In 1995, Andy got a toy from his favorite toy commercial… this is that toy commercial.
Look, you know what to expect from a Pixar movie at this point: Gorgeous art; top-shelf voice talent; a hero whose first-act hubris transforms into third-act humility; and after the licensing success of Cars, merchandising opportunities upon merchandising opportunities.
Oh yes, and there’s also a good story in there. More than adequate, though not much more. There’s nothing as novel or surprising as Ratatouille or Luca, but here we have a solid action-adventure in space, sure to elicit a “whee.” Also, there are lesbians — at least momentarily.
The most innovative thing about Lightyear is not its plot, but the intriguing way Disney found to revisit old intellectual property without having to worry too much about the rules of continuity: Lightyear is its own creature, separate from the Toy Story films. In ads, Disney describes it as the movie on which the Buzz Lightyear toy was based; it’s the sci-fi film that Toy Story’s Andy watched before getting a Buzz toy for his birthday. It’s multiversal, but not metaversal—that is, from a different universe, not about different universes. (And thank God, because we’ve had enough metaverse movies this year to last multiple lifetimes.)
But I doubt that much time will be spent thinking about the quantum interconnection of Pixar movies for the audience likely to appreciate Lightyear most, which is to say, children of about Andy’s age.
In some far-off space location, a group of rangers land on a mysterious planet to explore; but a misguided move by their cocky commander grounds the ship indefinitely. The crew struggle to find a way home, and none is more laser-focused on fixing their predicament than Buzz, the man who got them into this mess. His single-minded determination to be everyone’s rescuer becomes his defining character trait, and following the Law of Pixar Main Character Fallibility, that means it’s the trait that he must overcome to grow as a person.
Is it pretty? Yes, it’s beautiful. Jokes? Sure, the usual amount. Slapstick action? Yes indeed, and judging by the gleeful sounds coming from the kids at the screening I attended, Lightyear will be a sure-fire crowd-pleaser for any all-ages gathering.
How about wacky sidekicks? Boy, oh boy, have they got that down to a science. Peter Sohn’s performance as a robotic cat is a standout hit (you’ll recognize his voice as best-buddy Emile from Ratatouille), and he’s a delightful comic presence here with great comic timing—not a surprise, since Sohn is also a Pixar storyboard artist. Disney’s bean-counters are no doubt pleased that Sox the cat, in addition to being innocently charismatic, has a look of instant merchandisability, as do the film’s countless vehicles, robots, and blasters. But unlike those toy opportunities, Sox has great personality and offers some unexpected swerves. He’s the sole source of surprise in a story that’s generally by the book.
The other supporting characters get a bit less oxygen than they seem to deserve. Taika Waititi delivers his usual entertaining mutters, Dale Soules is wonderful as a hard-boiled convict (appropriate, since you might recognize her as Frieda from Orange is the New Black), and Keke Palmer brings vulnerability to an iconic heroine’s granddaughter trying desperately to measure up to the family legacy. But the band of misfits tend to be one-note, and around the seventh time that Waititi’s character comically offers a pen when none is called for, it’s hard to muster a laugh.
There is also, of course, the notorious lesbian kiss. Early in the film, one woman is revealed to have married another woman. (Please do not think about how improbable that would be for a film supposedly screened in 1995.) Reportedly, Disney ordered the kiss removed, but then had it restored after an internal revolt over the company’s cowardly political stance on LGBTQ+ equality.
Yes, the kiss endured; yes, it’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it brief; and yes, it has resulted in authorities banning the film in countries more conservative than the United States (though not much more, judging by America’s current trajectory).
It is, of course, a major milestone that we finally have a same-sex kiss in a Pixar film. But you may wish to hold off on celebrating for now, considering the plot beat that follows almost immediately after. The trajectory of the lesbian character, like much of Lightyear, echoes tropes we’ve seen many times before.