light year (2022)
Directed by: Angus MacLane | 105 minutes | action, animation | Original voice cast: Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Dale Soules, Taika Waititi, Peter Sohn, Uzo Aduba, James Brolin, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Efren Ramirez, Isiah Whitlock Jr. † Dutch voice cast: Matteo van der Grijn, Ronald Goedemondt, Willie Wartaal, Evita Mac-Nack, Mark Rietman, Marjolijn Touw
Stranded on a hostile planet, Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear makes frantic efforts to guide his fellow crew back to Earth. Also, an army of robots led by the unscrupulous Zurg tries to steal the crucial fuel source that the Space Ranger needs for the return journey at light speed. Despite the grumpy Buzz prefers to fly solo, he learns to embrace help from unexpected quarters. The easily digestible and colorful ‘Lightyear’ is quite entertaining, especially for children who want to get a taste of the science fiction genre.
It is not the first time that Buzz has played first fiddle outside the ‘Toy-Story’ series (1995-2019). Two decades earlier, Disney and Pixar had already produced 2D animation spin-offs around the Buzz Lightyear, which is very popular with Toy Story fans: the direct-to-video film ‘Buzz Lightyear from Star Command: The Adventure Begins’ (Tad Stones, 2000) and an almost eponymous one-season TV series (2000). This time, Disney throws an a-budget in the old familiar CGI field for Pixar. Despite it being a solo film for Buzz, the makers of ‘Lightyear’ eagerly link the story to the ‘Toy Story’ franchise. In it, he’s a toy doll who doesn’t realize he’s one. This doll is based on, or rather, merchandise version of the Buzz in ‘Lightyear’. And although slightly less existential, the movie version of the toy doll, a sort of animated George Clooney in space, also suffers from shortsightedness.
Hollywood star Chris Evans voices Buzz and is best known for his role as Captain America in the Marvel franchise. Also the first American Avenger is an all-American hero who struggles with his self-image. Behind the great self-sacrifice and no-nonsense attitude, both characters hide their own desires and are harsh, yet fair, towards their environment. It’s how America likes to see the Buzz Aldrins and Neil Armstrongs. Like the space drama ‘Ad Astra’ (James Gray, 2019), ‘Lightyear’ questions this.
The fact that this Pixar sprinkles references to science fiction classics, including ‘Star Wars’, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, ‘Star Trek’ and the ‘Alien’ films, has become commonplace in animated films aimed at children. Unfortunately, the meta jokes about science fiction clichés themselves have gradually become cliché. Nevertheless, the more creative finds are still in the absurd visual jokes and supporting roles such as that of the robot cat Sox. And while the film pokes fun at the Marvel post-credit scenes, ‘Lightyear’ is also bracing itself for a sequel. The question is whether a Buzz Lightyear universe has enough gravity for this. This origin story has its moments but overall feels like a snack, like it’s suffering from some indeterminate form of metal fatigue.
As sublime as the CGI animation is, Pixar’s umpteenth family mission dutifully simmers towards the end with the necessary art and flying work. The pleasantly nostalgic ‘Lightyear’ will certainly entertain the youngest among the viewers, but the older child will rather be charmed by the light, only vaguely excite. The whole thing doesn’t touch the heart as deeply as some other Pixar productions, such as those about a lonely elderly person or about the emotions of a child. Maybe it’s because the most original idea about Buzz comes from the “Toy Story” era, with which the merch version of Buzz oddly trumps its heroic origins. The mega parent company Disney once again proves to be more skilled in toy lines than in uninhibited creativity.