The mega-meta idea behind Pixar animation, Lightyear, is that what we’re watching was the favorite movie of Toy Story’s Andy back in 1995, when, of course, we first caught up with Andy and his playthings – and when Pixar changed animation forever.
Lightyear is a space saga in the vein of those made in the late ’70s and early ’80s (director Angus MacLane has explained that Andy would have caught it on VHS). The opening text informs us that the movie launched a toy range, and thus allowed for Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear, in the form of a plastic figure, to wing his way into Andy’s eager hands. It’s a neat conceit, and this origin story makes sure to establish the beginnings of Buzz’s catchphrase “To infinity, and beyond!”, his battle with evil Emperor Zurg, and more.
We open in uncharted space, 4.2 million light-years from Earth, as a vessel harboring a 1,200-strong crew detects lifeforms on a planet and moves in to land. Buzz (voiced by Captain America himself, Chris Evans) and fellow Space Ranger Alisha Hawthorn (Uzo Aduba) exit the ship to explore, and are promptly attacked by hostile vegetation (think Evil Dead, supersized and sanitized) and scuttling bugs. Long story short, the earthlings are stranded, with Buzz taking it upon himself to develop a stable fuel that can sustain travel at hyperspeed so that everyone might one day get home.
The story that unfurls, involving the incoming threat of an army of Zyclops led by Zurg (voiced by James Brolin, whose son, Josh, of course faced down Evans as Thanos), is stock and rather drab. But the animation is sensational, the world-building tactile and industrial (it takes its cue from Alien, but stops short at introducing chestbursters, parents will be relieved to hear), and the characters likeable.
Shout-outs to Taika Waititi’s clumsy, chuntering Mo, Keke Palmer’s astrophobic Space Ranger Izzy - yes, she’s a Space Ranger who’s scared of space – and Dale Soules’ OAP parolee Darby. Peter Sohn, though, steals the show as robo-cat Sox. Never mind Buzz – it’s the kitty voiced by the director of The Good Dinosaur whom every kid will want to unwrap on their next birthday.
Does Lightyear take us to infinity and beyond? Sadly, no. But it does engage, thrill and amuse, and at times delivers an emotional wallop.
Lightyear is in cinemas from June 17. For more, check out the most exciting upcoming movies heading your way.