Lightyear lacks the heart to take it to infinity and beyond
Review: Lighyear (2022)
The Toy Story franchise has featured heavily in our household. In the early 2000’s when our children were the appropriate ages the DVDs were on repeat. Now we all have Disney + in our lives there seems to be a tendency toward creating content to feed these hungry streaming services. And whatever spinoff or gaps that exist in storytelling, or even gaps we thought unnessary are making their way onto small and large screens.
Much has been written about how we have really reached a point where there is too much content and film and television needs to be created to feed all the streaming services.
Fast forward to 2022 and Lightyear feels like a box-ticking exercise to retrofit the Lightyear character as a movie star who inspired a toy.
Essentially then, this is a film about the origin of Toy Story’s merchandise. How meta.
The film begins with the following title-card: “In 1995, a boy called Andy got a Buzz Lightyear toy for his birthday. It was from his favourite movie. This is that movie.”
So what we understand from this title card is that Buzz Lightyear is a movie action star voiced by Chris Evans, and Toy Story is the action figure/merchandise from that movie, who happens to come to life in Andy’s toy box.
It’s also hard to view this film as anything more than a way to sell more merchandise. With that in mind Lightyear has a few new characters, and an endearing robot cat called Sox that will no doubt be featuring in a toy aisle near you.
In its heyday, Pixar films made us care about their characters. The original trilogy of Toy Story films are a classic example. You cared about Buzz and Woody and the gang and were genuinely invested in their adventures. You cared about the journey that grumpy Carl and Russell took in Up and their dysfunctional family dynamic. The almost wordless Wall-E was poignant, funny and alarming in its critique of the future of the planet.
In fact, one of the most poignant scenes in Up is utilised in Lightyear.
And while we’re on the subject of better more original films, Lightyear borrows everything from a huge number of sci-fi films like Alien, Interstellar and Star Wars, making the film feel unoriginal and recycled.
Now if Lightyear had been this full tilt, explosive 90s-style sci-fi film, it’s plausible that Lightyear might have been Andy’s favourite movie, but it’s a slow, repetitive, often sad film with a main character who seems racked with guilt and hampered by problems, mistakes and disappointments along the way.
The voice acting of Chris Evans as the titular character is excellent and he doesn’t feel the need to copy Tim Allen from the Toy Story films. Perhaps someone needs to give Taika Waititi some kind of award for turning up in the most unlikely of places, in Lightyear he voices Mo, part of Buzz’s rag tag band of misfits who attempt to save the day – a number of times before Buzz learns the appropriate life lesson in the film.
Lightyear is Pixar’s 26th film and to be honest it feels like we are in “the law of diminishing returns” territory. Over the years, the studio has invested in emotional impact in its storytelling. Its adage that its films were for the entire family have served its many original stories well.
Flawless visuals are a Pixar trademark at this point, but perhaps more attention to detail in Lightyear’s story might have helped it feel less like hollow spectacle and repetitive plot points. If the film has a theme it’s in the value of teamwork and the importance of family (whatever form it takes), but this is rammed home so often it begins to feel redundant.
In the end it seems the character that inspired the catchphrase “To infinity and beyond” needs a bit more heart and emotional impact for it to land for the entire family.
What’s next, Woody’s origin story? “There’s a snake in my boots!”
Please don’t go there…
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