It’s time to go to infinity and beyond with Lightyear, Pixar’s newest animated sci-fi action-adventure film. This animation studio has been going strong for decades, beginning in 1995 with their iconic movie Toy Story. That film featured Andy Davis, a six-year-old kid who gets a Buzz Lightyear action figure for his birthday. Lightyear is the film that established the iconic space ranger in the world of Toy Story and made Andy want the toy in the first place. Fortunately, it’s easy to understand how this became Andy’s favorite movie, as this is a fun and exciting adventure filled with humor, action, and captivating visuals.
The original Toy Story was phenomenal, and like with every other franchise that has a strong start, each sequel felt the need to justify its existence. After the finite ending of the third installment, Toy Story 4 did an excellent job of providing a satisfying conclusion for the character of Woody. So does Lightyear justify its existence? Well, as a spin-off of the quadrilogy, the only natural place to go was to show the movie that kicked the events of the Toy Story films into motion in the first place. Does this movie need to exist? No. Am I glad it does? Absolutely.
Not every movie needs a purpose; if a film entertains, it has done its job. Luckily, entertainment is easy to find in this space adventure, directed by Pixar veteran Angus MacLane in his feature directorial debut. He provides excellent work with this concept, expanding the thrilling opening Buzz Lightyear action sequence from Toy Story 2 into a feature-length film. Buzz’s dialogue references those original movies, and it’s lovely to see a human Buzz in action in a movie that feels inspired by Star Wars and other epic space operas.
After some written and visual references to the original Toy Story, the film kicks into high gear with gritty, exciting action. Pixar has dabbled in the action genre with The Incredibles and doubles down here with visually impressive, grin-inducing shootouts and fights. In addition, the animation continues to be stellar for the entire film. Keep in mind that in the world of Toy Story, this is a live-action film, and the way the “camera” moves and racks focus sells that idea to a tee. The only issue is that this is meant to be a film released in the early 1990s, but it has all the polish and style of a 2022 blockbuster. Perhaps the film would have been more experimental if it tried to emulate the style of early ’90s action movies.
The voice work here is quite strong. Buzz Lightyear of Star Command is portrayed very well by Chris Evans, who delivers a voice similar to Tim Allen’s while also sounding distinct. With this and Nope coming out later this summer, Keke Palmer continues to establish her talent and range with an excellent performance as Izzy Hawthorne. Taika Waititi is becoming Hollywood’s go-to comedic voice with his role as Mo Morrison, an ambitious recruit who offers many of the film’s funnier moments. Finally, Dale Soules, an actress in her mid-70s, gives everything she’s got as Darby Steel in a role where she chews up the scenery.
However, the best part of the movie is Sox, a robot cat who accompanies our heroes. This cat is voiced by Peter Sohn, the director of The Good Dinosaur, and he is one of the most memorable and lovable characters in Pixar history. Sox is a helpful companion that audiences will surely fall in love with. Perhaps the biggest issue with a character like Sox is the plot hole that Andy never thought to get one of them for his toy collection, when any child in the world would want a Sox toy after seeing this film.
All these characters are entertaining to watch, but the movie lacks the solid emotional core Pixar is known for. The film deals with time dilation, meaning that Buzz travels through portals only to find that when he returns to Earth, years have passed in a matter of minutes. Those who have seen Interstellar know how this concept can be used to tear-jerking effects. Still, this movie glosses over much of it, rushing through the idea with fast pacing and only offering one real emotional moment. The film can also feel like the second installment of a Buzz Lightyear trilogy rather than a true origin story for the character.
Lightyear contains the ingredients to become one of Pixar’s best. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite reach those heights, but for what it’s worth, this is an action-packed piece of sci-fi adventure with an entertaining ensemble of characters. This is Pixar’s first theatrical release since Onward in early 2020, and this is a triumphant return to the big screen. It’s a grand cinematic experience with a few surprising revelations that may shock you and have you scratching your head. It’s also a movie where you’ll want to stay until the very end of the credits and beyond.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 8 equates to “Great.” While there are a few minor issues, this score means that the art succeeds at its goal and leaves a memorable impact.
Disclosure: The critic attended a press screening for ComingSoon’s Lightyear review.