This is a SPOILER-FREE review of Lightyear.
If Lightyear sounds like something that was created in a Disney board meeting, rest assured, it’s not. It’s the work of Pixar on crafting and creating a world out of another world that they made in 1996. Lightyear starts off with a quick title card about how this movie was the movie that Andy from Toy Story saw that kindled his love of Buzz. That’s an interesting way to frame the film that creates all sorts of meta-questions involving the filmmakers and us watching the film. Through all of that, that’s about as deep as Lightyear gets involving the meta-connections to Toy Story. That’s really for the best when it comes to the plot and the characters in the film. It allows Buzz and this crew to stand apart from Toy Story.
The beauty of Lightyear is the difference between the first half-ish of the film and the second half. Like Top Gun: Maverick, Buzz is trying to reach speed thresholds that might not be possible. With his colony ship stranded on a strange planet, it offers a conundrum that sets up the second half of the film, each lightspeed test that Buzz goes on, costs him four years. He doesn’t age, but everyone else around him does. It gives plenty of information about the person that Buzz is and the prologue also gives us everything we need to know about him. It’s a testament to the writing abilities of Director Angus MacLane, Jason Headley, and Matthew Aldrich.
Lightyear might not be the most emotionally explorative film in Pixar’s catalog, but it does dive pretty deep into questions about self-worth, trusting yourself and your friends, and how your decisions affect others.
A Small Cast Highlighted By A Robot Cat
The cast for Lightyear contains some heavy hitters like Chris Evans (Buzz), Taika Waititi (Mo), and James Brolin (Emperor Zurg). It also has some other voices that rival those heavy hitters like Keke Palmer (Izzy), Dale Soules (Darby), Uzo Aduba (Alisha), and Isiah Whitlock Jr.. However, the star of the show and the one that will steal your heart is Peter Sohn as Sox. Sox is an emotional support cat that Buzz is given after he travels a bit too far into the future. What starts off as a small gag turns quickly into one of the most loveable characters that Pixar has created. It’s just a cat, right? Wrong.
Almost all of the major laughs and light moments in Lightyear involve Sox. Peter Sohn lends the cat some more human touches that go leaps and bounds past just being comic relief. Sox is central to the plot and gives Buzz a huge breakthrough emotionally and in his quest to achieve lightspeed. Get ready to see Sox on every t-shirt, toy aisle, little cousin’s room, and anywhere else, because it’s officially The Summer Of Sox.
Chris Evans adds his own brand of charisma and earnest qualities to Buzz Lightyear. It might’ve been Tim Allen‘s role years ago, but he makes Buzz his own here.
Outside of Buzz and Sox, the other characters add to the emotional weight of Lightyear. Mo is a character that really resonated with me. He makes mistakes that are small but takes them hard. Darby offers some of the other best comedic moments in the film. Dale Soules gives her some heft and she’s gut-busting at points.
Izzy is the backbone of Lightyear though. Her role highlights the biggest thread through the film, which is living up to expectations. Izzy is expected to be just like her grandmother, Alisha. She’s a different person, but her grandmother’s leadership is essential to the Space Rangers. That’s a theme that should resonate the most with people, is living with expectations and being able to make mistakes.
One Of Pixar’s More Thrilling Efforts
I wasn’t expecting the level of thrills in Lightyear. Whether it’s the action, or just some of the more, almost frightening, moments. The species and hostile lifeforms on the planet they’re stuck on are straight out of classic science-fiction, and while the vines that randomly grab people might be played up for comic relief, the bugs on the planet are not. If you don’t like insects, Lightyear might scare you.
Emperor Zurg is also much scarier than his Toy Story counterpart. When he first shows up, he’s almost like Darth Vader. His art style is pretty similar to the Ralph McQuarrie concept art for Vader. James Brolin might have a distorted voice when talking like him, but it’s distinctively evil and not played for laughs. He’s a great villain in the grand scope of the film and his reveal adds so much to the character. He’s ruthless, violent, and he does something so despicable, that you’ll assuredly gasp when it happens in the film. It’s a departure from some of the villains we’ve seen in similar Pixar/Disney films.
His army of robots offers up a formidable opponent for Buzz and the Space Rangers. While Zurg isn’t played for laughs, they are. They’re menacing but when they get taken down, it’s to hilarious effect. That’s the balance that Lightyear strikes. It takes situations that are somewhat frightening but uses that to greater implement the comedic moments. It’s thrilling but eases the tension through some well-timed laughs.
Lightyear Is A Great Science-Fiction Story For The Whole Family
You’ll enjoy Lightyear whether you’re 8 or 80. The film doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to thrills or emotion, but there’s enough here for anyone to enjoy the film. It also helps that everyone and their grandma will love Sox more than life itself. The little robot cat might be enough to get people in the theater, but they’ll stick around for everything else the film offers. This is no cheap cash-in on the Toy Story name, Lightyear does more than enough to stand on its own.
Lightyear releases in theaters on June 17th, 2022.
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