'​Lightyear' Is Totally Unnecessary but Quite Delightful Directed by Angus MacLane

Starring Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, James Brolin, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules, Uzo Aduba
'​Lightyear' Is Totally Unnecessary but Quite Delightful Directed by Angus MacLane
Photo courtesy of Disney
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There's no way of getting around it: Lightyear is an incredibly unnecessary film.

It's a safe bet that when audiences met Buzz Lightyear in 1995's Toy Story, no one wondered about the Space Ranger's backstory. A minor inconvenience to the marketing people at Disney and Pixar, though, who decided that, in fact, we do want — nay, need — to know more about Buzz.

And the annoying thing is, their ploy works for the most part. Lightyear, while aggressively formulaic, is a delightful film with palatable humour, good voice performances and gorgeous animation. 

The opening of the film firmly sets up the connection to the original films: Andy's beloved Buzz was a toy based on a character from a movie — the very movie we're about to see. Here, Buzz (Chris Evans) and Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) are Space Rangers and besties. They and their crew are stuck on a hostile planet and need to find a way back home. Buzz feels burdened with the responsibility for their predicament and takes it upon himself to right his perceived wrongs. 

In order to return back to Earth, Buzz must use the resources available to create a fuel cell capable of breaking hyperspeed. Every test flight lasts minutes for Buzz, but amounts to years for those on the planet, who eventually make the land their home. As Buzz ages only days, Alisha moves on in life. She meets her wife, has a child and grandchildren, all while thriving professionally as well. 

With each attempt, Buzz becomes more frustrated and determined to complete his mission of returning everyone home. During one particularly dicey landing that finds him off the adopted home base, Buzz and his robot pet cat, Sox (Peter Sohn), a gift from Alisha, are joined by a group of eager recruits. Together they encounter Emperor Zurg (James Brolin) and his army of robots. While Zurg seems keen on destroying them at first, it's soon revealed his agenda is more complex than initially imagined. 

What Pixar's animators have achieved in the years since Toy Story is truly spectacular. The level of detail in the world and of the characters is incredible (it may sound odd, but the sweat on Buzz and Alisha's faces is pure art), and the vibrant design and colours of hyperspeed are bewildering. Each visual element is elevated by the grand score of Michael Giacchino, one of the most consistent film composers working today.

Following up his voice role as Casey Jones in 2007's TMNT, Evans is perfectly cast as Buzz, his deep, authoritative voice fits well with the straight-laced Space Ranger (almost like he'd make a good captain or something). In supporting roles, funny people Keke Palmer and Taika Waititi lend their brands of humour to their characters, making themselves great foils to Evans's Buzz. But the most crowd-pleasing and endearing voice performance is courtesy of Sohn as Sox the robot cat. Sohn blends childish wonder with cute-but-clever cat vibes well, drawing the most laugh-out-loud moments. 

Where the aesthetics and performances of Lightyear are out of this world, the storyline is decidedly pedestrian. The previous three (notably straight-to-Disney+) releases by Pixar, Soul, Luca and Turning Red, were all lauded for their refreshing departure from the typical Pixar fare. Each of these films brought something new to the table that pushed expectations for the studio. With Lightyear, we see a return to the lite Pixar of old, which may be a welcome change for many but will leave others wanting more. 

The first proper theatrical release by Pixar since the beginning of the pandemic, Lightyear is undeniably a massive cash grab, but it's an effective one. Kids will enjoy it and may leave wanting a Sox toy, and adults won't hate it: Pixar's perfect formula. A simple story involving a legacy character that's got amazing animation, a booming score, and great performances — what more could you ask for?  (Pixar/Disney)