Let’s talk about Lightyear.
We have big expectations of Pixar films compared to other animated studios. When Disney release something, you expect it to be very good and one of the songs to enter public conscious. With Illumination, you expect something your kids will love but for you to find quite annoying. But with Pixar, you expect something incredible that will change the game. When you have a back catalogue that includes films like Ratatouille, Toy Story 3 and Inside Out, people don’t just expect a very good movie, they expect something that will touch you in a way you don’t expect. And Pixar have been on a good run of that recently. While Soul, Luca and Turning Red didn’t get the cinema releases they deserved, all were very emotional movies with strong themes. So with Pixar finally returning to the cinema with Lightyear, can they match that?
Buzz Lightyear is a space ranger but a mistake he makes maroons an entire group of people on a hostile planet. He tries new fuel supplies to try and get them off the planet but every time he does a test flight, he goes four years into the future. After one test flight where he finally gets the right fuel formula, he finds the planet has been taken over by robots and he must team up with a ragtag bunch of volunteers to try and save the humans.
The conceit for this movie is that that this is the film that Andy from Toy Story watched back in 1995, became his favourite and meant he got the Buzz Lightyear toy. That is your very thin link to those movies and if you are coming into this movie expecting this to expand the world of Toy Story, you’ll be very disappointed. Apart from that screen of text at the start and the use of To Infinity and Beyond as a catchphrase, there are no links to that franchise. Instead, this tells its own story of a big sci-fi movie. And it packs a lot of big sci-fi concepts for a movie primarily aimed at kids. We have hyperspace travel that is more reminiscent of Interstellar than it is Star Wars because of how it uses time travel not just as a fun concept but as something that can completely change relationships. I am a little surprised that a film is meant to be something from the past doesn’t really resemble other 90s sci-fi films like Independence Day but that’s not something that affects the quality of this movie.
The strongest part of the movie is the first act. In this part of the movie, Buzz is trying different fuel formulas to find a stable one so that the spaceship which carries an entire town-worth of people can get off this planet which has many creatures which would like to kill people. The problem that emerges is that every time he does a flight, while it’s a few minutes for him, it’s actually four years on the planet due to time dilation, which is something I’d rather not explain because I’m not ready for the headache that’d give me. This leads to some great character moments. Buzz is great friends with Commander Hawthorne, another space ranger. Every time he comes back, Hawthorne has moved on with her life, getting engaged, then married and everything else that goes with life. These are really good moments as Buzz has to reflect on his attempts to complete the mission and also on the life he’s living. It’s great.
The film eventually settles down into one time though when during one of Buzz’s absences, a weirdly longer one that is never really explained, robots have invaded the planet and are doing their best to destroy the little civilisation the humans have made for themselves. This is when the ragtag bunch of volunteers come in which include Hawthorne’s granddaughter comes in. The idea here is that why these guys are well meaning, they do mess up a lot which is irritating to Buzz who just wants to work on his own and get the mission done. And I agree with Buzz, they are very irritating. I know they want them to be endearing, but it feels like every single problem caused in the movie is caused by them. Like, if Buzz was on his own, he’d probably be able to save the day a lot sooner and with much less drama if this gang didn’t exist. So this makes the gang actually quite irritating and you would rather them get ditched by Buzz. They made Taika Watiti actually frustrating which is shameful!
Also, let’s go back to those expectations of Pixar movies. I feel bad for Pixar at times because we probably expect more of them than we do any other animation studio. It means when they put something out, we always expect them to shoot for the stars and deliver something which delivers on a huge emotional level. Which is why it’s disappointing that Lightyear doesn’t even try. It has some emotional resonance but only the same sort you’d get from any blockbuster. You don’t get any stunning emotional moments like you get in Coco or Inside Out that break your heart then repair it within a few minutes. Maybe it’s wrong to expect that from this film. I certainly won’t be expecting from the new Minions movie. But when a studio is capable of such greatness but does not give it to us, it does get frustrating.
Lightyear is a fun enough movie. It delivers a sci-fi film that is for the most part entertaining and is definitely one the kids will enjoy watching. Adults will enjoy it too and not just because of its Toy Story links, which there are basically none anyway. However where it fails is the fact it’s main characters are often more irritating than they are entertaining and it takes too long for them to finally stop being useless enough for them to be worth Buzz having along. It also struggles to match many of Pixar’s other efforts as it is merely a movie and not something more. It definitely doesn’t crash land, but it doesn’t go to infinity and beyond either.