The origins of heroes are more than a dime a dozen these days and are often recreated and retold, yet for some iconic characters, that is not strictly required. In the Toy Story films, the audiences learn that Woody was Andy’s favourite toy, until seeing a film got him obsessed with Buzz Lightyear. In 2022, almost 30 years later, fans finally got to see the film that inspired Andy all those years ago, in Lightyear.
Meet Lightyear, he’s a daring Space Ranger, helping guide a frozen spaceship (in the shape of a turnip) full of colonists. After inadvertently marooning the ship on an unknown planet, Buzz is determined about returning to space-travelling, if he can master a complicated space manoeuvrer. Every time he attempts a space jump, life passes him by years at a time. Everyone down on the planet carries on with building new lives and families. Yet Buzz carries on, and on, until a mysterious robotic invasion befalls the colony. Lightyear must assemble and guide a platoon of unlikely cadets to counter the invasion and stop this mysterious Zerg.
There is this meta-narrative cloud that surrounds Lightyear, one that you wouldn’t explicitly notice if you went into the film blind. Namely, that the film is the same film that got Andy invested in the Lightyear lore. It is an intriguing choice, Lightyear doesn’t directly try to overly evoke a film from the mid-90s, and in the presentation, the film refrains from an excessively retro-atheistic. This aversion to overt-parody can be seen in its choice of lead, as Chris Evans, who many have pointed out, doesn’t share a lot similar to Tim Allen. However, he offers a perfect blend of self-assuredness and humanity that does give the ostentatious character of Lightyear an extra dimension.
Throughout Lightyear, it is the human element that helps propel this film, as we are given great insight into the colonists. E.g. Hawthorn is a fun character, and it is fascinating to see her life flash before the audience’s eyes, as Buzz tries, yet again, to correct the mistakes that marooned him. The rag-tag group of cadets that Buzz has to reluctantly guide also provide comedy and heart: Izzy Hawthorn, played by Keke Palmer who you might remember from Scream: Resurrection and Scream Queens, along with the likes of Taika Waititi and others, makes for a well-rounded cast. Plot and characters can only carry a film like this so far; the dramatic leaps in animation quality since the character was first introduced 27 years ago certainly help in justifying seeing a film like Lightyear. There are homages galore to tech and space films of the era, but not much to feel like an obvert parody, more of a subtle hint that tries not to get in the way. Yet it slows the film to demonstrate a lot of ingenuity, such as with the comically-shaped Turnip, or Sox, the automated emotional companion cat, does grow on both Buzz and the audience.
If you can forgive the oddities surrounding the film’s purpose (or the further muddling it might bring to the extended canon of Buzz Lightyear). You will find that there’s a lot of space action, family-friendly messaging, and some fun messing around with relativity to be found in Lightyear. It takes very subtle cues from the era and manages to make a compelling and interesting origin film, without going the Galaxy Quest root. In a franchise that is full of heart, it’s no surprise that the team at Pixar continue to excel in the human side to the origins of the recognisable space toy.
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