REVIEW – “Lightyear”

Lightyear establishes everything you need to know in the opening title card – that the film you’re about to watch is the same film that Andy from the Toy Story films saw in theaters in 1995 and is what made him fall in love with the character of Buzz Lightyear. From this point forward, Lightyear is it’s own story full of original characters, sci-fi concepts, and a ton of adventure. The story follows a young Buzz Lightyear (this time voiced by Chris Evans) after a mission goes wrong and he’s stuck on a hostile alien planet with seemingly no way home. However, the bad odds don’t stop Buzz from trying to complete the mission and find a way back home – even if it means facing unexpected, personal challenges and going up against the evil Zurg (James Brolin) along the way.

One of the most impressive elements of Lightyear is how diverting and straight-forward it actually is despite having some surprisingly high-concept sci-fi themes at its core. It isn’t terribly focused on trying to tie into everything you know about the toy of Buzz Lightyear from the original Toy Story films, but when it does reference the other films it feels organic and like what the toy manufactures would pull from when designing the action figure. The core story here has a lot of solid themes of regret, failure, and learning to work as a team; Buzz himself is surprisingly a flawed and interesting character who goes through a lot of growth throughout the duration of the film, delivering a pretty compelling character arc by the end.

The most impressive dynamic in the entire film is that between Buzz and the Hawthorne family – without spoiling too much from the film, it’s really incredible to see Buzz come to terms with his regrets through the progression of time through this family and how he learns from each member in individual ways. Izzy Hawthorne (Keke Palmer) is especially a standout here – Palmer delivers a wonderful, dynamic, and at times highly emotional vocal performance here and the character herself is just a genuine delight that works greatly when paired with Buzz and her other teammates.

Speaking of voice performances.. Chris Evans as Buzz Lightyear is absolutely perfect. He nails the familiar mannerisms but entirely makes this version the character his own. I’m not quite sure how the film nails such a perfect balance between familiarity and originality, but from start to finish, it just strikes that cord perfectly and delivers something that feels genuinely new for the franchise and yet nostalgic enough that you entirely remember why you love Buzz Lightyear as a character and can see why Andy would obsess over him.

Between the genuinely compelling themes, highly entertaining sci-fi set-pieces and world building, delightful characters, and a big heart at its core – Lightyear far and away exceeded my expectations as one of the better films I’ve seen this summer and yet another winner for Pixar.


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