Lightyear tells the backstory of one of the Toy Story franchise’s best loved characters and both die-hard and younger fans will love the fast-paced yet emotional intergalactic adventure.
First out of the blocks of the big, children’s summer films, Lightyear has given itself a strong head start as it provides us with a narrative about one of ‘Andy’s’ toys.
‘Andy’ if you remember, is the real boy of Toy Story (1995-2019) the successful four-film franchise that focused on the adventures of cowboy ‘Woody’ and space ranger ‘Buzz Lightyear’, as they make friends with all the other toys belonging to ‘Andy’.
However, like a Star Wars Jedi knight, it seems even children’s toys can now get a backstory as ‘Buzz Lightyear’ gets his own film.
Sticking close to the Toy Story formula, a franchise that broke box-office records and played with our emotions like a runaway rollercoaster filled with action-packed adventure and emotional feel-good themes, Lightyear, the latest animation from the Disney-Pixar partnership doesn’t skip a beat in delivering the same sentiments. At the centre of each Toy Story film, is heart. In the middle of all the high-jinx action is a message about the importance of friendships, sacrifice and supporting one another through collaboration.
At the centre of each Toy Story film, is heart.
“The position of annoying talking animal has already been already taken!” said ‘Donkey’ to ‘Puss In Boots’ in Shrek (2001), a landmark Pixar classic. It’s this clap-back that comes to mind as we’re introduced to the characters in the summer blockbuster that is Lightyear. In this case, the (not so annoying) talking animal is a robot cat called ‘Sox’, voiced by Peter Sohn.
Lightyear centres actors Keke Palmer as the vivacious ‘Izzy Hawthorne’; Uzo Aduba as the steadfast ‘Alisha Hawthorne’; Dale Soules as silver-haired, smart-mouthed ‘Darby Steel’; Taika Waititi as nervously, timid ‘Mo Morrison’; Peter Sohn as the aforementioned ‘Sox’ and of course Chris Evans in the titular role as ‘Buzz Lightyear’.
The film tells the story about a space ranger who fails on a mission. He is blindsided as he stubbornly tries to make things right. The film illustrates the difficulties we face when trying to make peace with living in our present and what we could miss if we don’t. Lightyear is also a film about the burden of legacy. Like…how does one live up to and build upon the lineage that others leave behind and at the same time, keep one’s identity? It’s also a film about making meaningful bonds with those who don’t necessarily look like us.
That’s right, Lightyear ticks a lot of ‘diversity’ boxes, but the writing is so good, it’s not received as patronising. We don’t notice the differences in age, size, race or colour amongst the rag-tag team that ‘Buzz’ meets on his travels. The story makes us believe that each member of the team has a valuable contribution to make as they work towards one goal and that’s all that matters.
Lightyear has really moved the technology along when it came to making the Afro hair of ‘Izzy’ and ‘Alisha’ look real!
What was also representationally important was the work that the animators have done with Afro hair! It goes without saying that the quality of this Pixar-Disney film is nothing short of what we’ve come to expect, but Lightyear has really moved the technology along when it came to making the Afro hair of ‘Izzy’ and ‘Alisha’ look real!
There are other wider contextual observations too at the intersection of race and gender. It wasn’t missed that this mainstream, blockbuster, children’s animated, science fiction film, had Black women and girls amongst its stars. What’s also important is that these women did not have their narrative burdened by ‘race issues’ either.
Keke Palmer will soon be seen in the next Jordan Peele horrorfest, Nope (2022). In Lightyear as ‘Izzy’, Keke delivers a heartfelt performance as a young woman trying to make her own way in life. Uzo Aduba, fresh from her role as psychotherapist ‘Dr Brooke Taylor’ in the television series, In Treatment (2021) provides the voice of ‘Alisha’, the long-standing friend of ‘Buzz’.
The mainstream, science fiction genre is doing better than others for Black women in terms of delivering complex, leading roles. Most recently we’ve had Sonequa Martin-Green as ‘Michael Burnham’ of the Star Trek Discovery (2017-2022) series. And we’ve had an update of the most legendary of them all, as Celia Rose Gooding’s portrayal of linguistics and communications specialist, ‘Lieutenant Uhura’, again from Star Trek in Strange New Worlds (2022). Controversially though, actress Moses Ingram is rattling a few racists in the Star Wars fan base, as she stars alongside Ewan McGregor in Obi-Wan Kenobi as one of its uber-villains, ‘Inquisitor Reva/Third Sister’.
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Tim Allen originally voiced the ‘Buzz Lightyear’ toy, trademark phrase-and-all. Chris Evans, though humble in acknowledging the place of Allen in the character, seamlessly takes over as Lightyear. Evans appears to be trying to move away from the heavy mantle that is Marvel’s Captain America. It’s no mean feat stepping away from the Avengers movie juggernaut and it’s a challenge that many actors in such iconic roles face.
Chris seems like the natural successor to update the character of ‘Buzz Lightyear’ because of the characteristics he brought to his ‘Captain America’ persona: honourable, noble, steadfast, true. We know that whilst ‘Buzz’ may be initially confused in Toy Story, he is principled and is ethically motivated. In Lightyear, we get to see the origins of his psyche.
Lightyear is an exciting, fun-filled film that will entertain children and adults alike. Its quick-witted writing and eye-popping visuals is nothing less than what we’ve come to expect from the Disney-Pixar partnership. Would you want a Buzz Lightyear toy? After watching this film, hell yeah!
Watch the Lightyear trailer:
Lightyear (2022) is on general release in cinemas from 17 June.
This article was written by Jennifer G. Robinson