Waititi’s Mo Morrison has the right touch of wide-eyed naivety. Dale Soules, channeling it Orange is the new black persona, ideally tests the elderly convict on parole with a penchant for blowing things up. As a Sox, Peter Sohn is both warm and deadpan, with several references to R2-D2. (There’s a bit of fun with Sox providing sleep sounds.)

MacLane directed Light year with a steady hand and a clear vision. He led his voice actors and animation teams to create a story that echoed the importance of believing in others with striking and often thrilling visuals. Told through a man out of time (landing in a world where the sandwich is redesigned), Light year finds its head and heart in the ideas of life and home. After star wars that toy story, the film plays on an adult level but offers a lot of fun for young audiences. It’s the most on-the-nose (i.e., kid’s movie) in teamwork lessons. But the ideas are smoothly introduced into the action (no catchy theme songs like “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”). Like with Encantolayers only enhance the viewing experience.

With Light year, Pixar has found a fresh, pleasant and original concept. The creators skillfully transformed a character from one universe to another. Managing change in style, Lightyear celebrates wonder, adventure and, ultimately, integrity. Rated PG, the film is currently playing in local cinemas.