In 1995, a boy named Andy got a Buzz Lightyear toy for his birthday. You may THINK you know the whole story, and that is because you do. Toy Story is one of the most important technological achievements in human history, and Lightyear is a very strange brand extension that attempts to leech off that film’s legacy when it does not need to do so. Lightyear claims in its opening title cards to be the film the toy Buzz is based on, making this… I guess a live-action sci-fi movie in 1995 in the universe where toys are alive?
My goal when reviewing Lightyear was to not get bogged down in the metanarrative, but that opening makes it nearly impossible. I suppose this is technically a kids movie, but it’s shockingly dour. During every dramatic turn, every quiet moment of reflection as Buzz grapples with obsession and mortality, all I could think was “Andy liked this?” If Disney weren’t hellbent on making this canonically connected to the world of Toy Story instead of just saying “Buzz is cool and wanted to give him a movie,” I’d have far fewer issues. I would still have plenty of issues, unfortunately.
We meet Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans, doing a Tim Allen impression) on a deep space mission with his friend Alisha (Uzo Aduba). They encounter a distress signal and make a detour to a hostile planet. Buzz, in an attempt to do everything himself, maroons them and the many passengers in cryosleep on this drab, muddy planet that does nothing to distinguish itself in the way animated locations should. Unable to accept his mistake, Buzz decides he will do everything possible to recreate their hyperdrive, even if it means Interstellar-ing himself and watching his friend grow old and die. Which he does! It’s really dark!
Buzz’s lone companion through the years is the highlight of the film, a robot cat named Sox (Peter Sohn). Sox has charm and personality the other supporting human characters simply cannot match, especially the one-note team of misfits Buzz must learn to trust in order to face the mysterious threat of Zurg (James Brolin) and his army of robots hovering above the planet. Hope you like jokes about pencils and parole violations! That’s about all they’ve got!
I appreciate how much this film leans into hard sci-fi, but the landscapes are so colorless and uninspired it’s easy to zone out. The planet is foggy, lifeless, and boring to look at – much of the time Buzz and friends are running across desert landscapes with zero original features. Zurg’s ship isn’t any better – it’s so dark you can’t even tell that Zurg himself is supposed to be purple. Why suck the color out of this film when it could look like anything? Thank goodness we also got Turning Red this year, otherwise I’d be far less optimistic about the future of Pixar1.
Despite its best efforts, Lightyear comes close to besmirching the legacy of the Toy Story saga, but is too forgettable to leave a mark. Who could have seen this coming? Hopefully audiences feel the same way and we aren’t subjected to a gritty Woody origin story a couple years down the line2.
1 – Pixar movies need to have a short in front of them again. I know they’re making them! There’s so many on Disney Plus!
2 – With this naming convention, the Woody film would be called Pride, but I wasn’t sure how many people were aware of Woody’s canonical surname so I didn’t want to end on that. Though I suppose I am now.
Dir. Angus MacLane
In theaters everywhere Friday 6/17