REVIEW: Yearning for more from ‘Lightyear’

“Lightyear” may feature rocket ships that can reach incredible heights, but the movie itself can’t manage to get a high rating.

As the film points out at the very start, “Lightyear” is a movie released in the “Toy Story” universe that Andy watched before getting his Buzz Lightyear action figure. The film tells the story of how Lightyear is a space ranger who was part of a mission that went wrong.

The botched mission caused him and several others aboard a massive ship to become stranded on an alien world. To leave the planet, Buzz (Chris Evans) begins testing hyperspace fuel cells in single-man ships to try and find a way to leave the planet, but doing so causes him to go years into the future.

Audiences learn at the very start of “Lightyear” that it’s the film Andy watched as a kid, and that is an inherent problem in the film as a whole. Right from the start, there’s an immersion that’s broken for the audiences.

The movie is a piece of pop culture within the “Toy Story” universe. That means that it was simply a film produced by Hollywood with actors that the character Andy watched.

It creates a degree of separation for an audience. It makes the viewing experience feel inauthentic, because we as an audience know the whole time that this is simply a a piece of produced media, and not a cinematic experience to dive into.

It’s understandable that Pixar wanted to acknowledge the connection as to not confuse audiences, yet in doing so, any magic this movie would have had is undercut. This should have been a completely removed stand-alone spin-off.

LightyearBlog
Courtesy Disney-Pixar.

Even if one ignores this, though, “Lightyear” is still a film that falls short in being a great animated feature. It features a surprisingly simplistic story, lacking in any sort of grand adventure. I’d argue that many of the actual “Toy Story” movies felt larger in scope than this one.

The movie feels far too contained, its characters set on a linear, pedestrian path with few daring turns. It takes place on just one planet, so if you’re hoping for a planet-hopping adventure, you’re out of luck.

The planet they’re on isn’t even that well explored over the film, either. Plus, the film’s main conflict turns out to be rather lackluster, especially once the villain is revealed.

Character-wise, “Lightyear” is just OK. The titular character himself is really lacking in personality and charm to the point where he doesn’t exactly stand out.

There’s a theme at play over the course of the movie where Buzz has to learn to rely on others and work in a team setting, which is all well and good for a family picture. However, as a protagonist, he’s dull.

LightyearPic2

As for the voice, Chris Evans channels his Captain America experience to at least make the character seem authentic. Yet it doesn’t help the Lightyear become much more interesting.

The supporting cast has its ups and downs. The film’s highlight is Buzz’s AI companion, a robotic cat named Sox, voiced by Peter Sohn. Sox is a bit reminiscent of Baymax from “Big Hero 6,” as he’s rather direct and formal, but also has some heart, which works nicely.

Another bright spot is Izzy, a young space officer voiced by Keke Palmer who’s the great granddaughter of Buzz’s best friend. Her drive to become a space ranger and work alongside Lightyear brings some energy to the picture.

Her fellow cadets, an elderly explosive expert played by Dale Soules and a bumbling new soldier voiced by Taika Waititi, don’t add much, though. They both feel too generic, and the film likely could have worked as a buddy film with only Buzz and Izzy.

It’s really a shame that key story elements and characters in “Lightyear” are so underwhelming, since the animation crew did such stellar work in making a good looking film. The movie is gorgeous visually, the space flight scenes are exciting and the action is spot on. But in between the moments of spectacle, this is mostly flat. 2.65 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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