Lightyear (2022) is not about the Toy Story (1995) action figure, voiced by Tim Allen.
It is about the “movie” within the Toy Story movie and the character that inspired the Buzz Lightyear toy.
Think of it as more of an origin story than a spin-off movie, though it’s really a little of both.
Whatever it is, it’s probably not what audiences were expecting. For starters, it’s rated PG unlike the G-Rated Toy Story films.
There are a lot of laser gun blasts and a lot of things blowing up. And the story material is more complex and complicated. It’s about the adventures of Buzz Lightyear in outer space on a distant planet.
It’s not about the cute toy who hung out with Woody and his friends in a kid’s bedroom. It is not a feel-good movie about kids and toys and kids outgrowing their beloved toys and leaving them behind.
From the outset, it’s clear that Lightyear is a departure from the toy box world that audiences knew and loved. It’s much more serious.
Failure is a major theme of Lightyear, beginning with the failure of a deep space mission in which Buzz and a large crew of space rangers are awakened from cyber sleep to investigate a planet that is not on their official agenda. In science fiction movies this never bodes well. Think of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979).
The space explorers soon find themselves stranded in a hostile world of ferocious flying insects and creepy, carnivorous vines. With their mother ship severely damaged, escape from this bizarre planet will involve the creation of a hybrid ship that can travel at light speed. Also required is a fearless test pilot to fly it.
Lightyear scales up the dilemma of that great Jimmy Stewart film Flight of the Phoenix (1965) in which passengers on a crashed prop plane in the desert are forced to build a stripped-down flying machine from the wreckage. Though preposterous, the movie made it seem absolutely plausible.
That isn’t the case in Lightyear, in which the crew of the crashed ship is somehow able to construct a small, thriving city, a massive rocket-building facility and a light speed vehicle, presumably from the wreckage of their ship. It doesn’t add up.
The audience is apparently not supposed to think about it too much.
After the spare parts spaceship is built, Buzz embarks on a series of courageous attempts to make it work. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.
To make matters even worse, each time he returns from a test flight, he discovers that all his fellow friends and crew members have aged four years. It’s what happens when you’re dealing with travel at the speed of light. Just ask Albert Einstein. Poor Buzz helplessly watches everyone aging and dying as he struggles and fails to save them.
In one of the unexpected twists mentioned earlier, Lightyear rolls out the kind of storyline you’d expect in a Twilight Zone episode. For the record, there were classic Twilight Zone episodes that actually explored this theme. While interesting and thought provoking, it’s not the stuff of children’s entertainment which is what you might presume Lightyear was intended to be.
Einstein’s musings and observations about the nature of the space-time continuum might be more than what young audiences can digest. But I could be wrong.
In any event, in order to lighten things up a bit, Buzz is given a robotic therapy cat as a companion to help him deal with his psychological issues of failure and inadequacy. It bumps the movie back into the realm of kid’s entertainment, as does the addition of three additional misfits added for the sake of comic relief,.
If this is sounding familiar, it’s a click away from Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) with several whack-job characters including a wise-cracking space jockey raccoon.
Substitute the talking cat for the talking racoon and you have an animated, marginally kid-friendly version of Guardians. We’ve seen this before.
There are some quick flashes and references to other sci-fi movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Star Wars, to name a few. There is a glaring similarity to a mind- bending story element in JJ Abrams Star Trek (2009) but I want to try hard not to reveal any spoilers here.
What’s worth noting is Lightyear’s bold choice to include a couple of LGBTQ characters who get engaged, get married and have children and grandchildren (the details of which are never explained). There is even a brief same-sex kiss that is sure to spark controversy along cultural, political and religious lines. Lightyear is already being banned overseas.
Another controversial choice that hasn’t gone unnoticed was the replacement of Buzz Lightyear’s voice with Chris Evans stepping in for Tim Allen who was the original voice of Buzz in the Toy Story movies.
I’m sure the justification here was that Lightyear is about Buzz the character, not Buzz the toy.
In the end, on a purely technical level, Lightyear is pretty much what you expect from Pixar—fun, state-of-the-art, summer entertainment.
What you might not be prepared for is that it’s not the kind of simple, straightforward children’s entertainment that we’ve come to expect from the creators of Toy Story.
Lightyear is in theaters now.
Photo Credits: Copyright:"© 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.