Lightyear movie review: Pixar’s origin tale is no Toy Story but it’s a very big adventure all the same

·3-min read
 (PIXAR)
(PIXAR)

Once upon a time, sane people of all ages fell in love with Tim Allen’s Space Ranger, Buzz Lightyear, a delusional and somewhat diva-ish plastic boy-doll, whose beautiful chin resembled a forbidding marshmallow. This sly and fitfully brilliant Toy Story spin-off gives us the movie behind the merch.

Claiming to be the late 70s/early 80s Star Wars-ish blockbuster that made Andy want to buy Buzz, Lightyear offers the origin story of the “real” Buzz (voiced by Chris Evans; nifty), a chinny astronaut at some point in the future.

Along with their large crew and due partly to an error of judgement on Buzz’s part, our Space Ranger and his best friend Alisha (Uzo Aduba) get trapped on a scary planet, and deal with this bad situation in starkly different ways. Alisha, making the best of it, settles down with her girlfriend, while the self-lacerating Buzz (“It’s my fault we’re marooned; I’ve court-martialled myself!”), inadvertently goes time travelling. As well as meeting a slippery nemesis, Emperor Zurg (James Brolin; outstanding), Buzz winds up befriending Alisha’s ebullient teenage grand-daughter Izzy (Keke Palmer).

 (PIXAR)
(PIXAR)

The idea that the movie we’re watching could have been made in the 70s or 80s (and/or dominated the cultural landscape in the 90s) is preposterous. Back then, heroes didn’t have BF’s who were super-brave, caring and queer. Director/co-writer Angus MacLane, even as he exploits our fondness for a 90s IP, is drawing our attention to the fact that the past is imperfect. In other words, he’s using nostalgia to show nostalgia’s a dead end. Genius.

This is the first Pixar film to feature a same-sex kiss (said kiss is both adoring and down to earth and, yes, has already led to Lightyear being banned in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), but is worth seeing for plenty of other reasons, including Buzz’s loyal AI companion, a daintily honest “robot feline”, Sox, who is so enchantingly unpredictable he could well be starring in his own spin-off by next year.

Izzy’s misfit pals, Mo (Taika Waititi; reliably laconic) and Dale (Darby Steel; enjoyably gruff), are also endearing and a raucous conversation about the right way to structure a sandwich rivals the burger scene in Pulp Fiction. There are nice gags too, about cross-generational relationships. Buzz’s desire to bump fingers with Izzy strikes the teen and her friends as gross and semi-sexual, which creates an interesting frisson (for a split second, our hero is viewed as a creepy old man). In Monsters Inc, no one ever questioned the age gap between besties, Sully and Boo. Clearly, times have changed.

 (PIXAR)
(PIXAR)

The visual details are delectable, with the effects of the stealth button on Buzz’s suit particularly satisfying. Kids will also adore the hyper-speed flights. That said, Izzy’s lines aren’t as idiosyncratic as they could be.

I won’t lie. Lightyear feels skimpy next to the original Toy Story trilogy. Not to mention Inside Out, Coco and Soul. Then again, it’s far much more substantial than Onward and Luca (or the pleasant but wildly forgettable Finding Dory, which MacLane co-directed).

Basically, if you can manage your expectations, this adventure’s perfect. Go on, give yourself a buzz.

107mins, cert PG

In cinemas from June 17

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