Movie Review: ‘Lightyear’

Director: Angus MacLane

Cast: Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, Dale Soules, Josh Brolin, Taika Waititi, Uzo Uduba, Bill Hader

Plot: Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear, along with a large crew of scientists and engineers, find themselves stranded on a hostile planet. Their attempts to manufacture and test hyperspace fuel results in Buzz, their test pilot, experiencing time passing at a different rate and being forced to confront his past mistake.

Review: We picked a pretty good time to see Pixar’s latest offering, Lightyear, that being several weeks after everyone saw it and got their disappointment out of their system. Not many people seem to be fans of this unorthodox spin-off from the Toy Story series, wherein Buzz Lightyear appears as a toy unaware that he is a toy. The concept behind this is that Andy loved Buzz Lightyear because he featured in the kids favourite movie, and this is that movie. Putting aside that a seven year kid is going to want to buy action figures of this melancholy story, the less connective tissue between Lightyear and Toy Story, the better it will set expectations of tone.

Part of the problem comes from the fact that we have seen the ‘real’ Buzz Lightyear in action before, and it doesn’t look like this. The spin-off animated series Buzz Lightyear of Star Command and the opening sequence from Toy Story 2 depicts a Buzz that is a high energy adventurer battling villains and rescuing those in distress. Perhaps Disney hoped that we wouldn’t remember any of that because this movie is about a man disconnected from the people around him, and learning to move on from his past mistakes.

Even if you’re not looking for a bright and colourful cartoon adventure, Lightyear has over-corrected and veered heavily into drab territory. Even the jungle of the main location feels like the colour has been washed out, and some action scenes feel like they were filmed in the local quarry to save money…except they’re in an animated film and this isn’t an excuse. There are going to be stylistic choices made to give the characters a more realistic feel but we’ve ended up with a square jawed action character trapped in a bit of grey, British drizzle. If it was for the robot cat friend it would feel like it wasn’t having any fun at all.

Fortunately the core of the movie is strong. The character of Buzz isn’t complex, but sets up for a good morale. They spend a long time setting up the premise of Buzz becoming a man out of time, showing several attempts at developing the required hyperspeed engine needed to escape the grim planet. With each, Buzz skips ahead further in time and we see his closest friend age, settle down, start a family and eventually pass on while he’s determined to fix the one mistake from his past. When Buzz does have to wade into the action it’s alongside a ragtag team of miscreants and has to adjust his world view in order to succeed.

So it’s a good story with some fun characters to follow along with. It also has a robot cat who is absolutely delightful, so extra marks for that. It’s something that the kids had a fun time watching. On the other hand, they haven’t shown any interest in watching it again or talked much about it. It’s a good skeleton, but lacks meat and a jazzy outfit to really sell the idea.

Rating: SIX out of TEN