BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — “Lightyear” provides the backstory for the Buzz Lightyear toy that Andy loved so much in the “Toy Story” offerings. The toy is based on a science fiction movie that was supposedly released when Andy was a child. “Lightyear” is that movie.
A long-range mission into space gets diverted to what looks like an inhabitable planet. That’s not the case but when the massive ship filled with hibernating scientists crashes because of Lightyear’s ego, a quest begins to find a way to get off the planet and go home. It won’t be easy as they just have to survive wild creatures, killer robots and a familiar looking villain in Zurg.
The big question with “Lightyear” has nothing to do with whether it is a quality film or not. Generally, it is a fun space romp driven by a quirky group of characters.
A bigger question is who the audience is for the film. It has the automatic link to those who love and adore the “Toy Story” franchise. But, the warm feeling that was created in those movies because of a heavy dose of nostalgia has been replaced with an adventure tale where Buzz goes from whimsical space toy to a self-loathing loner.
The angst is not heavy enough to suggest the film is aimed at an older audience but except for the robot cat, Sox (a merchandising gold mine), there aren’t a lot of characters to entertain the very young. And, those young moviegoers certainly aren’t going to keep up with all of the time-twisting elements.
Even the simple task of defining the genre where “Lightyear” belongs is complicated. Because of Buzz, “Lightyear” could be considered a prequel due to the character but the Buzz in “Toy Story” and the one in “Lightyear” are not exactly the same character. They don’t share the same storyline but instead just piggybacks on one another.
It isn’t completely right to say they are standalone productions as “Lightyear” would not exist without “Toy Story.” But, there is a connection that is so different from most films that it sets up a whole new category.
Finding a genre is not the biggest concern with “Lightyear.” There are some big problems with the story by Angus MacLane, Matthew Aldrich and Jason Headley but there is no way to fully discuss them without creating spoilers. It can be said that time travel is a failsafe for writers when they get caught in a story bind. And, they always ignore the rules of the gimmick as long as the story progresses.
There are other big writing holes. A year after the spacecraft crashes, the scientists have built a facility that includes a very sophisticated launch pad. It is obvious they did not cannibalize their ship for the material. That means in a year they were able to find raw ore, build a smelting operation, fashion steel and construct numerous structures. It is just another example of ignoring the rules to push a story along.
Another oddity is that Chris Evans provides the voice for Buzz in “Lightyear.” Evans brings the heroic tone needed for the character but it would have made more sense for Tim Allen to reprise the role as he spoke for Buzz in all those “Toy Story” movies.
The logical direction would be that a toy based on a movie could easily feature the same person who spoke for the character in the original film. If you have any doubts, listen to all of the talking Buzz Lightyear toys from the “Toy Story” movies. You will hear Allen’s voice.
Under MacLane’s direction, “Lightyear” hits enough key points to make the film work as long as you can overlook the writing gaffes. It has a solid look and the story moves at a quick pace (possibly to hide the writing problems). Toss in an odd cast of characters and the familiarity of whatever it is you want to call the connection to “Toy Story” and “Lightyear” may not go to infinity and beyond but it does maintain an acceptable entertainment orbit.
2 1/2 stars
Cast: Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, Taika Waititi, Uzo Aduba, John Brolin.
Director: Angus MacLane
Rated: PG for action, peril
Running time: 100 minutes.