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Movie review: 'Lightyear' is a lightspeed thrill ride

1/5
Buzz Lightyear flies an all new mission. Photo courtesy of Pixar
Buzz Lightyear flies an all new mission. Photo courtesy of Pixar

LOS ANGELES, June 13 (UPI) -- Lightyear, in theaters Friday, is not as profound as the Toy Story movies, but it is a fun and exciting space movie in its own right. The premise is that this is the 1995 movie upon which Andy's toy was based.

Buzz Lightyear (voice of Chris Evans) and his team of Space Rangers become marooned on an alien planet. They try to build a hyperdrive crystal from the resources on the planet to get back home.

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Every time Buzz flies a test mission, four years go by on the planet. By his final test, more than 60 years have passed while he remains the same age.

Buzz teams up with his partner's granddaughter, Izzy (Keke Palmer), and two other junior patrol cadets, Mo (Taika Waititi) and Darby (Dale Souls), to try to fly one last mission. Not only has Star Command grounded Buzz, but Zurg (James Brolin) and his robot army also has invaded the planet.

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Lightyear embraces a lot of the blockbuster movie cliches that would have been thriving circa 1995, when Andy first received his toy. Buzz defies authority, has to work with a ragtag crew of untrained underdogs and is looking for redemption for a past mistake.

The space action is genuinely thrilling with stakes as high as Gravity. Even when it's animated characters, you don't want them to end up floating in the vacuum of space.

However, Buzz's new space adventures certainly benefit from 27 years of Pixar's technological development since Toy Story. The planetary environments and creatures have 27 years' worth of texture and detail.

The movie feels a little episodic, in which characters keep solving one crisis, only to have another crisis to confront them. It's like a kid recapping the plot of a movie, saying, "This happened and then this happened and then this happened."

In that way, Lightyear resembles the hit '90s space movie Armageddon. At least Lightyear's set pieces are constructed more like Steven Spielberg or the Mission: Impossible movies than Michael Bay.

There may be a scene in which the Space Rangers need to get a coil to fix their ship. But then robots attack and they drop the coil. So the tension escalates because it won't matter if they escape the robots if they can't fix their ship.

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Zurg's introduction is very Star Wars, and his character puts a twist on the canon established in Toy Story 2. Homages even get as highbrow as 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Lightyear is a legitimate space movie, but it still has Pixar's style of comic relief. The film seamlessly blends decidedly campy confetti and robot cats with its serious space drama.

The Pixar team also knows how to fit in poignant moments, such as Buzz outliving some of his friends. The overall theme ultimately is simpler than the themes of Toy Story, but relevant for a '90s sci-fi epic.

Buzz spends so long trying to fix the hyperdrive, he misses worthwhile things going on on the planet. He's literally missed out on time due to the science-fiction time jumps.

The Toy Story movies deal with the inevitable heartbreak of outgrowing people you love, which is harder to reconcile for both parties. "Stop and smell the roses" is a simpler theme, but it's also valid.

Lightyear is layered with fast-paced adventure that never lets up. It may not reinvent space movies, but it's a good one in its own right.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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