Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 40 min.
Release Date: June 17th, 2022 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Angus MacLane Actors: Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, Taika Waititi, James Brolin, Dale Soules, Uzo Aduba, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Bill Hader
hen a deep space Star Command exploration vessel picks up signals of unidentified lifeforms on a nearby planet, Space Ranger Captain Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) opts to investigate. Upon discovering only hostile plant and insect life on the surface, Lightyear attempts to make a hasty escape, but a miscalculation causes the ship to crash-land. With their only fuel crystal damaged, the entire crew becomes stranded indefinitely. Unwavering in his ethos to finish the mission no matter the cost, Buzz volunteers to pilot every subsequent hyperspeed test flight until a suitable replacement power source is found. Time passes, but Lightyear’s dedication to the cause never falters. Upon the arrival of a devastating new threat, he must band together with ambitious-but-inexperienced recruits Izzy (Keke Palmer), Darby (Dale Soules), and Mo (Taika Waititi) for a mission to save the lives of the entire human colony.
Buzz is now a real person of sorts – or perhaps an actor in a movie, which just so happens to be heavily stylized. Or maybe it’s meant to be an actual computer-animated picture, which would beg the question as to why the humans here are more lifelike than in real life. Or maybe the plastic action figure is simply one of the most photorealistic models ever to fall into the hands of a child (this film is the basis for the toy that appears in the “Toy Story” films). But no matter how sticky the main idea (this isn’t simply an origin story or a prequel), the end result is a full-blown space opera, riddled with exceptional levels of action, potentially eclipsing that of “The Incredibles.” And since “WALL·E” borrowed more from silents and musicals than sci-fi extravaganzas from the ‘80s and ‘90s, “Lightyear” never feels derivative of Pixar’s prior speculative fiction fare. “Move it ranger!”
If Buzz’s humanness is unusual, the background elements certainly are not. Once again, the environments, atmospheres, clothing, armor, weaponry, props, sets, and every other inanimate component are highly convincing; cartoonish characters exist in incredibly realistic worlds. This often works even better with the abundance of robotics and spaceships, generating a three-dimensionality that rivals those of live-action space-bound thrillers.
But most engaging are the heavier sci-fi concepts, around which are woven family-friendly imagery and humor. The opening dismisses a one-year marooning as if it was nothing, before tackling another four-year leap, and larger chunks after that, utilizing time dilation (seen memorably in “Interstellar”), which intermittently results in light gags but predominantly settles on dreary notes of isolation, the loss of friends, hopelessness, futility, and the dashed potential of meaningful relationships. Thanks to Pixar’s affinity for including maturer, potent material amid buoyant adventure, “Lightyear” isn’t without emotional moments, even if the best is reminiscent of other projects by the same studio.
To balance the darker ingredients is a Puss in Boots type of supporting role, here in the form of therapeutic robo-companion Sox, which steals just about every scene it’s in. It’s something of a shame that Sox isn’t the primary source of comic relief, since the ragtag group of Lightyear’s untrained rookies (nodding to “The Dirty Dozen” among others) functions less as specialized helpers (a la Baron Munchausen’s men) than frustratingly inept begetters of conflict. On numerous occasions, the junior rangers conjure their own predicaments, which must be solved en route to the ultimate goal, padding the straightforwardness entirely for laughs – or, in rarer scenes, to reiterate notions of confidence-building, encouragement, admitting faults, perseverance, the reluctant acceptance of teamwork, and revelations about determining when catastrophic mistakes might actually be blessings in disguise.
Yet even as the plot progresses with a formulaic air, not failing to surprise as much as it merely evenly spaces the action and exposition and comedy, the sense of limitless possibilities keeps things exciting. Buzz’s universe is largely unknown and undefined, brimming with nifty technological wonders that spruce up all the sci-fi staples. It may not always make sense, while employing a handful of extreme coincidences, but the outer-space visuals and action-packed fight sequences are undoubtedly riveting. It doesn’t achieve the sentimental impact of the “Toy Story” episodes that preceded it, but it’s nevertheless sharply made, imaginatively written, and thoroughly entertaining.
– The Massie Twins