For its last three films, Pixar has focused on original concepts much to the delight of fans. Soul, Luca, and Turning Red all explored raw, human emotions through realistic and compelling characters that told stories about the growing pains we all face.
Now, Pixar is diving back into nostalgic territory with Lightyear. According to the film’s creators, this film is supposedly the film that launched Toy Story’s Andy’s love of the titular space ranger. While Lightyear delivers a fun space adventure with plenty of recognizable elements for long-time Toy Story fans, it ultimately upends and further convolutes its source material.
The film features Captain America himself Chris Evans as Buzz Lightyear, a space ranger who must complete a crucial mission to send his friends and family back home. After traveling multiple times through hyperspace, Buzz comes home to a very different world and meets new but familiar faces back on the planet he barely recognizes. Together, Buzz’s new teams of rookie space cadets must team up and defeat the evil robot army run by Emperor Zurg, and preserve the space ranger legacy for a new generation.
The film has a few positives, Director Peter Sohn plays Sox Buzz’s adorable robot cat companion. The multitalented Keke Palmer plays Izzy Hawthorne, a determined young woman who sees the value in everyone on her team despite their mistakes. Uzo Aduba plays Alisha Hawthorne, Buzz’s right-hand woman, and best friend. Aside from her strength and intuitive nature she’s also an openly gay woman and the film features her and her wife starting a family and growing old together.
This is the first time Pixar and Disney have featured a central gay character and the studio has even refrained from releasing Lightyear in Russia and China which has strict rules against LGBTQ+ content. While this is an important step forward, Alisha is still only secondary to Buzz and even Izzy. Audiences will still have to hope for the day that Disney will introduce a main LGBTQ+ protagonist to their diverse cast of characters.
Aside from this monumental moment and a few action-packed sequences that are surprisingly well shot and animated, Lightyear ultimately feels like Toy Story fanfiction, with the story not even following the few details of Buzz Lightyear’s life in the Toy Story franchise. Aside from the characters mentioned, the supporting cast is forgettable, the plot is painfully generic, and this story offers no new insight into an already beloved character.
It’s still up in the air if Lightyear will inspire Pixar to make more films centered around their iconic characters, but if they’re anything like its predecessor, Pixar may be re-entering a thematic decline with no more heartfelt and original stories to tell.