Review: Lightyear

Today I am going to be reviewing the latest Pixar offering Lightyear, which is currently on release in UK cinemas. As you may guess from the title it’s about the Toy Story character Buzz Lightyear, “to infinity and beyond!”, yep that’s the one. Going in I had pretty low expectations because of the reviews I’d seen and the general chatter surrounding this film. So could it exceed those poor expectations? Let’s find out.

The original Toy Story was released in 1995, 27 years ago at the time of writing. It has spawned 3 sequel films over 24 years and birthed an entire franchise. The first 3 films are all classics and highly recommended if you haven’t seen them. The 4th was not quite as strong but is still a pretty decent film in it’s own right. With Lightyear the studio is attempting to spread the magic sauce from the first 3 films a little further, but will it be too thin? It’s a risky business. In fact there has already been a Buzz Lightyear film, it was back in 2000. Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins. I have to admit I haven’t seen it, so I can’t compare it to this latest offering. There are some significant changes I do know about though. Most notably in the voice cast. Tim Allen voiced Buzz in all the previous incarnations and was roundly applauded for his performances. Fans were not impressed when they learned he isn’t involved in this new film. Instead Buzz is voiced by Chris Evans. The Captain America actor, not the ginger guy who used to be on the telly a lot in the UK. There is a reasoning behind this which I’ll try to explain.

In Toy Story lore Andy gets the Buzz Lightyear figure after seeing a film which he loves back in 1995. As the opening titles for Lightyear explain “this is THAT film”. So Lightyear is supposed to be the film which inspired the creation of the toy and that’s the loose explanation for the change in voice actors. It’s a bit of a stretch possibly but it didn’t really bother me, and Chris Evans has the chops to pull it off. He’s probably a lot more of a box office star that Tim Allen this days too.

It also means that this film exists outside of the main Toy Story universe in a way, because it predates it. So it could explain the absence of all the other toy characters. Woody and the gang. Getting Tom Hanks and all the other voice stars on board would have bumped up the budget quite a bit I imagine, so the accountants will be pleased with the premise.

Our story begins as Buzz is awoken from cryo sleep on a large space ship heading for an unknown destination. He’s woken up by the computer because they are passing a possibly hospitable plant and he decides to check it out. Waking up his fellow space ranger and commanding officer Alisha (voiced by the excellent Uzo Aduba from Orange Is The New Black, amongst other things). She in turn wakes and brings along a rookie for the exploration, much to Buzz’s chagrin.

They quickly discover the planet is very hostile, with a whole host of dangerous plant vines and large insects. Their ship is damaged and the entire crew is now stranded on this rock. The fuel crystal needed to power the ship is irrevocably damaged and Buzz feels responsible. From there he must help the scientists test their attempts to synthesise a new crystal and enable their escape. Aided by a gang of rookie space rangers and a robotic companion cat called Sox who is very cute.

This is only the set up for the main story and if you want to know what happens next you’ll have to watch it. I try to avoid major spoilers.

The fuel crystals detail made me wonder if this was a nod to Star Trek, where Scotty would always be complaining about the Dilithium crystals that powered the Enterprise, or the lack of them. It’s possible the writers intended this reference but who knows.

Overall I enjoyed this film a hell of a lot more than I expected to. It’s not a classic and it’s not as strong as those first 3 films in the franchise but let’s be honest, what is? Most animated films these days don’t quite live up to the trailblazing brilliance of Toy Story. So Lightyear is not alone in that. Despite reports I heard that there was no heart in this film and that it lacked humour, I would have to disagree. The characters are likeable and Chris Evans does well in portraying Buzz. The story isn’t groundbreaking but it does have a couple of nice twists and propels the film along more than adequately. It’s true that there isn’t the amount of jokes you’d perhaps expect but there were some genuine moments of real drama. I realised by the end I was far more invested in the story and characters than I’d expected. The supporting voice cast, which includes Taika Waititi, is very strong. They all perform well and while it might not change your life, it’s an enjoyable little ride. Coming 27 years after fans were first introduced to Buzz Lightyear this film had real potential to be a total mess. I am happy to report it’s not. I spent a pretty enjoyable couple of hours watching it and if you have kids I suspect they might enjoy it even more.

Overall score: 3/5

In summary, Lightyear is definitely worth a watch but it probably won’t stay with you in the way those other Toy Story films did. It has good performances and a solid. Having said that I hope we don’t see a slew of these spin-offs now. Pixar has managed to create a decent enough film with this one, but returning to that well again probably wouldn’t be a good idea.

Have you seen Lightyear? What did you think of it? Feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments, via Twitter or even email if you like. My next review is probably going to be the new Elvis film by Baz Luhrmann but I’m open to suggestions or requests.

Until then, take care of yourselves out there. To infinity and beyond!!

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