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REVIEW – Disney Pixar’s ‘Lightyear’ is a Crowning Achievement in Storytelling

LIGHTYEAR Collateral RealD v5.0 DigitalAssset mech1 FS min e1655248623974

Spin-offs are nothing new to films, and to big-budget franchises especially, but every now and then, one is conceived through a moment of pure genius. A movie, about a movie about a character from a movie? The result is possibly Disney Pixar’s most impressive outing yet: Lightyear, inspired by the classic Toy Story film series and detailing the backstory of its co-pilot (pun intended), Buzz Lightyear of Star Command.

It would be an understatement to describe Lightyear as a passion-project for the film’s creative team, led by director Angus MacLane, whose first Pixar flick was the original Toy Story film. And as soon as the film starts it carries much of that Toy Story magic with it. Lightyear finds its voice in Chris Evans’ original but familiar approach to our hero, and he’s accompanied by an all-star cast, including Keke Palmer, Uzo Aduba, James Brolin, and Taika Waititi, who give the characters grand, yet intimate, performances.

Disney Pixar’s Lightyear premieres in theaters June 17th and tickets are on sale now! Light spoilers below!

Disney Pixar's Lightyear Key Art
Disney Pixar’s Lightyear Key Art

Official Synopsis

A sci-fi action adventure and the definitive origin story of Buzz Lightyear, the hero who inspired the toy, “Lightyear” follows the legendary Space Ranger after he’s marooned on a hostile planet 4.2 million light-years from Earth alongside his commander and their crew. As Buzz tries to find a way back home through space and time, he’s joined by a group of ambitious recruits and his charming robot companion cat, Sox. Complicating matters and threatening the mission is the arrival of Zurg, an imposing presence with an army of ruthless robots and a mysterious agenda.

The film features the voices of Chris Evans as accomplished Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear, Uzo Aduba as his commander and best friend Alisha Hawthorne and Peter Sohn as Sox. Keke Palmer, Taika Waititi and Dale Soules lend their voices to the Junior Zap Patrol’s Izzy Hawthorne, Mo Morrison and Darby Steel, respectively, and James Brolin can be heard as the enigmatic Zurg. The voice cast also includes Mary McDonald-Lewis as onboard computer I.V.A.N., Isiah Whitlock Jr. as Commander Burnside, Efren Ramirez as Airman Díaz, Keira Hairston as Young Izzy and Tim Peake as Tim/Mission Control (in U.K. release). Directed by Angus MacLane (co-director “Finding Dory”), produced by Galyn Susman (“Toy Story That Time Forgot”) and featuring a score by award-winning composer Michael Giacchino (“The Batman,” “Up”), Disney and Pixar’s “Lightyear” opens only in theaters on June 17, 2022

REVIEW – A Beautiful Film with a Timely Message

At its core, Lightyear is a story of redemption, acceptance, and most importantly self-forgiveness. The way it is executed was what I found most fascinating. In an era of films with cluttered plots and jam-packed visuals and story-lines, Lightyear is the most singularly-focused film I’ve seen in a very long time. This is a part of its charm – We stay with, watch develop, and learn from Buzz from start to finish with few subplots in between; we come to understand his hopes and fears, and see his weaknesses turn to strengths (and, in one plot twist, vice versa).

Tasked with discovering life on an alien planet but ending up marooned with and responsible for a massive crew, Buzz’s guilt eats away at him but also fuels his desire to complete his mission at all costs. Lightyear paints an emotional picture that both young and old can relate to. Likewise, his unlikely allies along the way share his enthusiasm, but grapple with their own shortcomings—all while facing off and racing against the seemingly-indomitable Zurg.

Buzz Lightyear and His Team
Buzz Lightyear and His Team
Credit: Walt Disney Studios

I can’t continue without gushing about Zurg. From the moment he’s hinted at, to being formally introduced, his on-screen presence carries an impressive weight and Pixar achieves a redesign of a classic character that easily bests its original interpretation. James Brolin achieves a Darth Vader-esque stature with an outstanding vocal performance alone.

The worlds, nay, galaxies, of Lightyear feel massive, spectacular and full. From the switches, knobs and stickers inside the cockpits, to the textures and scale they achieve with certain sets, the visuals of this movie are stylized, subtle and completely purposeful.

It’s worth noting the clever approach Disney Pixar took in having Buzz’s commanding officers be two Black character who are total opposites. On one hand, there’s the compassionate and steadfast Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba), and on the other, there’s the stubborn and self-assured Commander Burnside (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.). That duality is something you don’t always get to see in media, let alone blockbuster films.

Crafting an experience this intricate and engaging for the whole family is a specialty of Disney Pixar, but Lightyear will go down as a crowning achievement. That said, it isn’t totally without its flaws: the second act drags at times with a few redundant action sequences, and while I personally love the direction, some people might be thrown off by the tone—it isn’t the ever-jovial kid’s film that audiences might be expecting.

Lightyear stands out from its predecessors most obviously in its tone. While Disney Pixar is no stranger to taking on darker topics and themes, this movie has a particular focus on the urgency of Buzz’s internal and external struggles; the dialogue, color palettes, musical scores and emotional push-pull of the plot reflect this sense that sometimes the closer we get to what we want, we discover what we actually need. It gets dark. But a beautifully paced third act pins that emotion down as Buzz makes some sobering discoveries. Lightyear approaches its themes with sincerity and infinite optimism.

Animated films come and go, but Lightyear goes to infinity and beyond and is the best animated film of the year.

Zurg and Buzz Lightyear
Zurg and Buzz Lightyear
Credit: Walt Disney Studios

Pros:

  • A singularly focused, well directed film with brilliant pacing
  • The worlds feel almost as massive as the vastness of space due to the richness of details and textures Disney Pixar has created
  • The voice cast have an amazing chemistry and expressiveness that plays off each other in a refreshing and endearing way
  • Zurg’s re-imagining is filled with gravitas and is so visually gripping that this might be a new standard in character redesigns
  • An emotionally rich, well paced film with a beautiful and timely message at its heart

Cons:

  • The tone of the film might be a jarring shift for those expecting a light-hearted adventure for kids

RATING – 5/5 Pocky

Pocky Rating 5
Avy 15 1 min

Elijah Isaiah Johnson is an illustrator/animator who creates dynamic
commercials, powerful sequentials, eye-grabbing pinups, designs and
images for upcoming writers, authors and established companies alike.

His most recently published works include the Amazon Best Seller
NIGHTMARE DETECTIVE, NOIR IS THE NEW BLACK, the Comixology Indie Best
Selling series LEADERS OF THE FREE WORLD, THE FORMULA and much more. Find him on Instagram at @artbyatlas

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