Lightyear (2022) is the first Pixar film to get a theatrical-only release since COVID-19 shut down theaters shortly after Onward (2020) debuted. Since then, Pixar has released Soul (2020), Luca (2021), and Turning Red (2022) with a lot of praise…and some controversy. With Pixar’s return to the big screen and the reimagining of a beloved character’s origin story, Lightyear is a significant risk in many ways. For me, the film worked quite well, and I had a great time watching the incredible-looking animation unfold its familiar yet emotionally affecting story.
Based on the movie that Andy saw as a kid that made him love Buzz Lightyear – or so we are told, by an opening title card – follows the real Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans), a legendary Space Ranger, after he’s marooned on a hostile planet 4.2 million light-years from Earth alongside his commander, Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba), 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 – and Pixar’s singular best side character to date – Sox (Peter Sohn).
Let’s not undersell Sox here. He is cute, comical, and unbelievably endearing. If Sox wasn’t in this film, much of it wouldn’t come together. He is the glue that truly makes all the pieces connect, and he most definitely provides the audience with an emotional anchor. Sox’s mere presence elevates the material and helps to make the otherwise mission-driven Lightyear a more accessible character.
Following Top Gun: Maverick (2022) may hurt this film a bit, as there are parallels that could be made between Maverick and Lightyear, as well as a few of the action sequences – areas where Top Gun will likely win. However, Lightyear manages to bring a similar vibe and level of excitement that one may not expect from an animated feature. The supporting characters are very likable, and some great talent can be found here doing the voice work with Keke Palmer, Taika Waititi, and Dale Soules. I noticeably recognized similar feelings I had for this film that I had while watching Top Gun: Maverick but scaled down a bit.
Of course, the biggest potential issue for me going into this film – which is probably the movie’s biggest obstacle in general – is that it would ruin my beloved Toy Story character. Any time we go backward to give an origin story for a character, there is a risk of it feeling redundant, or not living up to the expectations we have crafted in our own imagination. Then, to slightly alter the origin that was already established – only makes us put up a defensive barrier that the movie now has to knock down in order to win us over – increases that risk and concern. I felt like Lightyear was able to accomplish this mission, as it felt like it was treated with love and investment to tell a good story with the character.
Lightyear is yet another example of the extremely capable hands working to make the movies at Pixar. Even the worst of their catalog stands far above many other animation studios’ best works. Lightyear falls squarely in the middle of their filmography, and that is by no means a criticism. I was pleasantly surprised and found myself completely immersed in this version of the character and the journey he was on. Lightyear earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.