The toy Buzz Lightyear from the “Toy Story” film by Pixar is not the subject of “Lightyear.” It tells the tale of how Andy ended up with the Buzz Lightyear toy in his bedroom. You see, Buzz Lightyear was the star of Andy’s favorite movie when Andy’s mother bought him a toy in 1995. Before launching us into an animated space opera starring Chris Evans as Buzz, a title card informs us, “This is that movie.” We’ll encounter the Evil Emperor Zurg along the way, and we’ll also discover the origin of all those catchphrases that people have been using for the past 27 years.
I won’t hold it against suspicious viewers who think this sounds like a bunch of money-grabbing nonsense, but I should note that Pixar has done this sort of retrofitting before. You might remember that “Toy Story 2” revealed that the Woody toy was originally a 1950s television show tie-in. So, why in the hell would a millennial like Andy want him? was a legitimate concern. At least this time, the child’s reference for the toy was current. I had even more inquiries after watching “Lightyear,” such as “Would Andy’s Mom has permitted a toy version of Buzz’s partner in her house?” Moreover, “Come on, Andy! Why didn’t you request a toy version of Buzz’s cat from your mother?
Later, more on the cat. A special mission for space rangers is how “Lightyear” gets started. Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba), Buzz’s best friend, is his partner. They exchange inside jokes and stories about earlier expeditions. Despite all the work they did for NASA in “Hidden Figures,” Hawthorne is a Black woman, which is unusual to see in space movies. She frequently makes fun of Buzz’s propensity to “monologue,” or to record the captain’s log into that gadget on his arm in a William Shatner-like manner. The two touch fingers and exclaim, “To infinity and beyond!” before each adventure, which I imagine was the tagline for this movie when Andy saw it. That justification allows “Lightyearcreators “to sue “Toy Story creators “for plagiarism.
But I digress. The movie character Buzz Lightyear shares his toy’s propensity for being obstinate and choosing his own course. When he ignores the counsel of both his team and the ship’s autopilot navigator I.V.A.N., this puts him into a lot of difficulties (Mary McDonald-Lewis). Everyone is marooned on a dangerous planet covered in venomous plants and bugs after the turnip-shaped ship he is piloting crashes. Buzz is driven by guilt to find an energy source that will enable them to travel into hyperspace and leave the planet or something comparable. The most crucial thing to understand is that every time Buzz tries to accomplish his ambition, he loses four years of his life at home. He remains the same age while everyone else ages. In a montage with music by Michael Giacchino, the character “Lightyear” depicts a large portion of this repetitive passage of time, similar to the opening sequence in “Up.” Buzz is unable to rejoice in Hawthorne and her girlfriend’s marriage, the arrival of their daughter, and far too many other occasions and experiences for him to count because he is unwilling to accept failure. It takes him 22 more years before he enters hyperspace. There were audible sniffles at my screening since by this point, Hawthorne had died away and left him a taped message, which Aduba reads with such bittersweet elegance. They will also be heard at yours.
Izzy, Hawthorne’s daughter, gives Buzz the message (Keke Palmer). She resides on the most recent version of their home planet, which is populated by hostile robots that are commanded by the unexplained “Zurg” spaceship. Buzz believes he has a new opportunity to eradicate humanity. He must rescue the turnip ship alone because he is at odds with Commander Burnside (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), the former military leader of the organization. Izzy offers to help and offers up her amateur team, which includes Mo Morrison and ex-con/bomb specialist Darby Steel (Dale Soules) (Taika Waititi). The simplest way to sum up Whitlock’s foul catchphrase in “The Wire” is to say that they have space ranger powers. Morrison is so awful and trouble-making that he succeeds in making the irrational Buzz appear logical.
In a very subtle way, director Angus MacLane and co-writer Jason Headley parody the kind of space movie that might have been popular in the 1990s. They cram “Lightyear” with information that will undoubtedly lead to debates on Twitter among “Toy Story” devotees. The graphics of the movie blatantly copy those of other films. I recognized “The Last Starfighter,” “Avatar,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Return of the Jedi,” and other films as inspirations. I.V.A.N. appears to have been designed by Nintendo. Each character easily fits into the stereotypes the genre favors, such as flawed heroes looking for redemption, newcomers trying to establish themselves, cunning villains, etc. The music, a delicious parody of the bombastic space movie music, is one of Michael Giacchino’s best and enhances each scene it is used in.
Every great hero, of course, needs a great sidekick. Sox (Peter Sohn), a cute cat, serves as Buzz’s emotional support system in “Lightyear.” Sox has a soothing voice that sounds like a cross between Baymax from “Big Hero 6” and HAL. He also purrs when you scratch his stomach. He occasionally makes a noise that sounds like “Be-boop, be-boop, be-boop!” and is exceptionally good at math. Like any cat, Sox is full of amusing and threatening surprises. Pixar was successful if its goal was to create a character whose toy would sell like hotcakes. You’ll recognize it when you see it, but he has a scene in the movie that caused audible panicked gasps from the audience. You’re making fun of me, aren’t you? I don’t like cats, but I was rooting so hard for Sox.
No big deal. “Lightyear” is a lot of fun as far as spin-offs go. Palmer and Evans in particular have excellent voice talent. They must continue the emotional connection that Aduba started, and Evans must give us a Buzz Lightyear which is convincingly similar to Tim Allen’s portrayal so that we can get into the movie’s toy connection. Sohn is a wonderful feline, and Bill Hader enjoys his brief appearance as a novice with a challenging last name. James Brolin, who is also known as Mr. Barbara Streisand, provides the voice of Zurg when he finally makes an appearance. Hell, I suppose he can play Zurg if his child can play Thanos.
I’d had enough of this series after the forgettable “Toy Story 4,” to the point where I anticipated leaving a bad review. Not today, in the legendary words of Buzz Lightyear.