By Lynn Venhaus
Heading ‘to infinity and beyond” with a heroic Space Ranger, “Lightyear,” sounds like an exciting flight of fancy. However, the first spin-off from the beloved “Toy Story” franchise sputters with a not very kid-friendly storyline.
And not really any connection to the four “Toy Story” movies except in name only. Confused? Join the club. We’re in an intergalactic mission that involves time travel and space aeronautic snafus.
This is the movie that made Buzz Lightyear a coveted toy. While spending years trying to return home, marooned Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) encounters an army of ruthless robots commanded by Zurg (Josh Brolin), who are attempting to steal his fuel source.
They make it clear right away that “Lightyear” is the movie that introduced Buzz to the mass audience, and then made him an action figure. That likely was a factor in replacing sitcom actor Tim Allen, who voiced Buzz in four movies, with the known-as-hero Chris Evans, best known as Avengers’ Captain America.
But the marketing of this film hasn’t been so obvious.
For the Pixar Animation Studios, it’s a surprising stumble, for the animation is customary next level, with dazzling outer space panoramas and state-of-the-art tech know-how conveyed in intense detail.
The vision is ambitious, showcasing a far-away planet that the space cowboys colonize as their new home while still working on multiple projects.
But it’s not enough, even with a topnotch vocal cast — Chris Evans is the stand-up Space Ranger, Uzo Aduba is his respected supervisor Alicia Hawthorne, Keke Palmer is her granddaughter Izzy, Taika Waititi is comical crew member Mo Morrison and Efren Ramirez is Airman Diaz.
The diverse cast is a plus, and Alicia Hawthorne is in a same-sex marriage for a Pixar first.
Best is Peter Sohn as the robotic pet cat “Socks” – a delightful source of goofy humor, not unlike the welcome comic relief of break-out character Forky in “Toy Story 4” in 2019.
But most of the time, this origin story is very serious. And that’s disappointing, as this animated sci-fi fantasy never quit takes off because the story itself is underwhelming and bewildering.
The screenplay is by Jason Headley, who wrote one of the lesser Pixar films “Onward,” with story by director Angus MacLane (“The Incredibles”), Matthew Aldrich (“Coco”) and Headley.
It has more in common with Christopher Nolan’s dense and unwieldy “Interstellar” and even the Dreamworks’ animated film, “Over the Moon” in 2020, than it does with the toys that came to life in one of the most successful animated series ever. The original was the first Pixar/Disney film to be nominated for Best Original Screenplay.
Pixar genius Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton and Joe Ranft had created those beloved characters. In the 27 years since the original “Toy Story” – first completely computer-generated graphic images — opened a marvelous make-believe world of toys having their own lives outside their role-play duties with kid owners, there have been three sequels that expanded the toy-chest universe and broader heart-tugging themes that challenge and change them.
The third one in 2010 and the fourth one in 2019 both won the Oscar for feature animated film (the award wasn’t given out until 2001, therefore the first two, in 1995 and 1999, weren’t eligible).
With its track record of excellence, Pixar has collected 18 Academy Awards for its films. Sadly, “Lightyear” isn’t on the same level.
The youngsters at my screening seemed very restless, and its appeal to younger tykes is uncertain. However, those who are captivated by the film will want to stay through the entire credits, as there are three more scenes.
“Lightyear” is a 2022 animated sci-fi fantasy feature film directed by Angus MacLane and featuring voices of Chris Evans, Uzo Aduba, Josh Brolin, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, Taiki Waititi and Efren Ramirez. It is fated PG for action/peril and is 2 hour, 40 minutes long. It opened in theaters on June 17. Lynn’s Take: C+
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.