An old-fashioned action-adventure with derring-do sounds perfect right about now.
If there’s one movie this year that’s going to encapsulate “delightful romp”, it’s Lightyear. It embodies that spirit in the purest, most uncomplicated and most entertaining way.
The Toy Story spin-off cements Pixar as wizards at the peak of the family movie form, craftily balancing an action-driven story with emotional beats.
It’s fun, it’s charming and it’ll hit you right in the feels without being overwhelming – or make you confront the meaning of life, as some other Pixar movies can do. Sometimes you want a cathartic emotional experience but other times, you’re not in the mood for a stealthy serving of philosophy, you just want an adventure.
Lightyear is ostensibly the Buzz Lightyear origin story but the simplest way to explain it is how the film does at the beginning in its title cards.
Essentially, it reminds everyone that in 1995 (the year the original Toy Story was released), a boy named Andy asked for a toy from his favourite movie – Lightyear is that movie. If you want to be meta about it, it’s as if Lightyear existed as a pop cultural touchstone within the Toy Story narrative universe.
Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) is a space ranger on a mission 4.2 million lightyears from home when he, commander Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) and the crew become stranded.
Their ship has sustained enormous damage, including to the hyperspeed crystal which is necessary for the impossibly long journey home.
Not one to stray from the mission, the unwavering Buzz is determined to find a way to complete the mission, even when that puts him in the path of the dreaded Emperor Zurg (Josh Brolin).
The filmmakers, including Angus MacLane who directed and co-wrote Lightyear with Jason Headley, have cleverly picked up all the various strands and dropped breadcrumbs have four Toy Story movies to create a fully realised feature movie.
When Buzz and Alisha say “To infinity and beyond”, an involuntary smile spreads wide over your face while a late-in-the-piece costume reveal elicits a genuinely gleeful gasp.
Those references don’t feel shoe-horned in – they’re both fresh and familiar at the same time, and Pixar has built so much goodwill over the years that each time an easter egg pops up, you’re practically coo-ing.
There is a thoughtfully calibrated nostalgia to Lightyear with its callbacks, its traditional story structure and even the fact the technology in the movie is lived-in and mechanised, but it never falls into the trap of “Oh, weren’t things better in the good old days”.
This is a story that’s relevant and resonant to 2022, even if it’s supposed to be from the mid-1990s.
If Lightyear was a stand-alone movie, it would be great, but the reason it tilts into wonderful is precisely because of Pixar’s legacy.
The studio has spent the past almost three decades building universes in which its characters have depth and nuance, in which imaginations push past the outer boundaries of what’s possible and during which its vivid animation has wowed even the most jaded of audiences.
Lightyear plugs right into that culture with its superb story about friendship, trust, determination and the greater good. No wonder it was Andy’s favourite movie.
Lightyear is in cinemas from Thursday, June 16
Originally published as Toy Story spin-off Lightyear is a delightful romp