At the beginning of Lightyear – Pixar's new Toy Story spin-off movie – some text flashes up on screen informing us that the film we're about to watch had been Andy's personal favourite back in 1995, the very picture that encouraged him to buy his beloved Buzz Lightyear toy all those years ago.
While this is unquestionably a more coherent introduction than Chris Evans' much-mocked statement when the project was initially announced – "This isn’t Buzz Lightyear the toy. This is the origin story of the human Buzz Lightyear that the toy is based on" – it also means the film is setting itself rather an ambitious target: for it to really be considered a success on its own terms, Lightyear has to convincingly seem like it could be the favourite film of at least a portion of its young target audience.
To truly answer whether it succeeds on those grounds you'd probably be better off asking a group of pre-teens, but my personal opinion is that it falls short. It's a fun and often amusing time at the movies no doubt, with some well-executed set pieces and consistently pretty visuals – but it doesn't have the invention or emotional heft of some of Pixar's better efforts, and winds up feeling relatively throwaway as a result.
It doesn't help that the story itself is a little too convoluted for its own good. There are several false starts before we're eventually launched into the main thrust of the action, which sees Buzz team up with a ragtag bunch of characters – including the granddaughter of his former colleague and an escaped convict whose criminal past is kept deliberately ambiguous – as they hatch a plan to finally escape a planet he'd crash-landed on several years ago.
Before we get there, there are some good moments – a montage that sees Buzz repeatedly age four years at a time due to time dilation, with echoes of Interstellar, is a particular highlight – but the set-up is all a little stop-start and prevents the film from gaining much momentum in its opening stages.
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Thankfully, when it eventually does get going it's hard not to fall for its charms – and as an exciting sci-fi comedy adventure it undoubtedly hits the mark, with plenty of engaging action scenes and one or two surprising revelations later down the line.
Towards its conclusion, the mission puts the team directly in the path of Buzz's sworn enemy Emperor Zurg, voiced here by James Brolin, who leaves the title character with a moral dilemma that will pose some interesting questions for the young audience, as any science-fiction tale worth its salt should.
Pixar movies have always been especially brilliant at creating lovable and hilarious characters, and Lightyear once again excels in this department. Sox, a robotic cat assigned to Buzz towards the beginning of the film, is sure to be the breakout star, providing the bulk of the laughs and often helping the gang in their time of need. (In fact, Sox is such a great character that you wonder why the most sought-after toy in the Toy Story universe was Buzz and not him.)
Mo Morrison – another comic relief character voiced by Taika Waititi – is slightly less successful, but on the whole, the group dynamic between the central heroes works well, and there are some great moments between Buzz and Izzy Hawthorne, the young upstart played by Keke Palmer.
The voice performances across the board are also generally well done – it's to Chris Evans' credit that you never feel like you're simply listening to Captain America in the main role – and several of the space backdrops are genuinely stunning to look at, with Pixar's animators doing a stellar job of creating an enjoyable intergalactic world for its audience to get lost in.
Where the film isn't quite so successful – and perhaps this is nitpicking – is that it feels very much like a film made in the early 2020s rather than one that was released in the 1990s, which is when it would have roughly come out according to the Toy Story timeline.
This is where a little more invention might have been welcome – leaning into a more retro aesthetic would have added another dimension to a film that for all its charms does feel a little inconsequential when all is said and done.
Still, even if it doesn't quite go to infinity and beyond, this is an enjoyable addition to the Pixar canon – which includes more of the well-meaning life messages we've come to expect from the animation studio and enough good moments to keep its target audience firmly entertained throughout.
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