Lightyear is Pixar’s most desperate attempt to profit off the success of their most beloved franchise. Buzz Lightyear has been a fan favorite ever since his introduction in Toy Story. Every appearance has brought something new and entertaining to the Space Ranger. A feature-length spin-off is the last thing Lightyear needed. Mostly because an origin story was already done a lot better 22 years ago in the traditionally animated direct-to-video movie Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins. Even the animated series was a better interpretation of the character. Heck, the 3 minute video game opening in Toy Story 2 is more epic than anything in Lightyear. Lightyear asks the question, what was the movie that made Andy want a Buzz Lightyear action figure?
The idea came from Pixar animator Angus MacLane. Though he directed the computer animated portion of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, MacLane envisioned a sci-fi adventure inspired by the films of his childhood. So despite being part of a long-running franchise, Lightyear is technically another passion project for Pixar. Considering my disappointment with Toy Story 4, I wasn’t sure how to feel about a solo Buzz Lightyear movie 3 years later. After dumping Soul, Luca, and Turning Red on Disney+, it was encouraging when Lightyear became the first theatrical Pixar film since Onward. Then I grew worried with every character change or modern update. For one reason or another, Lightyear bombed at the box-office. Proving just how out of touch Disney has become…
Buzz Lightyear narrates in front of Alisha Hawthorne
Lightyear doesn’t come with a short despite its theatrical release. Every Pixar movie should be seen on the big screen, so I’m glad they finally realized that. Lightyear is one of my least favorite Pixar films, but the state of the art computer animation is more lifelike than ever. The best comparison would be an even more advanced version of WALL·E. Director Angus MacLane wanted the animation to be “cinematic” and “chunky” like Star Wars. Which is why landscapes, clothing, and vehicles are more realistic looking. Turns out MacLane used LEGO builds instead of traditional concept art. There were actual LEGO sets later on, but I still think it’s a cool idea. Character designs are mostly stylized, but made to look a lot more human than anything in Toy Story. Compared to the toy he’s based on, Buzz Lightyear maintains his general head shape and large chin, but it’s obvious they’re going for a live-action feel. I’m not sure why they didn’t just make a live-action movie. There comes a point when something is so realistic that it defeats the purpose of animation.
Lack of imagination and fun are big reasons why Lightyear failed. People tried to blame the Pandemic or at-home convenience, but I laughed all the way to the bank when Minions: The Rise of Gru grossed significantly higher without even trying. What should’ve been a fun space romp ended up being generic and boring. An audience full of children barely reacted to Lightyear. I’ve loved Buzz Lightyear since I was a kid, but there’s no way someone as young as Andy would claim this as their favorite movie. According to an on-screen text, Lightyear is meant to be a movie within a movie released in 1995. We’re seriously expected to believe a clearly 2022 movie actually came out in the 90’s. Despite centering around Buzz, Lightyear pushes diversity just like every other Disney and/or Pixar project. The movie lost a significant amount of its foreign audience with another easily edited same-sex kiss. The scene was cut out originally, but former Disney CEO Bob Chapek used it as an act of defiance. I won’t get too specific, but I will say Disney seems to love losing money with their “progressive” content.
The most obvious misstep was recasting Tim Allen with Chris Evans. Tim Allen will always be Buzz Lightyear no matter what anyone thinks of him. Disney claims the decision wasn’t politically motivated, but even his good friend Tom Hanks agrees they should’ve cast him. Buzz was always a good source of comedy, but Allen could still be serious when he needed to be. Chris Evans is a great Captain America, but he is not Buzz Lightyear! The only similarity is a grand sense of heroism that works a lot better with a toy who thinks he’s a Space Ranger. Aside from using “Starman” in the trailer’s, Michael Giacchino replaces Randy Newman for a more adventurous soundtrack. Lightyear’s trademark space suit has the same color scheme, but it’s a clunky prototype suit with several missing features. Space Rangers are issued laser swords, blasters, cloaking technology, and an inflatable escape button. This version of Buzz also shows off the hair underneath his purple cowl, and it’s just as distracting as hearing Evans voice. The movie begins with Buzz as a young Space Ranger who serves Star Command alongside his partner Alisha Hawthorne.
Most of the cast is respectable, but it’s clear a lot of them were chosen for the sake of diversity. Which is probably why the African American Uzo Aduba voices Lightyear’s best friend and commanding officer. Even his iconic catchphrase “To infinity and beyond” is something Lightyear and Hawthorne say together. They explore a planet called T’Kani Prime on a Star Command vessel that Buzz refers to as “the Turnip.” Any attempt at humor feels forced, but several moments lean heavily into dialogue from the Toy Story movies. I can’t say no to nostalgia, but it only highlights the movie’s flaws. Lightyear turns away a rookie named Featheringhamstan that ends up caught in the planet’s deadly vines. Hawthorne saves them both and Buzz attempts to steer the Turnip away from danger. Lightyear does have a villain, but Buzz ends up looking bad when he causes the ship to be marooned on T’Kani Prime. Get used to it, because we’re stuck on this one generic looking planet the entire movie. Though he takes responsibility for his actions, Alisha gives him the mission to fix their hyperspace capabilities.
