In the sci-fi adventure spinoff, Chris Evans voices the big-screen Space Ranger who became a ‘Toy Story’ action figure, with Uzo Aduba, Keke Palmer, and Taika Waititi.
The drama in Pixar’s timeless 1995 breakthrough film Toy Story revolved upon old-fashioned pull-string cowboy doll Woody’s displacement anxiety when his young owner Andy received a popular new action figure called Buzz Lightyear. Lightyear, the film named after that Space Ranger, adds to the Toy Story franchise by telling us the sci-fi adventure that first drew Andy to the character and sparked the merchandising. This is a charmingly energetic toon take on splashy live-action throwback popcorn entertainment, with suspense and passion. Chris Evans gives a fantastic performance as the titular character, blending heroism and human fallibility with captivating affection.
My one big complaint is that this film has made me desire an emotional support cat robot-like Sox, the feline mechanical friend provided to Buzz by Star Command to help him cope with a succession of failures. Since viewing Lightyear, I’ve had nothing else on my mind, so I hope you’re doing well, Pixar.
Sox is portrayed by animator Peter Sohn, in keeping with the studio’s habit of employing members of its creative staff to do voice work. The cat is a digital assistant and a compassionate listener, but he’s also a lively feline that enjoys chasing lasers. When a blowtorch or a tranquilizer dart isn’t available, he can cough up a blowtorch or a tranquilizer dart to paralyze an opponent. Sox is a delightful spin on the usual Disney animal sidekick, and he typifies the loving sense of comedy at work throughout director Angus MacLane and screenwriter Jason Headley’s screenplay.
Since rating has become a necessity, consider this a decent mid-tier Pixar film with plenty of kid appeal and a strong nostalgia aspect for aficionados of the 1980s and 1990s science fiction. It can’t compete with Pixar’s space-age masterwork, Wall-E, or Warner Bros.’ ineffably poignant The Iron Giant. However, the grandeur of the outer-space surroundings, as well as the emotional appeal of the characters, should make this the first Pixar release since the epidemic began. This includes IMAX theaters since portions of the film were shot expressly for the bigger format.
Of course, the main character is forever associated with Toy Story as an action figure — voiced by Tim Allen spanning four films — who came out of the box certain he was a genuine Space Ranger. The shattered illusion and the benefits of being a member of a close-knit community eventually taught Buzz humility, transforming him from a cocky he-man to a beloved, oftentimes dumb buffoon; from a solo performer to a team player.
The producers’ first wise move in reinventing the live-action cinematic hero on whom the toy was based was selecting Evans, whose overlapping Captain America expertise increases his authority in the part. This version has the same physical attributes as the toy — a puffed-up barrel chest, a gigantic astronaut’s jawline, and a dimpled chin — but is more flexible in both facial features and motions, as befits an allegedly flesh-and-blood figure over a plastic one.
However, the emotional journey of the new Buzz is similar to that of his toy-store predecessor. He respects his buddy and mentor Commander Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) at the start of the expedition, but he’s also an elitist who loves to be in charge. His hero complex is so strong that he recounts his own narrative and passes it off as a mission diary. He’s as disdainful of new recruits as he is of his spaceship’s autopilot, I.V.A.N., or Internal Voice-Activated Navigator, which is voiced by Mary McDonald-Lewis.
Lightyear is about a gung-ho Space Ranger who learns to accept aid and understand his human limits. It’s also about the passage of time and whether we dwell on regrets or move on with our lives as they unfold.
That’s Buzz’s predicament when he and his captain, together with his 1,000-strong research and technology team, pause to examine an undiscovered planet called T’Kani Prime on their way back to Earth. A fast evacuation is necessitated by hostile life forms – aggressive monster vines and enormous flying bugs — in which Buzz attempts the same high cliff-climb flight technique previously seen in Top Gun: Maverick. He, on the other hand, isn’t that fortunate. They are stuck on T’Kani Prime due to damage to the fuel cell, with no route home until the hyper-speed drive can be repaired.
Buzz swears to complete the mission and return everyone to Earth, despite his rare experience of defeat. However, his first hyper-speed test flight, which used crystal fuel derived from the planet’s natural resources, was a failure a year later. When he returns, everyone on T’Kani Prime has aged more than 4 years due to the time dilation of his 4-minute journey.
With each consecutive test flight, the process becomes more intense, and while Buzz maintains the same age, steadfastly seeking a solution, everyone he knows accepts their predicament and moves on with their lives within the new colony’s safe confines. This is especially true for Commander Hawthorne, an openly homosexual heroine who marries her lover has a child, and eventually becomes a grandmother while Buzz still working.
Pixar and Disney films have both shown trust in children’s capacity to grasp mortality throughout the years, and Lightyear is no different, presenting heartbreaking moments of loss that hit Buzz harder since his existence has virtually been frozen in time.
However, when a new danger appears in the shape of an extraterrestrial spaceship piloted by mega-robot Zurg (James Brolin) and his army of Zyclops automatons, Buzz is forced to go rogue. His only backup comes from the Junior Zap Patrol, a motley crew of volunteer cadet trainees that includes Alisha’s granddaughter Izzy (Keke Palmer), who hopes to become a Space Ranger if she can conquer her anxieties, Taika Waititi’s awkward beanpole Mo (who acknowledges being an academic underachiever); and Jaded Darby (Dale Soules), a tough as nails old broad who is happy to overlook the ve
How that group of outsiders gains mutual confidence and power in their collective know-how while also discovering their unique talents is a narrative straight out of the Pixar playbook — although with some time-bending twists as they go into the future.
MacLane, who co-directed Finding Dory as well as a few of Toy Story shorts, and Headley, who co-wrote Onward, are definitely genre fanboys who believe in sci-limitless fi’s power to construct faraway planets; they throw in references to everything from Starship Troopers to Alien to Gravity. Even as the danger grows, the writing remains bouncy and lighthearted — there are several funny throwaway gags that humanize technology, such as I.V.A.N. launching a cockpit confetti explosion when the hyper-speed works, or two Zyclops giving uneasy side-eye.
However, the directors infuse plenty of sensitivity, particularly in the way Buzz grows to care for and rely on the team that once appeared to be a problem. He discovers unexpected intimacy with his unexpectedly clever cadets, notably Palmer’s lively Izzy, who symbolizes a continuing line from his acquaintance with her grandmother. The benefits of friendship also neatly reflect the relationships formed by action-figure Buzz with Andy’s other toys.
The complex graphics, throbbing with vivid color, are frequently spectacular, and the meticulous character work is fascinating, complemented by great contributions from the voice actors. Michael Giacchino’s strong orchestral soundtrack, which goes from calm, personal moments to hard-charging tension to climactic elation, enhances involvement in the plot at every step. The film joins the MCU with a witty mid-credits sequence and then a more emotional one at the conclusion, hinting at a sequel.
Perhaps the most endearing change to the iconic Toy Story Buzz is that his cornball heroic slogan, “To infinity and beyond,” is as much a reminder of human connection as it is a rallying cry for space exploration.