If the term “to infinity and beyond” doesn’t sound familiar to you, then Lightyear’s bludgeoning repetition of the famous phrase will try to make it stick in your cerebral cortex. Families will enjoy Lightyear. It’s a crowd-pleaser but fails to aspire to go beyond that. By taking a storytelling queue from every film about family being important, I could foresee the structure of Lightyear, ages ahead of its ending. Many won’t have a problem with the film’s predictability since, technically and emotionally, there’s nothing wrong with it.
Lightyear is fun. For a simple good time coupled with some small moments of emotion, it’s a drop in the bucket for the box office. Secondly, if the choice of Saturday night matinee stands between Lightyear and the zombified corpse of the Jurassic franchise, you’ll have a much better time with good old Buzz. And if you’re wondering where Lightyear stands in the Toy Story canon, that question is answered upfront. However, it doesn’t seem necessary since it adds nothing to the plot.
The picture begins with an opening title informing the audience what they are about to see is Andy’s favorite movie as a kid. Having been stranded on an unknown planet, Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) attempts to seek a way out of its atmosphere to send his other space cadets home. The only man who can accomplish the mission of mass departure is Buzz, but the question remains, is the mission impossible? Buzz must enter a black hole and return through three hoop rings ripped out of Starfox beyond the speed of light, a clever way to work Buzz’s tagline into the film’s plot.
It’s best to think of Lightyear as Interstellar for kids. Having gone literally lightyears in time, Buzz has changed the future. The notes director Angus MacLane borrows from Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is slicker than the typical, cinephile callback. There are no Hal 9000 references or the protagonist weeping at the images projected to him from a monitor.
To help Buzz on his mission are his allies. Darby Steel (Dale Soules) is an aging explosive expert who’s tough as nails but has a heart of gold. Counteracting Darby’s toughness is Mo Morrison (Taika Waititi). Mo’s the quirky, cowardly type. Not a tech-head nor a grunt, just a brave dope. The most vital character of the gang is Izzy Hawthorne (Kiki Palmer). Izzy’s the straight-edged character, the sidekick who’s equally as fast intellectually and physically as our hero.
Upstaging everyone, including Buzz in the gang, is a robot mouse with as many gadgets as R2D2. Sox is the real star of Lightyear. Voiced with just the right amount of wit and sarcasm, Peter Sohn nails the role. Completing the cast is Chris Evans, replacing Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear. From a filmmaking perspective, I see the casting switch as a choice of delivering emotion.
Evans distributes some nuance that perhaps a comedic actor like Tim Allen can’t handle. During the more vulnerable moments of the picture, Buzz’s voice actor has to emote. Not cry, but be engaging beyond sounding sad. Maybe the filmmakers thought Mr. Allen couldn’t deliver the gravitas necessary for the character to connect with an audience. Who better to play an homage to America’s Buzz Aldrin inspiration than Captain America himself?
Although Evans is a fine choice to play Buzz, it seems out of canon when it doesn’t need to be. If Lightyear is Andy’s favorite movie growing up, why would some other guy voice the doll? The answer is because they always do that in real life, but the question persists beyond a simplification of “just because” since audiences have heard Tim Allen voice Buzz for years.
Although a fun adventure, Lightyear could go further. It can do what many of Pixar’s classic predecessors have done. Especially the Toy Story films. I have mixed emotions about Toy Story 4. Although I disagree with the storyteller’s direction, I admire TS4’s guts—something the Toy Story flicks always had. Here, there is no courage, simply formality.
If Lightyear is a relic from Andy’s past, why not make the movie come off as something from Any’s era? 1995 the year Toy Story came out, was at the eve of CGI. Lightyear could be an animate call back to the 90s completely with intentionally cheesy effects. Better yet, the movie could contain real stakes! The conventionality of Lightyear can’t go beyond infinity within the feels department. Still, it won’t need to travel far to please fans. The parents will laugh at the referential humor, and the kids will dazzle at the spectacle of space.
Although I found everyone but the cat to be completely forgettable, the kids will undoubtedly want a toy version of the silly sidekicks. Beyond my admittedly infinite, unrealistic expectation, Lightyear is a charming consumable space adventure that directly hits its target audience.
Lightyear opens in theaters nationwide Friday, June 17