“Lightyear” is a fun movie, but the mythology hurts more than it helps.
Those of you familiar with the world of professional wrestling have probably heard the term “kayfabe” thrown around in some capacity. Without spending the majority of this review discussing the relationship between The Undertaker and his “brother” Kane, or talking about the “four faces of Foley,” I’ll do my best to explain it here as simply as possible. In short, “kayfabe” is the idea that everything that happens in professional wrestling is real, honest-to-goodness reality, regardless of how over the top or fantastical it may seem.
Kayfabe has even leaked out of the wrestling world and into other aspects of entertainment. I’m sure a lot of us are familiar with the celebrity “feud” between Jimmy Kimmel and Matt Damon, or the rivalry between “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” costars Hugh Jackman and Ryan Reynolds. So why am I bringing up the idea of kayfabe in what’s supposed to be a simple review of the new Disney Pixar film “Lightyear”? Why talk this deep in regards to a movie that, on its surface, seems to just be another run-of-the-mill spin-off of a popular character? Well, dear reader, it all started with this tweet from the new voice of Buzz Lightyear himself, Chris Evans, shortly after the movie was announced:
Which, honestly, raised more questions than it answered. What did he mean by “the human Buzz Lightyear”? Are we to think that in the world of the Toy Story movies, Buzz was a real astronaut, like his namesake Buzz Aldrin? If that’s the case, do the space rangers actually exist in Andy’s world? Are they like the newly formed Space Force?
Thankfully, to clear up this confusion the director of the movie, Angus McLane, later stated that “Lightyear” was in fact “the movie that Andy saw that changed his life. Andy’s Star Wars. A sci-fi epic designed to inspire a new generation.”
And this is the reality in which the movie is set. Heck, the film even starts with a text prologue explaining that what we’re about to see is the movie that made Andy beg for a Buzz Lightyear action figure for his birthday back in 1995 and the movie that started the Space Ranger craze that’s prevalent throughout the Toy Story movies.
It’s through this lens that I found myself watching “Lightyear”, and while I enjoyed the film, I think the weight of its extended mythology ultimately hurts the movie more than it helps it.
“Lightyear” tells the story of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, voiced by Chris Evans. After an accident leaves Lightyear and the rest of the crew of his starship marooned on a hostile alien planet, Buzz takes it upon himself to find a way off. When one of his attempts flings him decades in the future, Buzz and a ragtag bunch of Space Rangers in training must save the world from the evil Zurg and his legion of robot soldiers.
Right off the bat I want to give Evans a lot of credit, as it would have been easy to phone in this performance and do a simple impression of Tim Allen’s take on the character. Instead, Evans makes the role his own, and even when he says some of the character’s famous catchphrases, he puts his own spin on them. The rest of the cast also does a great job with their roles, each of them clearly having a ball playing their roles, especially Keke Palmer, who seems to play her character with the same excitement that one would have getting to meet the real Buzz Lightyear.
Secondly, I wanted to make sure I spent at least a few sentences here congratulating Disney•Pixar on finally including at a true LGBTQIA relationship in this film. They’ve been tiptoeing around this type of inclusion for almost seven years now, so it’s nice to finally see it on the screen.
While we’re on the topic of actors who steal this movie, I can’t go a minute further without talking about Peter Sohn as Sox, Buzz’s robotic cat companion. If there is one breakout character in this movie, it’s Sox. Sohn, who directed the film “The Good Dinosaur,” has voiced a number of Pixar characters in the past, including Remy’s brother Emile in “Ratatouille,” and Squishy in “Monsters University.” His turn as the robotic feline offers a dry comedic voice to the madcap exploits of Buzz and his crew, and the film is better when he is in it.
Ultimately though, “Lightyear” feels like a film that tries to do too much in too little time, and never feels like it lives up to the promise of its premise.
For example, there’s a large portion of the first act of this movie that deals with Buzz’s guilt over marooning his shipmates. On it’s surface, these scenes are a pretty good reminder of how good Pixar can be at utilizing emotion as a storytelling piece. However, due to the kayfabe of this particular movie, I found myself thinking more of how bored a five or six year old might be at these slower parts. Would this really Andy’s favorite movie back in 1995?
Secondly, after Buzz finds himself in the future, we’re presented with a pretty major third-act twist, which ultimately feels unearned and severely underdeveloped. Again, given all that we know about Buzz from his toy line, theme park attractions, and animated series, it doesn’t really make sense, and it left me scratching my head.
Story weaknesses aside, “Lightyear” is a fun movie, that kids and fans of the original “Toy Story” movies will enjoy, but when you look at the deeper mythology the filmmakers are trying to build around this particular movie, it feels more like it hurts the overall work rather than helping it.
Disney•Pixar “Lightyear” is rated PG and runs an hour and 40 minutes. There is a mid-credit scene and two end credit scenes.
In The Parks
There are no specific “Lightyear” attractions in the theme parks, but there are plenty about the “Toy Story” version on which he’s based. Every Disney Resort has some sort of “Toy Story” representation. They are essentially the same ride with minor differences, but you can ride Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin at Walt Disney World, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters at Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland, Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast at Disneyland Paris, and Buzz Lightyear Planet Rescue at Shanghai Disney (the best version). Of course, there are Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and other smaller Toy Story lands in other Disney parks.
You can see a preview of the movie at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disneyland for a limited time.
You’ll also find plenty of “Lightyear” merchandise at Disney Stores, ShopDisney.com and in the parks worldwide. McDonald’s is currently selling “Lightyear” toys with their Happy Meals. You can also buy some official United States Post Office stamps with images based on the movie, and Blue Apron is offering “Lightyear” inspired meals.
If you really want to get meta, here’s a video of Buzz Aldrin with a Buzz Lightyear toy that went into space, parading through Magic Kingdom: