Lightyear (2022) Review!!

Synopsis – While spending years attempting to return home, marooned Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear encounters an army of ruthless robots commanded by Zurg who are attempting to steal his fuel source.

My Take – Rarely have I seen things go so wrong for a film right from its announcement. Disney-Pixar‘s Toy Story franchise, which consists of four more than excellent films, a bunch of short films and TV specials, has a special place in almost everyone’s heart. But their latest expansion isn’t exactly from a familiar realm.

Instead, it goes into the origin behind the character that inspired the creation of the co-lead action figure in the series. And while people were still reeling in uncomfortably from the fact that Chris Evans had replaced the franchise staple voice actor Tim Allen as the titular space ranger, someone who we had grown so accustomed to, the film found itself in a wave of controversy over the inclusion of a few second long same sex kiss scene.

A scene which was initially removed, but reinstated upon receiving uproar from Pixar employees demanding inclusivity, an action which saw the film being banned in the Arab world (Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the United Arab Emirates), as well as in Malaysia and Kazakhstan.

However considering the fact that Pixar, for over a quarter of a century, has been turning out some of the most thoughtful, imaginative, entertaining films on the planet, their each new release set the bar high for expectations.

But while I personally was expecting a stellar, epic sci-fi adventure from director Angus MacLane, who had also co-directed the delightful Finding Dory (2016), I was not prepared for such a ho hum experience that is not just disappointingly pedestrian but also lacks the wit and wonder of the franchise.

The Toy Story films are known to be consistently gripping and deeply emotional, but this spin-off, which brings over the nostalgia element for about ten minutes, in comparison is flaccid, repetitive and just emotionally dead. So much in the film just falls flat, from the action and the setting to the hit and miss humor, characters and subpar science fiction story involving time travel and misfit heroes. But what is ultimately lacking here is the heart and the standards we know Pixar to be capable of. Rightfully a box office bomb, this film is no Toy Story. It’s not even close.

The story follows Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Chris Evans), a headstrong Galactic Ranger of Star Command, who has committed his life to the organization’s exploration of deep space with his close friend and commanding officer, Alisha Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba), at his side. However, their latest mission, to planet called T’Kani Prime, goes sideways when while retreating after being attacked the host planet’s hostile lifeforms, Buzz ends up damaging their vessel, forcing the crew to evacuate in order to conduct repairs before continuing their journey.

A year later, the crew has constructed a colony and striving, as they begin testing their hyperspace fuel, a key component of the repairs, for which Buzz volunteers. But through the concept of time dilation, each failed flight skips ahead four years for everyone except Buzz.

As he nears the threshold of hyperspace he ages far slower than the colonists whose lives are continuing at normal speed. During these temporal lapses Alisha gets married, has a child, and then a granddaughter, Izzy. It takes about sixty years for Sox (voiced by Peter Sohn), Buzz’s robotic cat, to figures out the correct formula for fuel stabilization but now so many decades have passed that nobody wants to leave.

Unrelenting to accept that, Buzz disobeys orders of the new commanding officer, Commander Burnside (voiced by Isiah Whitlock Jr.), steals the XL-15 space plane with Sox, and finds himself 22 years into the future where the planet has been invaded by Emperor Zurg (voiced by James Brolin) and his robot force. But determined to make things go his way, Buzz is forced to team up with Alisha’s grown-up granddaughter, Izzy (voiced by Keke Palmer), and her two cadet friends, Mo Morrison (voiced by Taika Waititi) and Darby Steel (voiced by Dale Soules), to stop Zurg and free the colony.

There’s no denying that the technical aspects of the film are top notch, proving beyond infinity that Pixar is still the sterling standard in CGI animation and will be for decades to come. The outer space vistas, roaring rockets, alien spacecraft, and Zurg’s robots are stunning and imaginative. Ingested as pure science fiction eye candy, it’s all supremely efficient. But while the film definitely looked, and sounded, great, but it didn’t do enough to grasp a love for the character, or the story.

For a film which shoots for the stars, it is disappointingly pedestrian stuff. The film isn’t ambitious or existential or likely to make you cry. It’s just a flavorless film, not much different from others. But considering how proud the studio is of its engaging characters and machine-tooled storytelling, it’s amazing that the film has such an obviously sloppy screenplay. The story is thin, repetitive, and almost entirely dependent on the heroes being clumsy. It’s a mess, just a piling on of incidents without impact, pieced together from other by writers Angus MacLane, Matthew Aldrich and Jason Headley.

However, the biggest shame is our titular character is himself the worst aspect of the film. The structural problem here lies in preconceived notions of the character based on his blowhard antics in the Toy Story film, which can’t be translated to form a likable identity in this film-within-a-film medium apart from the franchise’s own internal logic. We never learn much about our hero, other than the fact that he was once a terrible cadet and he only got where he was thanks to Alisha giving him a chance.

The film entices us to feel sorry for Buzz and his lost comrade, but Alisha only appears during the first quarter of the film before the time skips kill her off, their friendship never feels developed enough to make us care. But it’s not only Buzz who suffers from being uninteresting. Izzy’s arc involves her getting over her fear of space and living up to her grandma’s reputation. Izzy is a likable character, both witty and charming, owing much to Keke Palmer’s performance, but she deserved a better story. Although the film’s co-lead, she ends up being overshadowed.

The only character which makes you sit up in this only-made-because-we-can-sell-more-toys enterprise is a cat called Sox, who is super-smart, can do complicated calculations, and goes meow-meow-meow whenever he gets a chance. And saves the gang from doom and gloom. But by the time that Lightyear gets around to introducing its true villain and their dastardly plan that underscores many of the film’s larger existential ideas, you are just left exhausted.

Voice performance wise, Chris Evans does his best to fill Tim Allen‘s shoes and his performance is palatable once you get over the change. Keke Palmer and Uzo Aduba play their parts well, while Taika Waititi, Peter Sohn and Dale Soules offer many of the film’s laughs. In smaller roles, James Brolin, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Efren Ramirez, Dale Soules and Mary McDonald Lewis are alright. On the whole, ‘Lightyear’ is a mundane animated sci-fi adventure that doesn’t quite take off.

Directed –

Starring (voices of) – Chris Evans, Taika Waititi, Keke Palmer

Rated – PG

Run Time – 100 minutes

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