LIGHTYEAR, B-level storytelling wrapped in A-Plus animation

Light yeara pulpy, family-friendly sci-fi action epic, is coming to multiplex at an inflection point for Disney-owned and operated Pixar Animation Studios.

Once synonymous with a unique blend of all-ages storytelling with cutting-edge animation that pushes the boundaries, Pixar, like every division and/or imprint under the Disney brand, has evolved (some might say evolved) into a virtual content farm, Pixar-branded IP (intellectual property), including, of course, sequels, prequels, spinoffs and, most important of all for Disney coffers, unprecedented merchandising opportunities.

As a meta, in-film spin-off of the much-loved original toy story series, Light year unsurprisingly reflects all of the above limitations, right down to including its status as the quintessential example in corporate decision-making (the more familiar the better).

And even, Light year is no better than a meta-spin-off, in film has every right to be (in or out of Pixar’s Disney-owned and operated IP catalog). At worst, it’s a qualified triumph for Pixar’s collaborative storytelling team, constrained by having to work backwards from a relatively sketchy origin story, and their ultra-talented animators, delivering some of the strongest and deepest world-building action sequences/settings. dynamic parts and on-screen characters fully realized in the Disney/Pixar canon. To borrow a snapshot, Light year it really is a lot of fun for the whole family.

When we first meet the main character, Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans, who admirably replaces Tim Allen), a space pilot and Space Ranger, he helps transport 1,200 colonists to a new, uninhabited planet and a fresh start. for everyone involved. A computer alert, however, alerts a sleeping Buzz and his commander, Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba), to a nearby planet that may or may not be habitable.

It’s Buzz’s call to investigate, becoming the first of several decisions that lead to a deep sense of regret for Buzz. Almost immediately, the planet’s overly aggressive flora convinces Buzz and Hawthorne to make an immediate retreat off the planet, taking the sleeping colonists with them. Buzz’s confidence bordering on arrogance leads to the second most important decision in Buzz’s life: his racing skills fail him at the most inopportune moment.

In short, in broad strokes, Light year sets up Buzz’s internal/external conflict: Driven by a desire to undo the past and save the colonists, Buzz volunteers for a series of test firings in outer space that leave him literally unchanged, frozen and fixed in his obsessive quest to fix what he broke. , as life on the colony planet progresses in four-year increments.

Buzz doesn’t get old with his super light jumps, but everyone does. As Hawthorne ages, living as full a life as possible, Buzz doesn’t.

Eventually, Buzz finds himself on a drastically changed colonial planet with Hawthorne’s granddaughter Izzy (Keke Palmer), weekend warrior Mo Morrison (Taika Waititi), and ex-convict Darby Steel. (Dale Soule), as they are forced to face an existential threat to the colony with no backup.

Light year gives Buzz an easily identifiable and easily digestible character arc, with some self-realizations and at least one self-realization along the way, suggesting that coming to terms with the past and past decisions is equally, if not more, important than to follow your dreams and turn them into reality. It’s a bit more powerful than expected, aimed at adults (with or without kids) watching Light year unfold over its running time of nearly two hours.

That said, however, Light year certainly doesn’t get bogged down in scenes of extended therapy as Buzz tries to work through and work through his issues. In place, Light year weaves Buzz’s arc with the larger plot involving Buzz’s continued absence and upon his final return, requiring him to adjust his expectations of himself and others to overcome an existential threat to the colony.

As almost always, Pixar made no budget cuts, leaving free rein to its animation team to bring Light year to a virtually living life. From the recognizable spacesuit to the distinctly realized multi-ethnic supporting characters, and at least for some, to the world-building (e.g. multiple ships, facilities, and detailed sci-fi interiors), Light year really excels.

Add to that some rousing settings in space and on the colony planet (both mandatory, but also welcome), and the result, aside from the occasional spin-off story elements, is a totally engaging, spellbinding, and ultimately exciting for Buzz, Izzy, the Others, and delighting audiences on the other side of the screen.

Light year opens in theaters Friday, June 17, via Walt Disney Pictures.

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