The opening minutes of “Lightyear,” the new, Pixar origin story now playing in theatres, inform us that what we are about to see is the film that inspired “Toy Story’s” Buzz Lightyear character. In other words, it’s the movie that inspired the merch that inspired a movie that inspired even more merch.
Chris Evans voices the square-jawed, heroic and slightly goofy Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear. After a disastrous crash landing on a strange planet, his attempt to rescue the crew, including Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba), his best friend and commanding officer, goes wrong, leaving everyone stranded on a hostile planet 4.2 million light-years from Earth. His famous Space Rangers helmet weighs heavy on his head. “Everyone is stuck here because of me,” he says.
Determined to return home Buzz embarks on a series of experimental flights using various configurations of jet fuel, trying to find the right formula to achieve the hyper speed needed to cut through space and time.
But something strange happens. For every minute he’s in space, a year passes back on the planet. As Buzz tries trip after trip, his BFF Alisha ages, gets married has a child, and later a grandchild Izzy (Keke Palmer), while Buzz remains, more or less, unchanged.
On the planet, sixty years has passed before Buzz, and his smart and adorable computer companion cat Sox (Peter Sohn) try one last test trip, one that will unite him with Izzy, her “volunteer team of motivated cadets” and Zurg, a menacing force with an army of robots.
At first blush, “Lightyear” may seem like the origin story we don’t really need. Twenty-seven years, three sequels, one direct to video flick and a television series later, you wouldn’t think there would be much left to say about the character, but Pixar has found a way.
“Lightyear” is a Pixar film through and through. You expect the top-notch animation, some cool looking robots, cutesy side characters and the occasional laugh for parents and kids. Less expected is how fun the action-adventure is and how effective the patented poignant Pixar moments are.
It’s a hero’s journey, one that actually humanizes the little hunk of talking plastic (or coded series of bits and bytes) and imbues a catchphrase like “To infinity and beyond” with a new, heartfelt meaning.
“Lightyear” may well inspire a renaissance in the character and spawn more toys, but this movie is much more than merch.