‘Lightyear’ is a Delightful and Exciting Return to Theaters for Pixar (Review)

by | Jun 13, 2022

This Buzz Lightyear spin-off is another standout entry in the Toy Story franchise 

From Soul and Luca to Turning Red, the immaculate work of Pixar Animation Studios has been sadly but understandably relegated to the streaming service Disney+ since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully, Pixar’s latest film, Lightyear, will be released exclusively into movie theaters nationwide this Friday, and it arrives with a bang thanks to not only its place as the first film from Pixar to be created for IMAX, but also through its relatable narrative, gorgeous animation, clever sense of humor and well-written characters around the Toy Story protagonist.

Or rather, the hero that spawned said protagonist, as an opening title card describes Lightyear as the favorite movie of Andy, Woody and Buzz’s owner who asked for a Buzz Lightyear action figure for his tenth birthday before the first Toy Story film in 1995. In Lightyear, Star Command pilot Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) leads his best friend Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) and rookie space ranger Featheringhamstan (Bill Hader) on a routine expedition through an uncharted planet, only to come under attack by hostile enemies within the world’s environment. 

Throughout the adventure, Buzz incessantly places his responsibilities as a test pilot above everything else, not even bothering to ask Hawthorne or his rookie cadet for help when needed. This comes back to haunt him and his crew when their ship fails to reach lightspeed before hitting a cliff, leaving Lightyear, Hawthorne and all of Star Command marooned on a strange land 4.2 million lightyears away from Earth. 

But Buzz refuses to live with his mistake and strives to complete his mission, so with the help of Hawthorne and Star Command, he aims to discover the exact fuel crystal he needs in order to get himself and his crew back home, unaware that he is in the crosshairs of Emperor Zurg (James Brolin), whose spacecraft hovers ominously above the planet as his robots populate the earth waiting to strike Star Command’s headquarters.

Doing this leads Buzz down a compelling character arc within a script that ranks among Pixar’s best in recent memory. Lightyear sees Buzz’s stubbornness to not only let people in but also accept failure result in more significant consequences that he doesn’t realize until they’ve happened, leading to an emotional journey for him internally but also one that introduces him to a ragtag band of eclectic characters, such as Izzy (Keke Palmer), a young cadet eager to follow in her family’s footsteps despite a fear of outer space, explosives expert Darby Steel (Dale Soules) whose numerous parole violations don’t stop her from operating various weaponry, and Mo Morrison (Taika Waititi) who can do anything and everything with a pen if he is able to overcome both inexperience and confidence issues. 

However, the character that steals the show most is Buzz’s robotic cat companion SOX (Peter Sohn), who prods Buzz with an infectious friendliness and empathy made even more endearing with his feline traits, such as when SOX appears to be coughing up a hairball when it ends up being a blowtorch that gets Buzz and his crew out of a sticky situation. Meanwhile, Pixar continues to revolutionize computer animation with every film they create, and Lightyear does this by being the first animated film of its kind to be filmed on cameras formatted for IMAX. 

The expanded format allows the space sequences and lightspeed effects to look gorgeous in their vibrancy while also making the vastness of space look as beautiful as it is beguiling. The attention to detail Pixar’s team of animators puts into each and every scene also ramps up the stakes of a given action sequence, from the beads of sweat that form on Buzz’s face as he flies his spacecraft through the stars to the dirt he picks up on his face after one of the planet’s many living vines or Zurg’s robots knock him to the ground.

If there are any issues to be had with Lightyear, they do come with a twist that arrives midway through the second act. The revelations that come with this surprising development succeed in adding more emotional weight to Buzz’s growth as a character, but arrive rather clunkily to the point where audience members may call into question the logic behind why and how these events came to pass.

That can be said about almost every science fiction film, however, and viewers of all ages will ultimately enjoy the experience of watching Lightyear. Kids will want a SOX robot of their own and learn lifelong lessons about the power of teamwork, while adults will relate to experiences revolving around the film’s themes about the inevitability of mistakes and how to move on from them. However, everyone who grew up with Toy Story will appreciate Evans’ turn as the iconic space cadet, his recitation of classic lines from the 1995 film, and clever visual callbacks to famous moments from the franchise. For all those reasons and more, all moviegoers and families alike will enjoy the film, and therefore should go to infinity and beyond to see Lightyear.


RATING: ★★★★1/2 

(out of five stars)