Upon Pixar’s announcement of Lightyear in 2020, the general online ‘buzz’ (if you’ll excuse the pun) was one of bemusement. What even was this film? An in-universe tie-in to the Toy Story franchise? A prequel? A sequel? Was the toy version of Buzz based on a real person? And wait, what? Buzz has hair?! Say it ain’t so! Yet once the hysteria subsided, it was pretty obvious what this project really was – the in-universe movie that Toy Story‘s Andy watched which made him want a Buzz Lightyear action figure for his birthday (it confirms as much at the beginning of the film). In many ways, Lightyear is the origin story of that movie’s Buzz, and whilst the connections to the Toy Story films are minimal at best, the end result is just as fun, entertaining and slick as those movies.
However it’s not just those movies that Lightyear takes it cue from, as becomes immediately apparent within the film’s first few minutes. Blending visuals and ideas from films like Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Interstellar and Buck Rogers, along with video games like Gears of War and Dead Space, Lightyear proudly wears its genre influences for all to see like a well-fitted spacesuit. But fear not, for the film is more than just a collection of clever references and knowing nods. The story itself is simple, in that it details Buzz’s attempts to save a community of marooned space settlers from a mysterious alien incursion alongside a crew of loveable rookies, but it also goes hard on some big science fiction concepts, intertwining them with a personal and occasionally heartfelt story that in turn offers a fresh new take on the much-loved space hero.
Director Angus MacLane and his team’s love for the character is apparent from the off, and whilst there are a few little tweaks to the lore and backstory here and there, this is very much the Buzz Lightyear of old, albeit one decked out in a much chunkier, high-tech looking suit, complete with a new voice actor behind the mic to boot. Yes, Tim Allen is the quintessential Buzz Lightyear we know and adore, but Chris Evans is perfectly cast as this new ‘live-action’ version of Buzz, and brings a more earnest, rounded and altogether human performance to the character than that of the toy version (immediately apparent is how out of place Allen’s comedic, exaggerated version of the character would feel in this setting). Evans imagines his Buzz Lightyear as less of a goof, whilst also simultaneously retaining the recognisable charms and qualities of the character too, all of which goes a long way in winning round audiences previously only accustomed to the Allen version.
Evans’ voiceover works on its own, but in tandem with the wonderful animation, it breathes new life into arguably Pixar’s most famous character. The production design and animation go hard on making the world of Lightyear akin to that of a live action sci-fi blockbuster, with realistic textures, colours and cinematography that lend proceedings a more grimy, gritty quality then what you’d usually see in a Pixar fantasy. The camera work from Jeremy Lasky and the lighting of Ian Megibben strike a fine balance between that washed-out sci-fi aesthetic of recent years and that instantly recognisable Pixar look, lending the film a mature but inviting palette, whilst the action here is perfectly choreographed and effortlessly animated. Set to Michael Giacchino‘s wonderfully emotive and soaring score, the whole endeavour looks and sounds exactly like the big, barnstorming live-action sc-fi blockbusters it aims to imitate.
Anyone who’s ever had a Buzz Lightyear action figure will undoubtedly love this movie to one degree or another – funny, action-packed and occasionally pulling at the heartstrings in the way all good Pixar productions do, Lightyear takes everything audiences know and love about the character and amalgamates it into something both nostalgic and new at the same time. In many ways a love letter to the character, it’s an entertaining action adventure that showcases Pixar at their finest and most imaginative. Our advice: put the toys away for a bit, head to the cinema and enjoy the real thing!