Mission Log 126.01: Buzz Lightyear has crash landed on a hostile planet. And Lightyear may show more signs of intelligent life than you expect.
From Pixar, Lightyear tells the (toy) story of the iconic Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans), the hero who inspired Andy’s favourite action figure. Trapped on an uncharted planet 4.2 million light-years away from home, Buzz is determined to complete his mission and get his people safely back to Earth. Tirelessly travelling through space and time, Buzz is slowed by the arrival of the evil Zurg (James Brolin), the massive leader of a robot army determined to prevent him accomplishing his goal.
Admittedly, this writer was skeptical by the film’s release. The legacy of the Toy Story films has only continued to grow over the years as Buzz and Woody have arguably become some of Disney’s most famous characters. As a result, any attempts to refresh a franchise that has had very few misfires simply seemed like a pointless exercise in marketing. (And, frankly, there’s still an argument to be made for this.) When the early trailers highlighted alien life, massive robots in time travel adventures, the film felt oddly out of place with the innocence of Andy’s toy room. (And don’t even get me started on the news that they were recasting Tim Allen…) Thankfully though, Lightyear is a wonderful surprise that actually brings something fresh to the character while still managing to honour what came before [or, technically, after].
If you’re wondering how an intergalactic space adventure fits into the Toy Story world, the answer is made plain from the opening credits. Instead of an actual astronaut, Lightyear is considered to be the film that made Andy fall in love with his beloved toy in the first place. (In essence, this film within a franchise is their equivalent of Star Wars, and Andy is now the kid who saw it on the big screen and fell in love with the characters.) As such, when Buzz stumbles out of the box on his bed in the initial Toy Story film, Andy already has a history with the character, which explains his excitement about the gift. This unique and meta-approach frees the film up to tell whatever stories they want without the burden of Toy Story canon. All of a sudden, the audience understands how the film fits in to the Toy Story world and can sit back and enjoy the ride.
And quite a ride it is.
Fast-paced and engaging, Lightyear includes everything that you would expect from a massive space adventure. As Buzz frantically fights to save the day, his epic encounters with aliens, robots and more create a fun and (arguably) unpredictable quest for all ages. New characters delight. Action sequences work well. (And just try to resist Sox, his robo-feline companion.) Although there will be many who bemoan the swapping of Evans for Allen, the change works, especially considering that they’re technically not the same character. (And Allen would undoubtedly step back into the role if Toy Story 5 ever comes to fruition.)
And this particular iteration of the Space Ranger has some lessons to learn.
Although this Buzz may not be quite as self-deluded as his toy counterpart, he is definitely self-serving in his sacrifice. While he respects his team, he believes that it is his responsibility to complete the mission and save his friends. Regardless of protocols or recommendations, he is going to get the job done… and he doesn’t need anybody else to do it.
However, as his adventure unravels, it becomes clearer that his desire to complete the mission makes himself feel like he matters only if he can finish the job. For Buzz, the journey is as much about self-validation as it is about sacrifice. He believes that he must prove his worth through his actions.
In this way, Lightyear highlights the damage of toxic masculinity. For example, as the foolhardy white male, Buzz is determined to be the one to lead the mission, even though his team is full of people who are capable of coming through. From his African-American female copilot to an elderly ex-con, Lightyear acknowledges that moving forward requires everybody and buzz, as the powerful white male, would be missing out if he did not humble himself in the process. (It’s also worth noting that the film contains Pixar’s first openly LGBTQ couple as well.)
Even so, Lightyear reminds the viewer that, even after our greatest mistakes, there is still room to live forward. After his mission goes wrong, Buzz bears the weight of his errors and it intensifies his desire to finish what he started. However, despite his failures, those around him have not suffered in the way that he believed. Yes, there was hurt and pain but everyone has been able to adapt. His errors were unexpected yet they still took the opportunity to thrive. This realization offers a whisper of grace to Buzz’s soul and helps him recognize
While Lightyear doesn’t quite take us to beyond infinity, its fresh take on the already established world is anything but a misfire. Charting an unexpected new course for the franchise, the film is fun, often hilarious and has a taste for adventure.
In short, it’s definitely a mission worth taking.
Lightyear is available in theatres on Friday, June 17th, 2022