As Pixar makes plain at the outset, Lightyear is supposed to be the movie that Toy Story hero Andy loved so much and why he was a devoted Buzz Lightyear fan growing up.
In the Lightyear movie, Buzz is voiced by actor Chris Evans (“Captain America,” “Knives Out”) and I swear I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t read up on the movie beforehand. Evans manages to lower the register of his voice so he almost sounds like Tim Allen doing Buzz for the Toy Story movies.
But that’s where the similarity ends.
This Buzz is not on hand to do comedy riffs. He’s all business. And that business is exploring signs of life on an alien planet. What he finds, though, are murderous bugs and creatures that resemble vine-like boa constrictors that’ll swallow you up unless you have a weapon to cut through the tangle or a buddy to do the same.
And it becomes a kind of running joke throughout the movie.
As he tries to leave the alien world behind and reach escape velocity, Buzz miscalculates and the spaceship crashes back down to the planet’s surface, stranding the entire crew.
But Buzz knows it’s his mistake to fix and he uses his jet fighter-style spaceship to reach hyper-speed, which we’re told will be the cure-all. It’s just that whenever he attempts this feat, his four minutes in space translates into four years for the crew, so each time Buzz lands, he finds his friends aging, including his friend and commanding officer Alisha Hawthorne.
The brain trust at Pixar decided that Alisha should have a lesbian partner and their 2-second, on-screen kiss has already gotten Lightyear banned in parts of the Middle East. Disney execs tried to have the kiss excised before release, but that led to a revolt among Pixar employees and ultimately, they prevailed.
Initially, Buzz isn’t interested in being part of a team but quickly learns his mission to get everyone safely home will require the help of others, especially a motley crew of lovable misfits, including Alicia’s granddaughter Izzy. It’s a noble idea that the movie visits time and again.
Where I think Lightyear goes off the rails is with the re-introduction of the evil and mysterious Zurg from Toy Story. Zurg, as sci-fi villains often do, has a nearly impregnable starship with a robot army at his command.
Zurg’s henchmen resemble the evil robot from Disney’s “The Black Hole,” a nice touch, although it won’t matter to anyone but sci-fi nerds.
However, the way the villain is presented here isn’t really the version we remember from the original movies. And there’s a reveal about Zurg’s identity that I found head-scratching.
But the kiddies won’t care. There’s plenty of action, enhanced by some of the best animation Pixar has produced in years and an introduction of a robot cat called Sox that will steal your heart. In fact, Sox is likely to eclipse Buzz Lightyear as the inevitable must-have toy this Christmas.
And let’s be real. Disney has never not indulged in mass-merchandising its Pixar progeny. So, the real story behind Lightyear is, once again, a toy story.