TL;DR – story about the man behind the toy.
Review (warning: spoilers)
The movie opens simply by stating:
In 1995, a boy named Andy got a Buzz Lightyear to for his birthday.
It was from his favourite movie.
This is that movie.
And away we go. Buzz and company are flying an exploration vessel into unchartered space (4.2 million light years from Earth). As a space ranger, they scout planets and wake the scientist crew if they believe the planets are worth exploring.
The mission log narratives are there. The iconic lines that Buzz delivers such as, “Terrain seems a bit… unstable”, “You’re mocking me aren’t you?” and, of course, “To infinity and beyond” will remind you of the toy Buzz immediately. The action sequences and movements of the human Buzz are almost identical to the toy Buzz. In fact, the “makers” of the toy have modelled it so well against the movie character that they’re almost identical. Almost.
What makes this film subtly different is how the character of Buzz portrayed in the movie that inspired the toy is far more complex as the movie progresses.
Far more human.
This is where it is clever once you let it sink in. For example, the voice of the human Buzz (Chris Evans as opposed to Tim Allen) is subtly different. The casting of the human Buzz to be voiced by anyone other than Tim Allen caused controversy. However, I feel it is a clever move to demonstrate that there are distinctions between human and toy.
The toy Buzz is so iconic because it does outrageous things and acts like… well… a toy.
The human Buzz deals with human lives and this is, at its core, the heart of the movie. Along with Buzz, we are introduced to another space ranger, Commander Alisha Hawthorne. She is a wonderful foil for Buzz’s character and ensures his feet remain planted on what is important. However, Buzz doesn’t realise this until much later in the film.
At the beginning, Buzz is all about the mission. To be a space ranger and to serve and protect the scientists on board the ship while they continue to explore unchartered space. He’s single-minded (just like the toy) and so when their ship is attacked by the planet’s vine-like tentacles, Buzz is determined to get off the planet with everyone safely onboard in one piece. He wants to do everything himself. He wants to be the hero. He finds the rookie space rangers on board burdensome, and he doesn’t even trust the IVAN (internal voice activated navigator) system and would rather handle the controls himself than hand it over to autopilot.
This leads to Buzz making a mistake that damages the ship and results in him and the crew being stranded on the planet. The hyper-speed crystal used to fuel the ship is destroyed.
As they slowly colonise the planet, Buzz starts doing test flights on a new hyper-speed crystal so they can continue their journey in unchartered space. However, Buzz discovers there’s a catch. Due to time dilation, each test flight that approaches the speed of light causes a jump. To Buzz, his test flight might feel like only a few minutes but back on the colony, everyone has experienced years passing.
Feeling responsible for getting everyone stranded, Buzz continues with the test flights and watches as his good friend Commander Hawthorne ages dramatically each time. She settles down, gets married, has kids and grandkids and eventually leaves one final message to Buzz before her passing. It’s a scene right out of another Pixar film – Up – where we get snapshots of the couple at the beginning meet, get married, and grow old together.
This sequence in Lightyear is where you realise that this isn’t Toy Story.
And the film is all the more powerful for it. As events unfold, Buzz learns that he needs to trust others to help him (including IVAN) and with the help of Sox (an intelligent and very funny robotic cat), Buzz comes to realise that there is something more important than the mission. And that is people.
He has to go through quite a bit before this epiphany hits him including facing a time travelling older version of himself who pilots a robotic Zurg. The older version wants to travel into the past to make it so that they never crashed and got marooned on the planet in the first place. But present Buzz realises that by doing that, it would mean Hawthorne would never get married and have a family.
You take it for granted just how good the Pixar animation is. If you pay attention, the detail is stunning. The scene where an Izzy Hawthorne (granddaughter to Alisha) has to push off from an airlock to another part of the ship with nothing but the emptiness of space around her is nothing short of nerve racking. If her trajectory is not right then she would end up floating into outer space forever. This is one example where the animation is as good as CGI generated space flicks.
A great sci-fi adventure that should be viewed as what it means to be human as opposed to a toy.
9 out of 10