With modern animation comes great responsibility. Pixar Animation Studios has been at the forefront of inspiring characters and stories, fueling audiences’ and creators’ imaginations. One of the most synonymous properties in their library is the Toy Story franchise and its characters. Buzz Lightyear and Woody, the Cowboy are the playthings of Andy’s imagination come to life. Pixar and director Angus MacLane (Finding Dory) return to the Toy Story universe with their latest and fun, Lightyear.

Lightyear succeeds for several reasons, namely how it treats its namesake. Andy, Woody, and the rest of their pals are nowhere to be found in this script from Jason Headley and MacLane. Chris Evans voices the eponymous character, giving Buzz a strong foundation as MacLane and company set out to tell the story of Buzz’s first mission as a movie character, eventually inspiring the toys that fueled Andy’s imagination.

Yes, the gorgeous animation was perhaps sleeker than possible in 1995, but that’s the film’s point: Buzz had to be larger than life, and his mission had to be larger than life. Lightyear is the first Pixar film shot in IMAX, and boy did that deliver the goods, giving more energy and vitality to the characters.

Evans lends gravitas and youthfulness to the voice, as deep in tone as Tim Allen’s, who voiced the character in the Toy Story films. Hedley and MacLane give Buzz a complete range of emotions that fit the various scenarios, but most important is determination. An earth colonization ship is en route to a new colony when their ship is pulled off course to investigate life. Lightyear is very cocksure and has the confidence of his mission commander and friend, Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba), when they become stranded. If I were to spend any time in space, I’d want to have a best friend like Alisha, someone I can confide in, and that’s the very nature of their nurturing relationship. MacLane takes time to, naturally, share Alisha’s story.

Like Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in a sure blockbuster that’s already crossed $800 million globally, Buzz flies his envelope very close to the edge of his seat. He thinks he’s invincible, and Alisha tries to remind him that he’s not. When a test program designed to get their stranded ship off the planet goes wrong, Buzz must adjust his tune. Like many of us, we can’t simply flip a switch. We need others to remind us that we are not the sum of our parts examining the beauty inherent in Lightyear.

To solve the challenges in the film, Buzz must learn to depend on others. Voiced by Peter Sohn, Sox is a robotic cat assigned to Buzz. As the story transitions, Sox becomes Buzz’s confidant, even though Buzz can’t confide in Sox the same way he does Alisha. Buzz learns the art of trusting others, starting with Sox, bringing humor and levity to the character.

James Brolin, a la Capricorn One, voices Zurg, the commander of the invading army. Zurg is one tough cookie. Like any great work of science fiction, Brolin has double duty, and this is where Lightyear falls off its rails just a bit as Buzz must face himself to find his true confidence as a leader. The problem isn’t Brolin’s performance; it was amazing to hear the actor’s voice. Much like Up, another Pixar film I greatly admire, Lightyear falls into the same conventions as Up to bring its story full circle. While this works in the context of this story, it feels too familiar in its scope to fit neatly into a Buzz Lightyear story.

Still, Buzz learns to trust others, even as Lightyear gains momentum, relying on a crew of recruits to help him on the mission, Izzy (Keke Palmer), Mo (Taika Waititi), Darby (Dale Soules), and Featheringhamstan (Bill Hader). They may not have as much experience as Buzz, but their idiosyncrasies aid Buzz in solving a significant problem. This foundation of teamwork, a context inherent in Toy Story, makes the film more remarkable than the sum of its parts.

Michael Giacchino’s score evokes Randy Newman. Giacchino brings heroism and a lushness to the various emotions, and the love and care MacLane gives to Lightyear are evident. A fan of classic science fiction, the characters, and situations tie back into classics such as Lost in Space, Flash Gordon, Star Trek, Star Wars, and just a bit of Planet of the Apes.

Sci-fi has been an intrinsic part of my life since I can remember. Lightyear, like any science fiction worth its salt, is for anyone willing to give it a chance, especially an impressionable youngster. A healthy imagination helps too.


Directed by Angus MacLane

Screenplay by Jason Headley and Angus MacLane

Story by Angus MacLane, Matthew Aldrich, and Jason Headley

Featuring Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, James Brolin, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules, Uzo Aduba, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Efren Ramirez, Isiah Whitlock, Jr.

105 minutes, PG, Pixar Animation Studios/Walt Disney Studios