Unlike the rest of humanity, I guess, I do not get excited for the next Pixar movie. Because I look at my reviews as a ministry, I go to the theater to see them more out of a sense of duty than anticipation for the next Disney production. I am willing to be pleasantly surprised. Though not Pixar, I enjoyed the last big time Disney animated film Encanto (2021). Yet, if I did not have this blog, and there was a lack of other movies playing in the theater this weekend, I would have skipped Lightyear entirely and not have lost a single wink of sleep over the matter. Now that I have seen it, I would not change this opinion. As I have indicated in other articles covering its kind, these movies are not my idea of a good time. For those of you familiar with my Catholic Faith and some of the more controversial aspects of the film, all I will say on the matter is that my blah feelings have nothing to do with that issue. On with the rest of the review.
At least Lightyear checked off right away the one and only item on my list of curiosities regarding it: how were they going to connect it to the original Toy Story franchise? If you remember all the way back to 1995, there was a movie upon which the character Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Chris Evans) is based. This is that movie. Hooray! It opens with a spaceship in hyperspace. Its onboard computer receives a signal of a habitable planet along their course, and Lightyear is awakened from his deep space slumber to decide whether they should investigate. Doing so proves costly. Shortly after landing what Lightyear calls “The Turnip,” he and his fellow Star Command Galactic Ranger, Alisha Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba), go out to explore. They are joined, much to Lightyear’s annoyance, by a helpless rookie named Featheringhamstan (voiced by Bill Hader). Not long into their exploration, they find that the alien flora and fauna is hostile, and they are forced to attempt an escape. In the process, vehemently waving off any assistance from Featheringhamstan, Lightyear nearly pulls the ungainly ship to safety, but scrapes a cliff at the last moment. The collision does not destroy the turnip, but it is enough to make it so that they, and the rest of the crew, cannot leave the planet. Lightyear is momentarily chagrined, but they all quickly regroup to rebuild and use the available resources to find an alternative fuel. There is some science stuff here about faster than light speed and using the sun to boost it. Whatever. The upshot is that a year later they are ready to test their plan with a new vehicle to see if they can achieve hyperspace. Of course, it is Lightyear they tap to pilot the experimental flight. He goes up, initiates the engines, goes around the sun, but the fuel eventually fails and he must pull some daring maneuvers to land safely. Upon emerging from the cockpit, he can tell something is amiss. It is Alisha that clues him in to what Lightyear has missed. While the trip took four minutes for him, on the planet four years had passed. Star Command feels this is a little heavy for a person to process, so they give him a robotic kitty called Sox (voiced by Peter Sohn). Staying true to the motto of the Galactic Rangers to always finish the mission, Lightyear decides to keep on volunteering to fly the vehicle as they continue to work on the right fuel combination, despite losing four years each time he goes into space. Every time, he sees his friends, primarily Alisha (again, I am being purposely obtuse) grow older, and eventually pass away. When this happens, Alisha is replaced by Commander Burnside (voiced Isiah Whitlock Jr.). He is less concerned with getting off the planet than implementing permanent defensive measures to keep its now seemingly permanent residents safe. This is not to Lightyear’s liking as it goes against his original goal of correcting the mistake he made in bringing them all there in the first place. Thus, when Sox finally comes up with the correct fuel solution, he sneaks into the hangar and steals the next experimental craft. His successful flight, however, means that when he returns, this time twenty-two years have passed. There have also been some drastic developments. Shortly before his return, a race of giant, murderous robots appeared above, led by an even bigger machine going by Zurg (voiced by James Brolin). Filling him in on these developments are a ragtag trio of humans led by Alisha’s granddaughter, Izzy Hawthorne (Keke Palmer). Izzy has a plan to get up to Zurg’s ship to destroy it, but it is soon co-opted by Lightyear, who insists on doing everything himself. Along the way of trying to get into space, though, Lightyear learns to rely a little more on these unlikely teammates. Still, it is not enough, for Zurg to eventually captures Lightyear. The villain then reveals a stunning secret: Zurg is Lightyear from many years into the future. He has come back to this time period to get the original fuel source that propelled him several years ahead. Zurg’s plan is to use it to go further back and prevent them from being stuck on this planet. At first, Lightyear is on board with the idea, but then he thinks back to the bonds he had made with Izzy and her friends, and decides against it. Together, they stop Zurg and make it safely back to the planet, blowing up the fuel source in the process. We close with Lightyear, Izzy, and company forming the new Galactic Rangers.
It is difficult to think of Lightyear as a kid’s movie, though there are definitely elements aimed at them, like Sox, and . . . um, well, that is it about it. I do not know about you, but the first thing I think of in children’s movies are characters doing complex astrophysics, no matter the tense situation during which this occurs. Please take this last sentence in the satirical spirit in which it is meant. The point I am trying to make is that this film is aimed more at the people who grew up liking the original Toy Story. The themes in it are too adult, and that is without even mentioning the completely unnecessary part that I am pathologically ignoring. Instead, what about the guns that you see the main characters wield? Are those acceptable because they shoot lasers? My criticism is not necessarily that these exist in the film, but rather that they are themes that are best handled by an older audience. As crazy as this might seem, I would have given this a PG-13 rating rather than its simple PG level. I am glad I did not have the opportunity to bring my nieces.
Okay, I will spend a brief amount of time building Lightyear back up with my Catholic analysis. Somebody who is more fully formed in the Faith can put the more questionable elements aside and see the lessons with which the film regularly beats you over the head. Put plainly, Lightyear must learn to work with others instead of trying to do everything on his own. In other words, he has to be a part of a community, which means knowing not only when to lead but when to follow. These are concepts that Christian communities have been dealing with from the time of Jesus, and it forms the basis of religious life in abbeys and monasteries across the globe. Before you can enter one, though, you have to come face-to-face with who you are at a deep level. For us, this means seeking ourselves through God. Because that is not a part of the calculous here (unfortunately), the characters find alternative routes. Lightyear has a more prominent encounter when he sees his older self in Zurg. For Izzy, it is in stopping trying to be her grandmother, but instead be her own Hathorne. I hate to use such clichéd phrases, but doing this allows them to be the best versions of themselves, and thus the day is won.
I am guessing there is little I could say to the adults who were fans of Toy Story to dissuade them from seeing Lightyear. Then again, I do not worry so much about that audience. I did not care for the original film on which this is based, and as such I found this one to be a mediocre action flick. They also threw in a whole time travel element that did not make a ton of sense. And it is in these aspects that, in addition to the elements that I would rather keep away from young ones, that I do not recommend this to the younger age group. Go watch Encanto again, instead.