This Is That Movie

The breezy, silly ‘Toy Story’ prequel ‘Lightyear’ avoids most of the spin-off trappings

It’s rare to see a franchise movie these days with the giddy non-essential energy of Lightyear, a Toy Story spin-off that no one asked for or really seems to care about. The film’s very superfluousness gives it a low-key charm, a sort of half-shrug doodle vibe where genuinely silly gags and zippy-quippy zingers ricochet with harmless delight throughout an otherwise generic hero’s journey. How ironic that the famously fatuous and self-deluded Buzz Lightyear is the star of a movie so light on its feet—and so savvy about its own insignificance.

The opening credits justify the movie’s very existence in a quick series of expository cards. Toy Story’s Andy, it seems, got his Buzz Lightyear action figure in 1995 because it was merchandise from a popular movie that year. “This is that movie,” proclaims the last card. We’re watching a fictional kid’s flick from within another fictional kid’s flick! IP merchants, take note: Disney just sidestepped any continuity questions by cleverly pioneering a reboot nesting doll.

LIGHTYEAR ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Angus MacLane
Written by: Jason Headley, Angus MacLane
Starring: Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, James Brolin, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules, Uzo Aduba, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Efren Ramirez, Isiah Whitcock Jr.
Running time: 105 mins

Buzz (Chris Evans), of course, is on a space-ranger adventure 4.2 light years from Earth, where he and his spaceship full of hibernating colonizers land on a hostile planet. Befitting his blowhard lone wolf status, he mission-log narrates with impunity, talking in such self-aggrandizing ways that his commanding officer, Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) plays rousing background music to mock him. But Buzz’s go-it-alone ways leaves him and his cargo of off-world denizens marooned. The only way home is to develop and test experimental fuel to replace the hyperspeed crystal he accidentally destroyed.

Due to the time dilation he experiences during every flight test, Buzz finds himself leap-frogging 4 years into the future while he himself ages just a few minutes. Six decades later, the tests are still duds, Alisha is dead, and Buzz’s only companion is Sox (Peter Sohn), the robot cat Alicia gifted him when he started the tests. Even worse: mysterious villain Zurg (James Brolin) and his army of robots threaten to destroy the marooned outpost—unless Buzz can pull together a rag-tag group of space-ranger irregulars and stop him.

So begins Buzz’s long personal arc of learning how to live in the moment, appreciating the people around you, and not being so obsessed with “finishing the mission”—especially if doing so means erasing the essence of why one starts a mission in the first place. There’s also a sidebar multiverse narrative detour that doesn’t make much sense and requires someone to say “I’ve broken time.”

Anyway, boring. Let’s talk about the A.I. feline who solves crystallic fusion, hairball-coughs a flamethrower, spits tranquilizer darts, says “bee-boop bee-boop” when plugged into other circuitry, and, when calculating figures, spins his head and purrs “meow-meow-meow-meow.” Or Darby (Dale Soules), an ex-convict more worried about parole violations than killer androids. Or the rookie cadet with chronically sad eyes. Or Mo Morrison (Taika Waititi), the misfit zen warrior who reliably delivers soft chuckles because the guy voicing him is friggin’ Taika Waititi.

All you need to know is that spacesuits have a quick-draw “surrender string,” you make a sandwich by putting a slice of bread in between two slices of meat, harpoon guns are surprisingly effective against hi-tech machinery, and you can either call a certain weapon MR8-OOM or “Mr. Boom.” A breezy summer flick full of delightful distractions, Lightyear knows that the best cure for uninspired plotting is unexpected absurdity. To infinity—and beyond! Or at least until the inevitable sequel.

To a sequel to the prequel and beyond! Pixar’s ‘Lightyear.’

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Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer, Garrett is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

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