Lightyear lands in cinemas nationwide on June 17th.
Technically, Lightyear is not the first Buzz Lightyear feature film – that title goes to Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins. Surprisingly similar to Lightyear, it’s framed as the ‘real’ story of the figurine, re-introducing us to the now-classic emblems of Zurg and the Little Green Men from Toy Story 2. It’s by no means a perfect film, but it had a certain aura of nostalgia around it. Lightyear undoubtedly threatened that nostalgia, in no small part due to the replacement of Tim Allen with Chris Evans. It is somewhat of a rarity for Pixar to even travel down the spin-off route, with the former Lightyear adventure and 2013’s Planes two of the few examples. So what does Lightyear offer that Buzz Lightyear of Star Command didn’t?
Lightyear is reminiscent of several famous sci-fi flicks as director Angus MacLane takes his inspiration from the classical space adventures of Lost in Space and Forbidden Planet rather than modern science fiction. The world of Lightyear feels thematically and aesthetically like a throwback to 50s and 60s sci-fi with big chunky spacesuits and oh-so-serious mission monologuing. But oddly, by going back in time, Lightyear makes itself feel fresh amidst a somewhat more uniform aesthetic of modern science fiction.
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The fish out of temporal water twist ensures Chris Evans was the perfect pick to don the Lightyear suit. Here the first act of Lightyear is comparatively Captain America in Space. It’s a credit to Evans that he can portray Buzz in a laudably similar sense to Allen while finding his own style. Here there is an, at times, tricky entanglement of attempting to copy whilst also creating something new with Lightyear due to the film’s metatextual inspiration for the line of toys. This layered meta-ness does serve for a slight removal as Buzz fires off his most known quips from the Toy Story franchise – but given that this film is the inspiration for the toy line, who do the lines really belong to, Evans or Allen?
Thankfully, Lightyear does avoid the pitfalls of many a spin-off – this is no Solo, and there’s no over-explanation for every single thing we’ve come to understand about Buzz. There are intriguing retellings of certain characters’ backstories and relationships, alongside the beautifully bleak relationship shared between Lightyear and Uzo Aduba’s Hawthorne, a stand-out connection in the film.
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Like many Pixar films, the rocket fuel of emotion is crucial to Lightyear’s journey, but the surprising melancholic touches give it greater maturity than one might expect. Through Buzz’s self-imposed time-travelling imprisonment, he is forced to witness everyone he knows and loves age and gradually disappear into the ether. This unexpectedly heavy theme is carried throughout, and while it doesn’t delve deeper into the psychological distress of this mental burden, it nonetheless took me by surprise.
While there’s not much to say about Pixar’s animation that hasn’t already been said – it looks spectacularly cinematic as it always does – this foray into the cosmic is undoubtedly something I’d love to see more from the studio. The barren wastelands of the planets, the inky nothingness of space, and the crystallised magnificence of hyper-space (no doubt a 2001 reference) are divine. Surprisingly, this is only Pixar’s second venture into space after WALL-E, especially when it’s clear they have a strong vision for the creative visualisation of what it’s like amongst the stars. Hopefully, Angus MacLane can be the one to push them further; maybe a Pixar film set around the Space Race? I’d love to see that!
Lightyear is surprisingly one of Pixar’s best recent stories. Here its unexpectedly mature emotionality is unafraid of allowing in the melancholic, strengthening it significantly in telling us the ‘true’ story of Buzz Lightyear. Its throwback to classical science-fiction breathes new life into the genre, and its temporal fish-out-of-water twist alongside some perfect casting ensures Lightyear gives you a real cosmic buzz.
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Lightyear is surprisingly one of Pixar’s best recent stories. Here its unexpectedly mature emotionality is unafraid of allowing in the melancholic, strengthening it greatly in telling us the ‘true’ story of Buzz Lightyear.