I’m surely not the only person who doesn’t quite get what’s going on between Disney and Pixar; the latter’s last three movies have been released directly to Disney +, despite the Pixar brand regularly hitting huge heights at the worldwide box office before the plague years. It seems strange that Soul, Turning Red and Luca were all used to add lustre to the Disney+ streaming channel, and yet the rather undernourished Lightyear goes straight to cinemas. That’s not to say that Lightyear is a bad film, it’s a very agreeable if lightweight film, but Disney seem quite happy for cinema to be the preserve of tried and tested IP only, and that’s surely not a long-term plan.
On the bright side, Lightyear is a space comedy-drama, supposedly the film that Andy saw which inspired him to get a Buzz Lightyear doll. Now voiced by Chris Evans, Buzz isn’t quite the goofy figure that he was as part of Woody’s gang, but is a serious astronaut with problems and issues. We see him wrestling with the indignities of conquering a hostile planet in the opening scenes, and in a twist lifted from Interstellar and other sci-fi films, not aging due to space-travel while those around him grow old and die. That’s about as close as Lightyear comes to the pathos of Up or even the Toy Story trilogy; this sad scenario isn’t touched on again.
Instead, we have a routine bonding story, with Taika Waititi doing the second-banana number that he must be doing in his sleep these days. The lesbian kiss featured doesn’t exactly chime with the idea that this is a kids animation that Andy might have watched in 1993; it’s the right idea by Pixar, just the wrong film to do it in. But the designs and chunky and satisfying, there’s some funny gags, and Lightyear’s final confrontation with the man behind Zurg (James Brolin) is what you’d hope for and expect. And Sox the robotic cat is a terrific add-on; he deserves a film of his own.
Angus MacLane’s animation offers the charms of a family summer blockbuster; it’s a fun, engaging romp with smart designs and good humour. But it is a notable step down for Pixar, much less creative that Soul or Turning Red. And since Buzz Lightyear has already been the subject of several animated original stories, these fresh adventures still feel like an IP being flogged long past the deadline for development; this seems too much like a photocopy of a photocopy of a well-loved character.
Thanks to Disney for big screen access to this film. Lightyear hits cinemas June 17th 2022.