Pixar’s “Lightyear” isn’t an expanded story about the action figure we know and love from the “Toy Story” series, but instead, it’s this movie that later spawned the toy. While some may argue the concept is just a gimmick meant to stretch out the “Toy Story” saga even further, Pixar has lovingly crafted one of the most enjoyable sci-fi adventures we’ve seen in a long time.
Like all the best classic sci-fi movies, “Lightyear” begins with a deep-space vessel awakening Buzz (Chris Evans) from cryosleep to examine a nearby inhabited uncharted planet. Fellow Space Rander Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) joins Buzz as they begin to scout out the planet. But in their hasty retreat from the hostile life-forms they discover, Buzz makes a critical mistake that maroons the ship and all 1,200 passengers. Buzz’s massive arrogance stems from the reality that he rarely makes mistakes of this magnitude, and because of this, he places far more blame and punishment on himself than is perhaps deserved.
Over the next few years, the passengers from the marooned ship build a small city and begin to start testing a new power source. The power source has to remain stable at light speed to ensure the survivors can make it to their original destination. Each test is successfully closer to their goal, but what feels like a 4-minute flight to Buzz is years long down on the surface. The closer to light speed he is able to achieve, the slower time passes for him. How far will Buzz go to ease his conscience? His devotion to never give up, never surrender, is admirable, but it’s tragic to watch the people he knows grow older and older over the course of a few weeks. These flight tests eventually catch the attention of an army of evil robots led by the fearsome Zurg. Just as Buzz is nearing his personal goal, the dynamics he’s dealing with change again.
“Lightyear” is a bit lighter in the emotional department than other Pixar greats, but the script is still exceptional. It’s fun to hear where the toy’s catchphrases were originally coined, and the humor is quite sharp. Another very entertaining quality of the script is absolutely nothing goes right. Our hero and his sidekicks at the time spend a lot of time planning what to do next, but at every single turn, they are thwarted by something. It’s a blast watching each of them come up with changes on the fly, and the sheer determination to keep going, even when the odds (and perhaps fate itself) are against them.
Visually, “Lightyear” is absolutely stunning. Every frame is crammed with details (and easter eggs) that harken back to all of the best sci-fi adventures. On Imax screens, the aspect ratio opens up to the full screen during certain scenes. Again, this could easily be seen as a gimmick, but experiencing it in person will leave your mouth agape.
I was completely uninterested when I first heard the film announced. But watching this action-packed visual feast reminded me of how I felt as a child watching the original Star Wars and the enduring love I developed for those toys afterward. “Lightyear” is highly recommended and is just as worthy of the Imax format as “Top Gun Maverick.”