Toy Story spin-off Lightyear melds high-stakes action and family-friendly comedy

Lightyear: Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Chris Evans)
Damon Smith

LIGHTYEAR (PG, 107 mins) Animation/Sci-Fi/Action/Comedy/Adventure. Featuring the voices of Chris Evans, Uzo Aduba, Keke Palmer, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules, Peter Sohn. Director: Angus MacLane.

Released: June 17

WHEN it comes to masterfully merchandising a film, especially to young audiences, Disney twinkles brighter than every other studio.

In 1996, parents travelled to infinity and beyond in search of Buzz Lightyear action figures, when the astronaut toy topped Christmas wish-lists and feverish demand far exceeded supply.

Six-year-old Andy supposedly received his Buzz Lightyear action figure in the first Toy Story film as an early birthday present, after a trip to the cinema with his mother to see an action-packed film about a courageous Space Ranger.

Writer-director Angus MacLane's out-of-this-world computer-animated adventure is that picture.

Co-written by Jason Headley, Lightyear unfolds in a different universe from Pixar Animation Studios' earlier work – the titular character is voiced by Chris Evans rather than Tim Allen – but iconography from Andy's playtime proliferates, including Buzz's catchphrase and the insidious threat of Emperor Zurg.

Composer Michael Giacchino, who won an Oscar for his score for Up, tugs heartstrings here too, especially in the film's emotional gut-punch that elegantly underlines a Space Ranger's personal sacrifices.

I confess that I wept like a leaky faucet.

Visuals are breathtaking and a robotic cat sidekick named Sox is a bountiful source of humour, but Lightyear is one of Pixar's fluffier and more forgettable offerings.

Compared with the thrilling earthbound escapades of Andy's Buzz Lightyear figure over the past 25 years, child's play comfortably wins out over intergalactic survival.

Buzz Lightyear (Evans) and commanding officer Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) crash-land their spaceship with a manifest of 1,200 slumbering passengers on a planet with aggressively hostile insectoids and vegetation.

Marooned 4.2 million light years from home, the Space Rangers re-animate crew and passengers to construct a fortified base from which to launch test flights of an experimental jet piloted by Buzz.

Unfortunately, time dilation dictates that for every minute Buzz spends in space travelling at hyperspeed, the people back at base age one year.

Buzz sacrifices precious years with the people he loves to complete his mission, accompanied by robot companion Sox (Peter Sohn), Alisha's granddaughter Izzy (Keke Palmer) and rookies Mo (Taika Waititi) and Darby (Dale Soules).

In their way stands Emperor Zurg and an army of mechanised monstrosities.

Lightyear is a slickly orchestrated battle beyond the stars that melds high-stakes action and family-friendly comedy.

Diversity and positive representation are woven into the fabric of a script that exploits the notion of time dilation to deliver one deeply satisfying narrative curveball.

Vocal performances are polished, including droll comic relief from Waititi as a clumsy newbie, who always seems to be in the wrong place.

MacLane shoots for infinity and beyond like the film's namesake but cannot quite escape the gravitational pull of high expectations.


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