‘Lightyear’ has some buzz, but inexplicably, this space tale doesn’t soar

“Lightyear” (2022) – Andy must have spent the first six years of his life living under a rock. 

In “Toy Story” (1995), his mother bought him a Buzz Lightyear action figure for his sixth birthday, and the young man was over the moon.  You see, Buzz Lightyear – an all-American space ranger donning a high-tech white astronaut suit with purple and green trim and a roomy, crystal-clear dome covering his head – stars as the main attraction in his favorite movie! 

Andy’s favorite movie. 

Twenty-seven years later, director Angus MacLane (“Finding Dory” (2016)) launches the sci-fi flick “Lightyear”, which rocketed to Number 1 on this impressionable boy’s movie list back in the day.

After watching “Lightyear”, I can only conclude that Andy needed to get out more.

Buzz (Chris Evans) and Alisha (Uzo Aduba)

“And there seems to be no sign of intelligent life.” – Buzz, “Toy Story” (1995)

Pixar’s latest production begins 4.2 million light-years from our planetary home.  Buzz (Chris Evans), his close friend and shipmate, Alisha (Uzo Aduba), and perhaps a few hundred other crew members explore the unknown.  Their ship doesn’t have a name, but it’s shaped like a turnip, so the space travelers nickname it as such. 

While traveling to “Infinity and Beyond,” they decide to make a pitstop on T’Kani Prime, a planet with signs of organic life.  T’Kani Prime has no humanoid-like inhabitants.  No Klingons, Skrulls, talking raccoons, nor Ewoks show up for confrontations or exaltations.  Instead, creepy crawly critters and dastardly vegetation are our Earthlings’ greatest foes (at first), but the screenplay pseudo-sidelines the adversaries. 

These baddies present lethal threats, but predatory plants aren’t exactly the fodder for nightmares, and these bugs aren’t as rough as the sicko insects from “Starship Troopers” (1997).  No, the real villains arrive much later during the film’s 100-minute runtime, and the reveal is as underwhelming as unwrapping a box of socks for your birthday.  Sorry, Andy.

The antagonists’ disappointing entrance into the storyline doesn’t make logical sense.  Maybe it does, but we might need protractors, slide rules, and long-division calculations to discover an answer.  Ask a theatre manager for an abacus.  You’ll need one.  

SOX (Peter Sohn) and Buzz (Chris Evans)

“So, your inner voice advises you.” – Buzz, “Toy Story 4” (2019)

Turning to more friendly faces, Alicia is his most trusted, capable confidant.  She considers options before leaping into action, while Buzz might jump Snake River Canyon if the moment strikes.  Alicia is a warm, supportive ally and a critical motivating figure for Buzz.  Their screen time is precious. 

However, Buzz spends most of his waking hours with three rookies, who double as misfits.  Izzy (Keke Palmer) is a wide-eyed upstart, but Mo (Taika Waititi) and Darby (Dale Soules) have clocked around the sun for more years.  Mo is more mistake-prone than Homer Simpson, and Darby dabbles in criminal behavior, but she’s no Sideshow Bob.  They are oddball sidekicks – an essential ingredient for many animated features – but these three aren’t particularly memorable.  In fact, this critic needed to look up their names to write this review.  Still, they play the film’s most critical role as an agency for Buzz to help him overcome his biggest fault.  Izzy, Mo, and Darby act as a trigger for Buzz’s inner voice.  However, the man has to listen.

The movie’s most intriguing character?  Lightyear’s sidekick, a loyal robot named SOX (Peter Sohn).  Sure, SOX is constructed from alloy and wiring, but he’s a reliable answer machine and absolute riot. His physical form is central to his unintentional quick wit!

Izzy (Keke Palmer), SOX (Sohn), and Buzz (Evans)

“To Infinity and Beyond!” – Buzz, “Toy Story” (1995)

Buzz, however, doesn’t provide tons of laughs or noteworthy banter.  He’s a straight-up alpha-male type, always looking to save the day.  He’s this movie’s Han Solo or Captain Kirk, but after roughly 15 thrilling minutes during the first act, the script doesn’t scribe much swashbuckling for our lead protagonist.  Granted, the last 30 minutes bequeath some grand spaceship eye-candy.  Still, with a lackluster (and frustrating) villain reveal and 45 minutes of middling training (or coping with) his cadets, I didn’t care if laser fire blasted off the screen and into the theatre.

Buzz doesn’t get the girl either because there isn’t a damsel in distress to pursue. 

Now, “Lightyear” is not a terrible movie. For starters, it delivers some legit emotional moments during the first act.  MacLane and co-writers Matthew Aldrich and Jason Headley also introduce a far-out concept that lands as a total surprise.  The animation team conjures up some wicked effects at times, primarily with space travel, and the theatrical experience will trigger feelings of “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) and “Battlestar Galactica” (1978-1979, 2004-2009). 

Still, “Lightyear” inexplicably lands and trudges through Buzz’s hang-ups rather than soar with space adventure.  (And as a side note, the aforementioned emotional beats don’t pay off in the third act because our hero’s journey parks into a predictable resolution…on Earth or any other celestial entity).

Buzz (Evans)

“This isn’t flying.  This is falling with style.” – Buzz, “Toy Story” (1995)

This Pixar animated feature is set millions of light-years from our planetary home, and the filmmakers have the literal universe to spin any cosmic adventure.  Instead, they take an opposite turn away from Buzz’s famous line, and the audience gets an unnecessarily limited, contained story that lives in the space between our hero’s ears, not the cosmos.  

Yes, the film hits its intended target.  Life lessons are learned, and bonds are forged.  If anything, this picture should be Buzz’s fourth or fifth sequel.  Not his grand entrance.  It’s the “Star Trek: Beyond” (2016) of “Lightyear” movies, and that’s not a compliment. 

Andy’s favorite movie?  Maybe he meant a different “Lightyear” film.

⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Directed by: Agnus MacLane

Written by: Agnus MacLane, Matthew Aldrich, and Jason Headley

Starring: Chris Evans, Uzo Aduba, Keke Palmer, Taika Waititi, Peter Sohn, Dale Soules, James Brolin, and Isiah Whitlock Jr.

Runtime: 100 minutes

Rated: PG

Image credits: Walt Disney Studios

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