“Lightyear”, the latest animation feature film from Pixar Studios, is as funny and lightweight as you can expect. Although it is merely a spin-off story derived from “Toy Story” (1995), the film generates enough charm and spirit from its rather finite playground, and I am happy to report to you that it can actually work as a stand-alone story although it is not one of the better offerings from Pixar Studios.
As shown from its opening part, “Lightyear” is a sort of origin story behind one of the main toy characters in “Toy Story”. That toy character, named Buzz Lightyear, is actually a product associated with the valiant space soldier hero of a popular science fiction adventure film named, yes, “Lightyear”, and that film is mainly about how Lightyear (voiced by Chris Evans) tries to accomplish a certain important mission for not only himself but also many other space soldiers.
The early part of the story quickly establishes how they happen to be stuck in one alien planet. While their big spaceship is peacefully cruising somewhere far and far from the Earth, Lightyear and his no-nonsense commander Alisha Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba) decide to stop by that alien planet because it seems to be worthwhile to explore, but, not so surprisingly, its environment turns out to be a bit more hostile than expected. Right after getting back to their spaceship, Lightyear tries to launch the spaceship, but, alas, it only comes to crash on the ground due to his rather reckless decision, and, to make matters worse, the spaceship loses its main power source for its hyperspace cruise as a consequence.
At least, nobody got killed, and everyone tries to survive and then live under Hawthorne’s steady leadership. Thanks to their advanced technology, they can build their big safety zone within one year, and they also focus on making the new power source for hyperdrive cruise. Quite determined to compensate for his previous big mistake, Lightyear volunteers to be the test pilot for this urgent project, and we soon see him doing his first space flight outside the planet.
However, after the disappointing failure of his first space flight, Lightyear belatedly comes to learn of its irreversible side effect involved with time and space. While his space flight only takes several minutes, the time on the planet runs much faster in comparison, and he is shocked to find that everyone including Hawthorne have waited for his return for more than 4 years.
Nonetheless, Lightyear still does not give up at all, and we accordingly get the bittersweet montage sequence showing the quick passage of time as he tries again and again in the space. Whenever he returns, he always sees Hawthorne becoming older than the previous time, and there eventually comes a point where she is no longer there for him after living so many good years on the planet. After marrying a female colleague of hers, she had a happy life as seeing their son growing up to have his own daughter, and Lightyear is certainly saddened as watching the video message she made not long before her death.
Lightyear subsequently becomes more determined about accomplishing his mission, though his new commander notifies that he decides to abort the project for paying more attention to colonizing the planet. Fortunately, Lightyear’s robot cat Sox (voiced by Peter Sohn) reveals to him that there is actually a very good chance of success, so he soon goes all the way for what may be his last space flight.
In the end, Lightyear attains what he has hoped for many years, but there comes a big setback, and then he finds himself getting stuck with a trio of colorful characters including Izzy Hawthorne (voiced by Keke Palmer), who is, yes, Hawthorne’s granddaughter. She and her two comrades have been trying to save many others trapped inside the safety zone due to some mysterious menace, and Lightyear has no choice but to handle this new mission for himself after discerning how unprepared Izzy and her two comrades are in many aspects.
Now, not for spoiling any of your entertainment, I will be a bit more discreet from this point. As Lightyear and his accidental comrades bounce from one point to another, the film provides a fair share of fun and thrill, and it does not disappoint us when Lightyear finally confronts the main villain of the story, who has also been driven by a personal motive for years just like him. Often reminiscent of many other science fiction films including those Star Trek films, the film surely has plenty of goodies to amuse any science fiction movie fan, and it also brings enough life and personality to not only its hero but also several supporting characters around him.
While Chris Evans certainly has a ball with his character, the other notable main cast members of the film are equally entertaining in each own way. While Uzo Aduba and Keke Palmer provide some gravitas to the story, James Brolin, Taika Waititi, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. are also solid in their respective parts, and the special mention goes to Peter Sohn, who effortlessly steals the show his deadpan voice acting.
Directed by Angus MacLane, “Lightyear” feels like a minor footnote attached to the Toy Story franchise, but it is still a well-made product on the whole, and I enjoyed its competent technical aspects including Michael Giacchino’s energetic score. I must point out that “Turning Red” (2022), another Pixar Studios animation film of this year, is more enjoyable and impressive in comparison, but “Lightyear” has its own charm and personality to some degree, and I am okay with that for now.