Classification: PG; 100 minutes
Directed by Angus MacLane
Written by Angus MacLane and Jason Headley
Featuring the voices of Chris Evans, Keke Palmer and Taika Waititi
Opens in theatres June 17
If Disney movies exist partially (mostly) to sell toys, then what are we to make of Lightyear, a movie that is based on a toy from another movie about toys? To paraphrase an infamous 2020 tweet from star Chris Evans announcing the new Pixar movie’s production, Lightyear isn’t about the Tim Allen-voiced Buzz Lightyear character from the original 1995 film Toy Story – it is instead a movie that exists in the Toy Story universe itself. Remember that little boy Andy from the first film? Well, Lightyear is the actual movie that he watched over and over as a kid, inspiring his love for that plastic “to infinity and beyond!” Buzz action figure in the first place. It is an act of merchandising ouroboros that is as crass as it is fascinating.
But if you can divorce Lightyear’s shareholder-appeasing origins from its actual cinematic accomplishments, then we’re left with a rather beautiful, often thrilling, sometimes devastating adventure. While more narratively straightforward and less thematically layered than any Pixar film since Cars (or maybe the already forgotten Onward), Lightyear hits its self-designated targets, guaranteed to leave children in slack-jawed awe and the adults in the room exhilarated, and perhaps even a little teary.
Sometimes playing like Starship Troopers 4 Kidz, and at other points like Interstellar crossed with Pixar’s own Up, Lightyear follows the title space ranger (voiced here not by Allen but Evans) as he struggles to find his way back to Earth after becoming marooned on an alien planet with thousands of other scientists during an expedition gone awry. To say much more about the story’s specifics – which at one point echo novelist Joe Haldeman’s bleak sci-fi classic The Forever War – would undermine the surprisingly emotional wallops that director Angus MacLane and co-writer Jason Headley deliver during the film’s first act (which also weirdly mirrors this summer’s other big movie about a headstrong pilot born to push the limits, Top Gun: Maverick).
Sure, it is unfortunate that the film’s final two-thirds never match the heart-squeezing power of its opening, but longtime Pixar veteran MacLane (Finding Dory) seems more focused on making sure that Lightyear never, ever pauses to catch its breath. The result is an impressive relentlessness that distinguishes the movie from so many of its overstretched animated contemporaries – we never stop to question the leaps in sci-fi logic or wonder why the side characters are so underdeveloped because our minds are preoccupied processing all the multicoloured space madness covering the screen. It is all in service of creating a quick IMAX-sized thrill ride rather than a timeless story, but there are distinct pleasures to be had in catching one’s breath over and over.
As usual, Pixar has assembled a sharp cast of voice actors, with Evans transferring his stoic-but-sentimental Captain America vibe to Buzz with ridiculous ease. And even though Taika Waititi – here playing a cowardly space ranger – is threatening serious overexposure with his deadpan Kiwi shtick, he consistently finds humour in spots that the screenplay otherwise ignores.
If I were Allen’s agent, though – or even Tim the Toolman himself – I would be furious over not being invited to this particularly profitable party. Sure, Evans’s Buzz isn’t technically Allen’s Buzz, but there is a moment late in the film that is practically engineered for Allen’s gruff grumble to return, and we’re instead given the vocal talents of James Brolin. Nobody under the age of 10 will notice or care, but you cannot imagine Pixar doing Tom Hanks so dirty. This has got to be a talent grudge that will last to infinity – or at least beyond the toy aisle.
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