by Tyler Glover
Director: Angus MacLane
Starring: Chris Evans, Keke Palmer & Taika Waititi
Runtime: 1 hour & 40 minutes
In December 2020 when Pixar first announced the development of a Buzz Lightyear origin story, I was immediately skeptical. Audiences have always known Buzz as one of Andy or Bonnie’s toys in all four ‘Toy Story’ films. So, it was difficult to imagine a Buzz with no Woody, Jessie, Rex or Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head. My skepticism grew even more when it was announced that Tim Allen would not be voicing Buzz Lightyear anymore, but it would be Chris Evans instead. So, now that “Lightyear” has been released, does it have a friend in us?
“Lightyear” follows Buzz Lightyear, a space ranger in Star Command, and his best friend, Alisha Hawthorne as they are investigating a habitable planet. After having to retreat to their spaceship after finding the planet has some hostile creatures, Buzz accidentally damages the vessel leaving them stranded on the planet. A year later, the crew has made a colony to live in while also developing a way to return to Earth. Buzz, very driven to fix his mistake and complete the mission, volunteers to test hyperspace fuel that will help them escape from the planet. However, after he returns, four years have passed for everyone else while just minutes have passed for him. His continued pursuits leave him un-aging but sees his friend, Alisha get engaged to her girlfriend, have a baby, have that baby graduate college, and have a child of their own. Finally, Buzz receives the help from Sox, a robotic cat, Alisha’s adult granddaughter, Izzy, and two others named Mo Morrison and Darby Steel. Eventually, they are even forced to come face to face with the infamous Zurg.
One thing to note about Pixar films is that they have set the bar for animation so incredibly high that even films that are really good may not measure up to previous films. Pixar has produced so many movies that have multiple repeat viewings in my household, like: “Finding Nemo,” “Up,” all ‘Toy Story’ movies, “Coco” and “Inside Out” for example. When Pixar is brilliant, they are brilliant! So, while “Lightyear” may not be one of the best additions to Pixar’s filmography, it is still a very entertaining, action-packed and at times, funny film. This film is also the same film that Andy watched in the first “Toy Story” that made him want to get a Buzz Lightyear action figure. Andy proves to not only have great taste in toys but also in movies.
Sox, the robotic cat, will be the standout in this movie for many. Sox is such a fun and clever companion to Buzz that it will no doubt sell lots of merchandise for Disney. However, one thing that really resonated with me is having lovable characters that still have flaws. Disney has had a history of showing us seemingly “perfect” heroes and heroines. Snow White and Cinderella, for example, are model examples for all of us in showing kindness to people that are against us. While I love those films, “Lightyear” shows us a protagonist whose pride and ego are very visible throughout and shows us the consequences of those flaws. We also have a supporting character in Darby Steel, who is a paroled convict. As a consequence, there are times she is not able to help as a condition of her parole.
The film also shows us the world for the way it is. In the film, Buzz’s friend, Alisha, is a lesbian. This is the first time Disney and Pixar have had such a central character be a part of the LGBTQIA community. The thing getting some press is that the film shows a same-sex kiss on screen. The truth of the matter is even if you are against the gay community, it is not stopping them from being a part of our world. Films should represent the world as it is and tell those stories. Gay people are a part of the world’s story.
Where the film truly lacks in comparison to other Pixar films is in its emotional aspect. There are moments that resonate with you but not in the way “Up” or “Finding Nemo” do. It is not saying that all Pixar films have to be that way but when you have played up an emotional aspect very heavily in most of your films and then one doesn’t have it, it can feel a little jarring. The truth is there were moments where the film started to truly highlight an emotional aspect, but it was too quick and rushed to leave the lasting impact it probably planned to give. At times, I felt like the heart of the film was sacrificed for more of the normal summer blockbuster action leaving the film to be exciting to watch in the moment but leave very little impact days later.
So, does “Lightyear” have a friend in me? It’s the kind of friend I will occasionally meet for lunch, but we don’t vacation at Christmas together.