Lightyear review – Toy Story spinoff boldly going beyond with a treat from Pixar

This cracking origin story for Toy Story’s spaceman hero is fun and clever and reminds us why we loved Pixar in the first place

To infinity – and even further back! Lightyear is a treat: a time-travelling, space-ranging, animated adventure in the spirit of classic sci-fi. It is a prequel origin-myth for the Buzz Lightyear spaceman figure from the Toy Story movies, that lantern-jawed and gung-ho astronaut sonorously voiced in the original by Tim Allen and now by Chris Evans. Lightyear might not precisely be up there with the very creamiest of the Pixar crop but it reminds you why we loved Pixar in the first place: wit, fun, storytelling and heart. It does, however, leave untouched the crucial question of whether “Buzz” is his given name or his nickname. I naturally spent this film waiting for someone to call him Edwin Eugene Lightyear Jr. But no.

In the original films, Sheriff Woody was the cowboy toy taken from a hokey TV show called Woody’s Roundup. Now it transpires that Buzz Lightyear – who once threatened Woody for dominance in the toy collection of a kid called Andy, just as sci-fi superseded the western in Hollywood myth-making – was taken from a sleek and exciting movie called Lightyear. And the opening titles explain that this is that very movie, the film that generated the merch of which Buzz was a part. It was therefore supposedly made in the early 90s, the era of the first Toy Story set in 1995. Young Andy must have had his mind blown at this film’s digital effects and perhaps also by its admirably forward-thinking attitudes on LGBTQ+ representation. It also has a very startling twist. What a strain it must have been for Buzz, Woody and everyone else never to have mentioned that.

Well, now we get to see Lightyear in civilian clothes and in fatigues, and often without the snugly fitting skullcap that goes under his helmet. Now we see his brown hair, cut short: the effect is to make him rather boyish and vulnerable. With his commanding officer and best friend Alisha Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba), Buzz finds himself marooned on a hostile planet when their vast mother-ship crash-lands there. The hundreds of personnel on board are ordered to make the best of things and build a temporary community in this remote place, while fearless pilot Buzz makes a series of test flights out into space to see if the hyperspeed necessary for escape is even possible.

But the awful truth is that these attempts mess with the space-time continuum: after each 60-second flight, he comes back to find four years have gone past. Buzz keeps poignantly flying out, while everyone else gets older and dies off. Finally he returns to find a new generation of commanding officers who tell him they are just staying and that he must now give up on thoughts of getting away. But doughty Buzz (eerily forever young) is not to be put off and finds himself making common cause with Alisha’s smart, grownup granddaughter, Izzy (voiced by Keke Palmer) and a ragtag group of volunteers. Under Buzz’s command, their destiny is to confront the evil Emperor Zurg, voiced by James Brolin.

Wittily, this film shows us the living scenes and personae of which the famous toys were a simplification, and it gives us new characters into the bargain: notably a robot cat companion for Buzz called Sox (voiced by Peter Sohn) who, though not especially original, adds to the film’s good-natured fun. The film just bounces along, zipping through its running time. Now surely we need Pixar to give us a heart-rending Revolutionary-Road-style drama about the early married life of Mr and Mrs Potato Head.

• Lightyear is released on 16 June in Australia, and 17 June in the US and UK.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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