Buzz Lightyear was first introduced to audiences in Pixar’s 1995 film, Toy Story. The adventures of Buzz, Sheriff Woody, and friends make Toy Story one of the best-animated franchises. Holding the title of the first, full-length, computer-animated release, the Toy Story franchise has upped its game with Lightyear — a film that sets the stage for the world of toys. This is the film Andy, and his friends were obsessed with in Toy Story. This is the movie the toys in Al’s Toy Barn were based. I understand Andy a lot more now. Being a Space Ranger is cool!
Lightyear is a sci-fi action-adventure that plays like an origin story for Buzz Lightyear. Directed by Angus MacLane (Finding Dory), the film focuses on the hero who inspired the toy. Lightyear follows Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear and his best friend, Space Ranger Alisha Hawthorne after they are marooned with their crew on a hostile planet 4.2 million lightyears from Earth.
Buzz has the idea stuck in his head that HE, alone, must save everyone. He tries to find a way home by testing and retesting jumps to lightspeed. Joining the mission is a group of young recruits and a robot companion cat named Sox. Threatening the mission is the arrival of space robots led by Emperor Zurg. Lightyear features the voices of Chris Evans as Buzz Lightyear, Uzo Aduba as Alisha Hawthorne, and Peter Sohn as Sox.
The young recruits hoping to help save the day are voiced by Keke Palmer as Izzy Hawthorne, Taika Waititi as Mo Morrison, and Dale Soules as Darby Steel. The film also features James Brolin as Zurg and Isiah Whitlock Jr. as Commander Burnside. Written by Jason Headley and MacLane, the film is produced by Galyn Susman (Toy Story That Time Forgot) and featured a score by award-winning composer Michael Giacchino (Up).
The voice cast in this film is fantastic. When Chris Evans was announced as the voice of Buzz, my first reaction was, why not Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor aka Tim Allen, who voiced the toy Buzz Lightyear. But, after seeing the film, Evans was a great choice. The voice is very close, especially with those signature lines.
The addition of Uzo Aduba and Keke Palmer as members of the Hawthorne family comes just three years after the news stories of Pixar being racist and the whiteness of Toy Story 4. Alisha and Izzy Hawthorne are both Black female characters in Lightyear that are physically present or at the very least mentioned throughout the film.
Aduba and Palmer make these characters standouts. In Palmer’s case, her character Izzy is an instant fan fav. She has the charm, the comedy, determination, overall countenance, natural hair, and all, of a character people can relate to. We already love Buzz, and we understand his character, so it was nice to get someone new we could gravitate to that added another layer to the story.
Pixar has always made great animated films. Their attention to detail is what makes their films so fun. In Lightyear, the attention to detail does not go unnoticed. There are subtle callbacks and references to the Buzz character in the Toy Story films. Nostalgia seems to be the name of the game these days. The team behind Lightyear teases us with throwbacks that make sense for the movie. They are subtle points to remind you that this is Buzz Lightyear, the same Buzz we grew up with. We have the suit, the ship, and of course, the phrase “To infinity and beyond.” The science behind space travel is noted, and NASA is credited for helping the team make it as realistic as possible for an animated film.
For over 20 years, MacLane had been thinking of the world Buzz Lightyear comes from. Bringing Buzz’s origin story to life is fantastic, and the story we get makes sense. I immediately wanted to watch Toy Story after seeing Lightyear. Now we just need Woody’s Roundup from Toy Story 2 on the big screen.
I have seen all the released Pixar films, and I couldn’t help but see similarities between Lightyear and another Pixar film, Up. From the beginning, there are parallels made between the talking animal sidekick and the single-minded, laser-focused mission. Even the villains have similarities. The themes in the film are very similar as well. Carl and Buzz are not that different when you think about it.
For both, there is an overarching theme of acceptance and friendship. It’s not the same film, but noticeably similar. This does not take away the fact that Lightyear is a fun, intergalactic adventure that kids and adults will enjoy. Especially those adults that grew up with Buzz Lightyear and his mission logs to Star Command. There is a slight lull in the middle, but Buzz Lightyear will forever be known as a hero and a very cool toy. Be sure to stay for not one, not two, but three post-credit scenes.
Disney and Pixar’s Lightyear opens in theaters on June 17, 2022.
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Born and raised in Southern California, Catalina is a freelance journalist and film critic. You can also find her work on blackfilm.com and documentary.org. She has moderated and served on film panels, interviewed casts and crews of various films, and has been a juror for the New Orleans Film Festival. Catalina is a member of numerous critics' associations, including the Critics Choice Association, African American Film Critics Association, the Online Association of Female Film Critics, and the Hollywood Creative Alliance, as well as a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic.