[Screen It]


(2022) (voices of Chris Pine, Keke Palmer) (PG)

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Computer Animated Action/Adventure: A space ranger tries to fix a problem he accidentally created, but must contend with robots and their leader who want his space travel power source.

Buzz Lightyear (voice of CHRIS EVANS) is a space ranger and he and his work partner, Alisha Hawthorne (voice of UZO ADUBA), are deployed to a newly discovered planet to investigate. It turns out to feature hostile bugs and plant life, and while trying to escape, Buzz accidentally hits a cliff with their large ship, damaging their fuel supply and stranding them and the rest of the crew there.

A new fuel supply is created, but with each test flight of that, Buzz returns having aged only a few hours, while years have passed for everyone on the planet. To help him cope with his guilt over the issue, Alisha gives him Sox (voice of PETER SOHN), a feline emotional support robot who ultimately helps him come up with a new formula for the energy source.

Upon Buzz's next return flight, Commander Burnside (voice of ISIAH WHITLOCK JR.) pulls the plug on the project, causing the space ranger to steal the test spacecraft and try again. But when he returns, and with a greater amount of time having passed, he meets Alisha's now-adult granddaughter, Izzy (voice of KEKE PALMER), and learns that the colony is under constant attack by robots known as the Zurg. Alisha, clumsy Mo Morrison (voice of TAIKA WAITITI), and older felon on probation Darby Steel (voice of DALE SOULES) then try to help Buzz, all as they must contend with Emperor Zurg (voice of JAMES BROLIN) who wants Buzz's power source for himself.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10

While they're most associated with superhero flicks, origin story movies occasionally dabble in other genres, such as biopics about famous recording artists where we witness their formative years and influences that made them and their music what they were. Prequels in other genres do the same, including in the upcoming "Minions: The Rise of Gru." And then there are films that put a clever twist on such matters such as "Lightyear."

The latest offering from Pixar, it's a spinoff of sorts from the mega-popular "Toy Story" franchise featuring -- how on Earth did you guess correctly? -- Buzz Lightyear. But it's not that character's origins story -- at least in the traditional sense -- as we don't see young Buzz growing up dreaming of traveling the cosmos and eventually becoming a space ranger. Instead, the opening title cards succinctly get to the point and introduce the premise by stating that in 1995 Andy (the boy in "TS") received a Buzz Lightyear action figure from a movie the boy loved. "This is that movie."

So, as dreamed up by screenwriters Jason Headley and Angus MacLane (with the latter also directing) -- along with all of the behind-the-scenes technical and creative types that always make Pixar films look great -- we're watching the quarter-century-plus old film that caught the boy's eye and captured his heart and imagination. It's an imaginative way to introduce a prequel where the fun -- beyond the usual trappings from the studio -- is that they've made the film to mimic something that would have been released around the same time as the original "Toy Story," albeit not as a Pixar-branded film.

Thus, the offering simultaneously does yet also does not feel like your typical Pixar fare, a balancing act that leaves the film entertaining and enjoyable enough, but not among the studio's best or most memorable releases.

The main story begins like many a sci-fi flick from back then with a large spaceship traveling through the far reaches of some galaxy with its crew in suspended animation. A signal reading from a previously undiscovered planet rouses a trio of space rangers -- among them, Buzz (voiced by Chris Pine sort of tapping into what Tim Allen previously brought to the role) and Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) -- who go out exploring, only to discover the orb crawling with large aggressive bugs and grabby vines.

They try to escape, but Buzz's error in piloting judgment results in them clipping the side of a cliff, crash-landing, and damaging their power source, effectively stranding them there. Sometime later, they've created a new one and need a test pilot, so guilt-ridden Buzz volunteers and lifts off for a slingshot mission around the planet's sun. Not only is the mission a failure, but Buzz learns upon returning that due to traveling around the speed of light he's aged only a few hours while everyone on the planet has seen four years pass.

More test missions ensue, resulting in a montage of time passing by, something that no doubt will remind viewers of a similar montage in "Up" featuring the couple aging until the protagonist's beloved is no longer with him. While maybe not as emotionally devastating as that one, it's still touching and sad here, but that moves the story in a new direction and introduces a new set of characters.

Chief among them is Izzy (Keke Palmer), Alisha's now grown-up granddaughter, along with the nervously inept Mo Morrison (Taika Waititi) and the feisty old felon on probation, Darby Steel (Dale Soules). They're all green space ranger cadets on the outside looking in at their forcefield protected base that's under attack by a newly arrived robot force known as the Zurg, whose emperor (James Brolin) wants Buzz's newly successful power source for his own needs.

I won't spoil the twist on that, but it results in lots of action, moments of derring-do, and humor. A lot of the latter stems from the introduction of Buzz's emotional support robot Sox (a delightfully deadpan Peter Sohn), a decidedly robotic feline who will likely become a new favorite in the "Toy Story" universe.

Which makes one wonder why Andy didn't have a Teddy Ruxpin-style toy based on him in the original film. Ah, the folks at Pixar are clever, but not completely so as to have imagined the need for him back in their 1995 offering. Perhaps with some time travel they can go back and insert him in the flick. But I digress.

The result is entertaining enough in its own right, and fans of the original "TS" films will enjoy some callbacks located throughout this offering. But those looking for something to match the creative excellence of those earlier works -- or the best of Pixar's other offerings - they might be a little disappointed. But just remember, this is the "non-Pixar" film that inspired the toy way back when, so we'll cut it a little slack. "Lightyear" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed June 8, 2022 / Posted June 17, 2022

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