Origin stories and spin-offs are the latest low-hanging fruit for successful franchises. The latest to jump onto this trend is the Pixar team, taking off from their much-loved Toy Story films to craft a 3-D animated sci-fi film dedicated to one of Andy’s favourite toys, astronaut Buzz Lightyear. An opening super tells us that a young Andy Davis saw the Lightyear movie in 1995. The film inspired the Buzz Lightyear toys. This is that movie.
Written by Jason Headley and Angus Maclane (who also directs), Buzz Lightyear (voice of Chris Evans) is a space ranger who gets stranded on a seemingly uninhabitable and unfriendly planet with his colleague Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) and a battalion of rangers. Over the years, they attempt to find a way back home. Every time Buzz goes on a trial mission to test for hyper-speed. A four-minute expedition for him is equivalent to four years for those down on the surface. Passage of time is marked subtly, with a (same-sex) relationship, marriage, pregnancy, etc.
Things get dangerous with the arrival of a Darth Vader-esque character called Emperor Zurg (James Brolin) and his aggressive robot army. Lightyear and his ragtag team of rookies have to fend off attacks from Zurg’s army, save themselves and chart their escape. This team includes Izzy Hawthorne (Kiki Palmer), Mo Morrison (Taika Waititi), Darby Steel (Dale Soules) and Sox (Peter Sohn), a robotic cat that is the best character—a kind of R2D2 meets C3PO.
Lightyear is to Andy what Star Wars and Star Trek were to fans in the ‘70s, ’80s, and '90s. The design of the spaceships, robots and their weaponry harks back to those sci-fi classics. But the plot of Lightyear is specious. How does a small group of humans make a citadel with high tech gadgets on an alien planet? How can Zurg be who he is? These are just some questions that crop up during the one hour 40 minute long film.
Lightyear has that familiar and loved phrase ‘to infinity and beyond’, a handful of jokes and Buzz with his character flaws, soul-searching, a man trying to right a wrong. The same cannot be said of the film. Lightyear seems like an easy springboard, but it doesn’t connect with the childlike imagination in the way the witty, dramatic and emotional Toy Story films have done.