Science fiction is an amazing genre. You can be anyone, anywhere at any time doing anything, with the only actual limit being your imagination. The realm of animation is the same and perhaps nobody knows that better than PIXAR Animation Studios. Their first feature film – 1995s Toy Story – is a landmark of cinema and they continued to push the boundaries of possibility with films like 2002s Monsters Inc and 2003s Finding Nemo. Today, Toy Story remains one of their most profitable IPs with 3 sequels and numerous shorts but clearly, they’re not done yet. Their most recent release is the first one to hit cinema since 2020s Onward, thanks to the COVID Pandemic, and it’s a wonderful return.
Lightyear sees Space Range Buzz Lightyear marooned on a distant planet with entire spaceships worth of people, determined to get them home. To do so he must perfect the formula for a hyperspace crystal and battle an armada of robots led by the mysterious Zurg with the assistance of several not-quite-rookies. The trailers may imply that this is an action blockbuster akin to the later Star Wars films but it has more in common with the 1977 original. There’s action, but it’s more focused on the main character and his journey, both across the barren landscape and emotionally. Chris Evans slides seamlessly into the role made famous by Tim Allen without ever feeling like a stand-in or replacement. The other characters can be fun too, especially the Hawthornes and Sox but Mo and Darby can often feel a little one-note.
The film is filled to the brim with references and homage. It may not be to everyone’s taste, especially if you dislike things feeling too meta, but others are sure to get a kick out of it. For sci-fi fans, there are plenty of recognisable callbacks to some of the finest films ever produced in the genre. There are elements of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, and Alien that aren’t difficult to find with Lost in space being especially prevalent. There are plenty of nods for Toy Story fans too. A large amount of the dialogue is lifted directly from Buzz’s lines in the first two Toy Story installments without ever feeling forced or out of place. Even a few of the camera shots are direct parallels from previous movies, particularly the iconic scene of Buzz landing on Andy’s bed.
Tying it all together is the majestic score from Michael Giacchino who is one of the finest composers currently working in the industry. This marks his 8th collaboration with PIXAR and he continues to bring something new to everything he writes. The Incredibles was perfectly heroic. Ratatouille was suitably quaint and Lightyear aptly provides the space-traveler feel. It helps this to feel like the kind of movie that would inspire a TV show like Buzz Lightyear of Star Command.
A TV show that actually happened, aired on the Disney Channel, and never got a proper release after the fact. It deserves to be released DISNEY.
As previously mentioned, it won’t be for everyone. Some may find it slightly derivative of other sci-fi stories or may find that it doesn’t hit as hard emotionally as other PIXAR productions but it never feels like it set out to do these things. It exists to tell an entertaining story with some amazing visuals and it does that. As “kids’ first sci-fi” it’s brilliant, introducing a wide variety of concepts and explaining them simply. It feels like a love letter to the genre and the realm of animation.
It doesn’t go to infinity or beyond but it’s still worth travelling to see.