Prequels, origins stories ….. whatever you like to call them, they’re just as much a part of our cinematic diet as sequels. That they come with the same pitfalls is a given, so the idea of digging into the past of a character from a Disney Pixar classic could be a headscratcher. Except that the premise behind Lightyear is both neat and genuinely creative.
Back in 1995, Andy – the boy from Toy Story – got a toy from his favourite movie. The toy was Buzz Lightyear and now it’s our turn to see the movie. We’re taken back to Buzz’s (the voice of Chris Evans) early years as an astronaut: he’s good at what he does, if a bit pompous, but gets on well with his fellow commander, Hawthorne (the voice of Uzo Aduba). But then a mission goes wrong. He crashes their ship, leaving himself and everybody on board marooned on a less than hospitable planet so, wracked with guilt, he sets out to find a way home and draw their mission to a close. Except that time differences mean he soon finds himself working with a new, much younger crew, including Hawthorne’s daughter Izzy (voiced by Keke Palmer), and a four legged robot.
Did we know we needed Buzz’s story? Probably not, but it’s a surprisingly welcome addition to the Disney Pixar stable. It’s an engaging story with likeable central characters and, while the way it’s executed isn’t especially imaginative, it has a lot going for it. The animation is as crisp as you’d expect from the studio and overall the tone is affectionate and warm, with some nice running gags – one in particular – to raise a laugh. And connections with Toy Story itself reinforce the film’s claim to be a part – even if it’s a distant one – of the series. But references to other Disney Pixar movies hint that perhaps this is not one of their best. Robot cat – and soaraway scene stealer par excellence – Sox (voiced by Peter Sohn), introduces himself in almost the same way as Big Hero 6’s Baymax. It casts its net wider to include nods in the direction of other space age/time travel titles, Interstellar being the most consistent. No great sin, it’s true, but it points to the concept not being as strong as it first appears.
With an impressive voice cast headed by Evans (who is on good form), alongside Taika Waititi and James Brolin, there’s a lot that’s good about Lightyear, but the end result is solid rather than imaginative, careful rather than classic. Even with its much publicised LBGTQ storyline – one that would have been very radical when Andy saw the film in 1995 – it’s safe to the point of being risk-averse, drawing it closer to typical prequel fodder. For Andy to fall in love with the film, it must have been magical. Sadly, we don’t get to see that.
Adventure, Animation | Cert: PG | UK cinemas from 17 June | Disney Pixar | Dir. Angus MacLane | The voices of Chris Evans, Taika Waititi, Keke Palmer, James Brolin, Peter Sohn and Uzo Aduba.