Review: Pixar’s Buzz origin story ‘Lightyear’ goes to streaming and beyond on Disney+

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews 'Lightyear' on Disney+

Pandemic parenting was made easier when “Soul” (2020) and “Encanto” (2021) released straight to streaming, but Disney-Pixar released “Lightyear” only theatrically in June.

On Wednesday, the Buzz Lightyear origin story finally hits Disney+, so was it worth the wait to enjoy watching at home? Read on, dear reader, to infinity and beyond!

The story follows a brave young astronaut named Buzz Lightyear, who is marooned on a dangerous planet with his commander and crew. While fighting to achieve lightspeed to get back home, he must confront an alien army of robots commanded by Evil Emperor Zurg.

It’s not surprising that “Lightyear” lost at the box office to “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” nor that it underperformed compared to the other four installments of “Toy Story.” It was a confusing movie to market because it went to bat with two major strikes already against it.

First, the film isn’t about the beloved toy Buzz Lightyear, but rather the “real-life” human who inspired him. Sure, we’ve seen toys inspire movies before, from G.I. Joe to Lego, but those were toys first, cartoons second. Pixar could have told the tale of Buzz Aldrin, who gave Lightyear his namesake, but it was already boxed into certain backstory elements.

Second, the hero is not voiced by Tim Allen. I love Chris Evans, but it’s like doing a Woody origin story without Tom Hanks. Conservatives worry Allen was canceled for his politics, but that doesn’t track as Disney cast Allen in an upcoming reboot of “The Santa Clause.” As for me, I don’t let The Toolman’s politics affect my enjoyment of his fictional characters.

If you can somehow get over those two hurdles, “Lightyear” isn’t a bad ride. (Notice I said two hurdles: The third “controversy” is stupid, because if you’re bothered by a subplot of same-sex romance, well, get with the times. It’s 2022. “Lightyear” paints a tearjerking montage like “Up,” only this time with two interracial moms raising three generations.)

Hawthorne is a lovable character as Buzz’s best friend, voiced by Emmy winner Uzo Aduba of “Orange is the New Black,” while Keke Palmer voices her future granddaughter Izzy, who has a fear of space (astrophobia) and can’t finish Buzz’s sentences like her grandma. When Buzz says, “To infinity and beyond,” Izzy blankly stares at his hand.

The best character might just be the robotic cat sidekick Sox (Peter Sohn), who likes his belly rubbed and earns Buzz’s trust by cracking the code for lightspeed. Buzz starts off hating auto-pilot technology, but slowly learns to trust computers. Similarly, Buzz evolves to enjoy futuristic sandwiches with meat on the top and bottom and bread in the middle.

This sandwich inadvertently symbolizes the film’s strengths: The first and last thirds are the tastiest, while the bread in the middle is soggy. We love seeing Buzz’s origin with Hawthorne, just as we like his full-circle conclusion, but Act 2 has too much action with lasers shooting space robots to keep kids engaged but making most parents zone out.

There’s even an unexpected twist involving Zurg, who was mentioned as Buzz’s nemesis in the original “Toy Story.” It may be too cute by half, and I’m not sure it entirely works from a logical narrative standpoint, but it’s nevertheless a clever choice that will make you rethink the franchise as “Lightyear” offers numerous quotes and references to the original.

My biggest gripe is that “Lightyear” doesn’t include the claw machine’s Little Green Men. Imagine the squeak toys as real aliens! It’s a missed opportunity in Pixar’s quest to beat the adorable yellow guys in “Minions.” Also, a final scene could have showed Buzz’s fame-inspiring merchandise, from action figures to Pizza Planet restaurant franchises.

In fact, that would have been a better mid-credits sequence than the throwaways of Commander Burnside (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and a map-reading robot. It would have been cool to see Andy or Sid at Pizza Planet, steering the claw machine past the Little Green Men to grab a Buzz Lightyear action figure, his face rising gallantly toward the camera.

Sigh. Maybe I’m biased toward the original “Toy Story.” I’ll never forget sitting in the theater watching a style I’d never seen before. It was the first-ever computer-animated feature, the genre’s most important moment since the first animated feature, “Snow White” (1937).

As such, “Lightyear” will never make lists of the greatest movies of all time like “Snow White” and “Toy Story” have. As much as I liked Forky in “Toy Story 4,” the franchise probably should have stopped after “Toy Story 3” (2010) for a perfect coming-of-age trilogy.

Instead, we’re mining material from theme-park attractions such as Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin at Disney World, where kids fire lasers at galactic space aliens to earn points and defeat the Evil Emperor Zurg. If you enjoyed that, you might enjoy “Lightyear,” but don’t worry if you missed it in the movie theater. Disney+ is just the right launchpad.

3 stars


Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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