1 year later, Star Command crew have colonized the planet and Buzz is a test pilot ready to fly into space with the fuel crystal needed to achieve hyperspace. Pedro himself Efren Ramirez briefly voices another friend of Buzz who sees him off. The slingshot maneuver is explained, but I’m not sure how well kids will follow it. After a failed first flight, Lightyear returns 4 years in the future after his 4 minute flight. Time dilation has been done several times before, but it’s the driving force of the movie. Buzz discovers Alisha is engaged and casually asks who the lucky lady is. As Buzz continues to test the hyper crystal, Alisha grows old with her wife Kiko. The split second kiss is barely in this supposed 1995 movie. In order to cope with the loss, Buzz is issued a robot therapy cat named Sox voiced by The Good Dinosaur director Peter Sohn. I know everybody loves Sox and he is a scene stealer. In fact, I’m pretty sure Andy would rather have a Sox toy after seeing the movie, but to me it’s the same old cat jokes with a robot twist. Sox attempts to figure out the hyper crystal problem during Lightyear’s next few flights.
The intended tear worthy moment is Buzz returning to a vacant office where the now deceased Alisha leaves him a final message. Isiah Whitlock Jr. voices her replacement Commander Burnside who confirms the termination of the Space Ranger program and their journey home. So Buzz hijacks a ship with Sox in order to test the stabilized hyper crystal. The successful hyperspace launch pays homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it also lands Buzz 22 years into the future. Since it was a big year for her, Keke Palmer voices Alisha’s grown up granddaughter Izzy Hawthorne. She pretty much picks up where her grandmother left off in terms of personality. The only difference is Izzy wanting to become a Space Ranger despite her fear of space. Izzy saves Buzz from Zyclops robots that can only say “Zurg.” I knew Zurg would be the main villain, but they make way too many changes to the Evil Emperor who isn’t even an emperor. Aside from his helmet and booster gun, Zurg appears to be a massive purple robot with legs and no cape. Zurg barely resemble the toy we saw in Toy Story 2.
His robot minions attempt to penetrate the laser shield protecting Star Command. So Izzy and Buzz devise a plan to destroy the ship that controls the robots. They enlist a rag tag group of Junior Cadet rookies who haven’t seen combat. Orange is the New Black star Dale Soules voices short hispanic elderly convict Darby Steel and the overexposed Taika Waititi voices himself voicing frantic deserter Mo Morrison. Lightyear is an animated movie with limitless possibilities, yet this was the best they could come up with?! A wannabe Space Ranger, an old lady who’s good with bombs, a guy obsessed with pens, and a robot cat are seriously the extent of Pixar’s imagination. There’s also another robot named DERIC that gets left behind and an AI named I.V.A.N. that Buzz doesn’t like. Buzz Lightyear of Star Command had alien Princess Mira Nova, giant frog alien Booster, and repurposed robot XR. All of them have significantly more personality than these losers. Izzy’s crew stumble through a Zyclops attack and attempt to find another Armadillo ship when there’s is destroyed. It’s in a ship hangar that Buzz suits up in his old Space Ranger uniform.
Unfortunately, his new crew is also given different colored Space Ranger suits that end up causing an alien bug attack. They also end up at an outpost where they’re trapped in red capture cones. When they escape, they get some downtime eating sandwiches. I’ll admit the meat sandwich with bread in the middle is about the only clever joke in the movie. Buzz ends up with a wrist mounted laser weapon that he uses against an attacking Zurg. All is revealed when Zurg captures Buzz and takes him to his ship. SPOILER ALERT! Though he looks like his father, James Brolin actually voices a much older Buzz who ended up in an alternate timeline. I’m pretty sure they only cast Brolin, because Evans previously fought his son. Having no villain is one thing, but an evil Buzz is just a lazy attempt to shock the audience. The only reason he’s called Zurg, is because the robots can’t say the word “Buzz.”
Zurg-Buzz wants the hyper crystal to travel back in time and become a hero again after he was rejected. Buzz-Prime nearly agrees, but he changes his mind when he realizes it’s better to accept the life they have. When Zurg turns against himself, future Sox gives him time to escape with the hyper crystal. The climax is an internal conflict between Buzz and his future self. Everyone gets something to do. Sox uses concealed tools, Izzy conquers her fear with a perilous spacewalk, Darby builds a makeshift bomb, and Mo finally uses his useless pen. Buzz commandeers a ship with the hyper crystal and Zurg follows with a rocket pack. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my brother pointed out the fact that Buzz doesn’t fly in any of the trailers. Turns out they were saving that moment for when the ship gives him a pair of wings that he uses to stop Zurg and keep his crew from crashing.
It was a cool moment at the time, but flying is such a big part of the character that they didn’t use till the last minute. Though furious, Burnside reinstates the Space Ranger program and the authentic Space Ranger suits are also not seen until the last second. Which means Andy wanted a toy that was barely featured in the movie. Buzz and his crew head to the Gamma Quadrant of Sector 4 and the very last post-credits scene reveals Zurg to still be alive. Though the director wanted a trilogy, there’s no way that’ll happen now. The Toy Story franchise has grossed over a billion dollars at the box-office with Rotten Tomatoes scores as high as 100%. Yet it was all ruined when Lightyear ended up with a 75% and a pathetic $226 gross against a $200 budget. Lightyear is nowhere close to infinity and beyond.
Buzz Lightyear vs. Zurg
Spin-Off of: Toy Story