June 20, 2022

Pixar’s “Lightyear” Fails to Launch (Review)

If you need proof of the over-saturation of content in modern media, look no further than Lightyear. The latest offering from Pixar, Lightyear is a movie that exists within the Toy Story universe as the film that inspired the Buzz Lightyear toy. While the argument about which movies are “necessary” could be had all day long, I think it’s safe to say that not many people were begging for Lightyear to be made — especially when a series held in high regard by many (Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, which aired from 2000-2001) accomplishes the same goal. Maybe it’s about time for an upgrade.

Image courtesy of Disney

But as far as redundant features go, Lightyear is far from the worst. I think its biggest flaw is that it’s technically related to the Toy Story movies, because that automatically measures it up against some of the best animated movies ever made. On the other hand, without the Toy Story connections, Lightyear is just another formulaic space-bound action movie that covers little unexplored ground. There’s just no way to win.

Even narratively, Lightyear is a bit of a mess. Chris Evans stars as the titular Space Ranger, whose piloting mistake strands his colonizing vessel on a habitable, but still hostile planet. With no hyperspace crystals to fuel their ship, the inhabitants of the ship have no choice but to set up a makeshift colony. One year later, new hyperspace crystals are being created, with Buzz volunteering as the test pilot. He discovers that every time he goes into space to test a crystal, time dilates, and every four-minute flight costs him four years down in the colony. On one of his return flights, he discovers that the colony is being ambushed by a robot army, and so Buzz assembles a team of ragtag heroes to defeat the invaders.

It becomes more conventional in its second half, but it always feels very familiar; this is another issue Lightyear can’t seem to get past, which is its parody potential. Toy Story 2 leaned into the Star Wars parallels, even going so far as to directly spoof “I am your father,” with Emperor Zurg in place of Darth Vader and Buzz in place of Luke. Lightyear doesn’t ignore those comparisons, but it doesn’t lean into them or embrace them in any way that proves awareness. Not everything has to be satirical, but Lightyear fails to put any new spin on these tropes, electing to use them for its own benefit. Maybe it makes sense in-universe — after all, Lightyear is Andy’s Star Wars, in terms of being the biggest science-fiction/fantasy influence on him and his burgeoning imagination — but as an individual film released in 2022, it’s not as remarkable as it would have been 30 years ago.

Image courtesy of Disney

I’m going to recant my statement about lack of necessity. Part of my mission statement is to celebrate each and every movie, and recognize those behind the films for their accomplishments. To put it simply,
Lightyear is a technical feat, unmatched in visual scale by most 3D-animated pictures that came before it. There’s a lot of trademark Pixar humor, though here it feels scattered and half-hearted, and there are plenty of quirky characters to entertain those of a younger audience. Despite my feelings about it, I’m glad I was able to see it in a theater instead of on Disney+ — its visual effectiveness demands a big screen showcase.

Aside from that optical surface, there’s nothing extraordinary about Lightyear, which would be a perfectly fine thing to say about your run-of-the-mill sci-fi release. It’s just not a standard I’m used to considering when it comes to Pixar.

Image courtesy of Disney

Lightyear is in theaters now.

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