The Toy Story spin-off is an enjoyable if derivative feature
Pixar has developed a reputation as a studio of original ideas, always delivering something risky, new, and refreshing. However, just as every other major studio has gone the route of sequels and prequels, Pixar has been inevitably dragged along. As such we’ve begun getting sequels to their biggest hits Incredibles 2 (2018), Finding Dory (2016), Monster’s University (2013), and Toy Story 4 (2019). Toy Story continues to be such a hit for Pixar, that they’ve now delivered their first spinoff with Lightyear (2022).
Lightyear is the story of the character of Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans). The film is presented as the movie that Andy fell in love with, in Toy Story (1995), that made him want to buy the eponymous toy. Lightyear finds the upright space ranger Buzz, stranded on a hostile planet with his crew, and tasked with finding a way out. Amongst the flight experiments that Buzz undertakes, he begins to play around with the space and time continuum leading to unexpected results.
Lightyear is the second feature film from director Angus MacLane, who previously co-directed Finding Dory. MacLane takes the directing job solo this time, as well as having a hand at co-writing the screenplay. Lightyear plays out pretty much as an homage movie, taking the strong elements of the best sci-fi films and meshing out a predictable, unspectacular, but sufficiently enjoyable film. None of the component parts in Lightyear are original, and yet their derivative strength helps compose the solid foundations for the feature. The signature witty Pixar humor is littered throughout, and the writing and emotional beats are effective (as always).
There is a new set of characters that prove to be charming and winning enough, thanks in large part to the voice acting. Chris Evans is not daunted by the task of succeeding Tim Allen, bringing about the spirit of Buzz Lightyear while making this iteration of the character his own. The only real standout amongst the new character in the film, which nearly stole the show was the cat-robot Sox played brilliantly by (Peter Sohn). The rest of the cast of characters are enjoyable, if slightly unmemorable by the time you leave the theater.
The animation styles coming from Pixar continue to be the best in the industry, astounding viewers as to their control of animated hair, wet surfaces, reflections, and more. This being a sci-fi film, the animators have both a more daunting and liberating task to play with and they prove to be more than up to the task.
The biggest problem at the core of Lightyear is that it doesn’t quite know what kind of film it wants to be. It both wants to distance itself from Toy Story as well as constantly nod towards it. It can’t quite figure out what kind of audience it’s targeting either, with sci-fi elements core to the narrative being too complicated for most kids, and character beats being too predictable and derivative for adults. MacLane proves to be indecisive in this manner, not choosing to commit to any of these key aspects of the film’s identity, and thus compromising an important aspect of the whole.
As such, Lightyear isn’t able to stake much of a distinct flare. Certainly, if it weren’t for the IP of Toy Story backing this film, Lightyear would simply be another enjoyable if forgettable sci-fi picture, which chooses to compose itself of strong elements of other films, but brings nothing new to the table.