'Lightyear' review: Chris Evans leads spiffy 'Toy Story' spinoff – USA TODAY

Instead of going to infinity and beyond, Pixar’s “Lightyear” has a more modest goal: to do something interesting and fun with an animated classic without doing “Toy Story 5.”
Directed and co-written by former animator Angus MacLane, the spiffy space adventure (★★★ out of four; rated PG; now streaming on Disney+) mostly works as an origin story for earnest space ranger Buzz Lightyear – the role originated by Tim Allen in 1995’s“Toy Story” and voiced here (as a cartoon human and not a plastic dude) by Chris Evans. The erstwhile Captain America is a solid choice to headline what’s mainly a straightforward sci-fi action story bookended by a pair of existential crises that actually make this spinoff fly.
The opening title card explains what we’re dealing with here: “Lightyear” essentially is the movie that Andy, the boy from “Toy Story,” became obsessed with in ’95 and spawned the Buzz toy that Andy famously received for his birthday (and irked Woody mightily back in the day). So it’s Pixar’s meta version of “Star Wars” but with more high jinks and pesky alien vines.
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The “real” Buzz is a spaceman who doesn’t like autopilots, rookies, or failing his duties. A mission into space to find an inhabitable planet and set up shop goes awry, and Buzz, his best friend/commander Alisha (Uzo Aduba) and their passengers become marooned on a hostile world 4.2 million light-years from Earth. Blaming himself, Buzz goes to extremes to fix this mistake and embarks on test flights to perfect a hyperspeed crystal that will help get everyone off this rock. But every trip, which takes him about four minutes, equals four years and two months for everyone else he knows, thanks to “time dilation,” leading to life passing him by over several decades.
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Alongside his movie-stealing robot cat companion Sox (Peter Sohn), Buzz finally does succeed in crafting a crystal that works but, upon his return to his temporary intergalactic home, finds the space colony overtaken by a robot army led by the evil Zurg (James Brolin). To combat this Darth Vader-y menace, Buzz teams with Alisha’s granddaughter Izzy (Keke Palmer) and her motley crew of cadets, who are nowhere near ranger-ready.
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“Lightyear” gives new meaning to Buzz’s “To infinity and beyond” catchphrase and adds in some easter eggs that’ll make old fans smile but doesn’t go overboard with the “Toy Story” connections. It instead embraces a more cosmic “Bad News Bears” vibe as an exasperated Buzz wants to do everything himself and is forced to learn the importance of a crew who’s got your back. Composer Michael Giacchino’s score harks back to ’70s and ’80s sci-fi TV themes, the animation is downright phenomenal at times, Sox is totally the new Baby Yoda, and the narrative mines a lot of comedy at the expense of the overly serious Buzz.
As a cohesive whole, there are rough patches: “Lightyear” overall feels like a series of cobbled-together episodes that don’t always flow smoothly. And Buzz’s bits with his new crop of rangers – including flighty Mo (Taika Waititi) and weirdly old Darby (Dale Soules) – are sufficiently entertaining although they feel slight here. It starts as an introspective Pixar movie, then throws in a bunch of generic sci-fi adventures before remembering it’s a Pixar movie again by the end.
Buzz’s friendship with Alisha, a caring queer character who starts a family and makes the most of a bad situation while her pal obsessively attempts to be a hero, gives “Lightyear” that piece of signature Pixar emotionality amid the cosmic derring-do. While Disney’s vaunted animation studio tries to have its astronaut ice cream and eat it, too – with a “Toy Story” movie that’s really trying not to be a “Toy Story” movie – there is that certain spark missing that you only find in its original fare like, say, “Turning Red.”
“Lightyear” is a crowd-pleasing effort that doesn’t shoot for the moon but manages to be a nostalgic blast anyway.


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