‘Lightyear’: To mediocrity and beyond

Ryan Ranc, Life & Arts Reporter

“Lightyear,” set to release June 17, situates itself as the movie that made Andy want to buy a Buzz Lightyear toy. The film takes audiences through the life of Buzz Lightyear, a space ranger whose biggest mistake leads to a lifelong quest to make things right. Through countless struggles on his expedition, Buzz eventually learns to accept his flaws and realizes that learning to live with past mistakes makes the present much more meaningful. By catching a glimpse of Buzz Lightyear’s past journeys, fans of the beloved “Toy Story” series will understand why the toy version of Buzz Lightyear behaves so heroically.

The biggest issue with “Lightyear” is its lack of identity and unoriginal approach to storytelling, as the film relies on the same cliche themes found in most Pixar movies. That’s not to say the story is bad, but when Pixar continues to market itself as an innovative force within the animation world, releasing a movie showcasing the same cliche tropes that audiences have seen for decades feels lazy. 

The only refreshing element of the film is its representation of openly LGBTQ+ characters and same-sex relationships. While a necessary leap forward for representation, the change cannot hold up a movie that doesn’t bother to stand on its own two legs with other story elements. Ultimately, “Lightyear” boils down to an average but enjoyable sci-fi action movie.

Story issues aside, the visuals of “Lightyear” dazzle on screen, rivaling many animated classics. The animation successfully balances cartoonish designs and realistic landscapes. From small details like dust effects to rocket launches and reflections on space ranger helmets, the visual elements will take viewers’ breath away. It’s clear the animation and effects teams created incredibly engaging visuals that truly shine in “Lightyear.” Where the story lacks innovation, the effects and animation reveal Pixar’s desire to create vibrant visuals that are new and breathtaking for audiences around the world.

The film’s cast showcases an evident passion for the material it brought to life. This makes sense considering the star-studded cast consisting of Chris Evans (Buzz Lightyear), Keke Palmer (Izzy Hawthorne), Taika Waititi (Mo Morrison), Uzo Aduba (Alisha Hawthorne) and James Brolin (Zurg). Each actor and actress clearly took the time to mold a unique character and develop their motivations and desires in the movie. The best example of this is seen in Evans’ portrayal of Buzz Lightyear. Evans plays Buzz arrogantly to start, but throughout the movie, he cracks the hardened exterior of the space ranger to reveal a much softer and caring version of Buzz.  

“Lightyear” ultimately represents a disappointing theatrical return for Pixar. It’s tough to say that a movie stands out among other Pixar masterpieces when one of the most memorable elements is a quipping robot cat clearly made only to sell merchandise to children. While a fun and thoughtful film, the story offers nothing novel and executes a safe approach to an otherwise fantastic concept. Visual elements make for a treat, and out-of-this-world performances from the cast revive the beloved animated series with dynamic new characters. Audiences will enjoy “Lightyear” as a simple kid’s sci-fi flick but will leave the theater understanding why its tagline “to infinity and beyond” doesn’t actually fit this movie.

3 ½ space rangers out of 5